The YWCA Alaska is one year into their initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap in Alaska by 2025. Women in Alaska only make about 68 cents for every dollar made by a man. According to calculations based on U.S. Census data, this causes the state’s economy loses $1.2 billion every year. Women are making less, so they are spending less. YWCA CEO Hilary Morgan says one of the first steps to eliminating the gap is gathering data that shows it’s real.
“Women make less money in every single industry in Alaska. Every single one. And this is again, Department of Labor stats,” she says. “And now we just need to figure out why.”
One example is nurses. Eighty-nine percent of the state’s nurses are women, but they make 5% less than male nurses.
Morgan says the YWCA is taking an apolitical, multi-pronged approach to ending the gap. Seventy-four businesses and individuals spanning from BP Alaska to the governor have endorsed the initiative. It involves working with employers to make gender-balanced work places. Morgan says one tool is a survey that helps employers analyze the impacts of their official and unofficial policies.
Some of the surveys “have come back and they say ‘Well, we do this but we don’t have a policy about it.’ So right away then they know if they don’t have a policy about it, it’s a word of mouth thing. So the woman who is not comfortable or confident enough to go ask for it is not going to get it.”
They’re also educating women and girls about career options, salary negotiations, and the nuances of hiring that may be leading to the wage gap. For example, studies show that some male hiring managers who have wives that don’t work are less likely to hire women.
“You can see how they got there. It’s like ‘My wife doesn’t work, I’m the breadwinner, so I don’t want to take a job away from someone who is actually going to be a breadwinner and give it to a woman.’ You can understand the rationale, but if you go in for a job interview and you’re being interviewed by a man, you’re never going to know why you didn’t get that job.”
The Pew Research Center says women are the primary or only breadwinners in 40% of U.S. households.
Morgan says during the first year of the program, the YWCA surveyed Alaskans and found they support closing the pay gap. She says this is the first initiative in the country that sets a specific date for achieving the goal. They are still 32 cents away from equal pay.
Morgan recently announced she is running for state Senate Seat N.