Here are all the questions and answers that I can recall from Monday's talk. This isn't all of them, but it is the most faithful reconstruction I can make from memory and random jottings immediately after speaking. What this doesn't capture is some of the more demonstrative body language in the room. Shifting in seats, crossing of arms, shaking of heads. Some nods, to be sure, and I gravitated to those folks as I talked.
Q: How do the Feds do? We have lots of Federal employees in Wyoming, they work for the BLM, Game & Fish, etc. How do they do with wage gap?
A: Federal positions often publish wage ranges and are more transparent about compensation rates. Research shows that wage transparency is actually good for employees. That said, I do not have specific information handy about the gender wage gap for Federal employees, but I will get it.
[Reader: I still have not gotten it. Though I can tell you that Congressional offices in DC report a significant gender wage gap. You can read about the study that demonstrates that here.]
Q: When they measure wages, do they also measure benefits like 401k or health insurance?
A: Yes. The Wage Disparity Report done by the Department of Workforce Services did look at benefits like 401k retirement, health insurance, and any other available benefits. They determined that men were offered those benefits at a greater rate than women.
Stage Direction: [Interrupting, shaking head; I invited this gentleman to comment because he was visibly agitated, asking, "I gather there is a different perspective here?"]
Q: I am in that industry and that information about benefits is wrong. They have to offer the same benefits to everyone. If they are offering those to some people and not others, they're comparing people across industries, they're definitely comparing apples to oranges which you say they don't do.
A: What I can tell you is that the Department of Workforce Services Report did look at benefits and found that they were made available to men at greater rates than women.
[Author's note: Imposter syndrome set in as this question was being asked (or, more accurately, it had set in earlier and now it was really loud and trying to grab the mic). I very nearly had an out-of-body experience where the part of me gripped by this gendered fear started wondering whether I had even read the report that I was quoting and making the basis of my information.]
In case you were wondering how that shook out, here is what the report says:
A larger proportion of men (33.6%) had access to health insurance than women (24.7%). (page 65)
There were noticeable differences in the proportions of men and women offered selected benefits in the data collected with the Wyoming Job Skills Survey. For each of the benefits analyzed, a larger proportion of men were offered benefits. Additionally, a larger proportion of men were offered these benefits in a majority of major occupation groups. (page 71)
Stage Direction [Audience member, directing question at the insurance questioner]
Q: Have you read the DWS report? I have and it is excellent. If you haven't read it, you should read it.
A: Thank you for mentioning that, the DWS report is excellent. There is a reference to it in the handout, and I can provide a link if anyone wants to read it. They looked at this at the Department of Workforce Services and their report indicates that there is a disparity in the rate of benefits.
Q: I'm curious why you referenced the US Women's Soccer Team since they generate so much less revenue than the men? They're really just asking for money that they don't deserve.
A: I'm so happy that you asked that question. Fox just released numbers showing that 14M viewers watched the women and only 11M viewers watched the men. Nike just announced that the US Women's National Team jerseys are their top selling jerseys of all time. The Wall Street Journal published a report that the Women's team outearns the men's team. By every available measure they outperform. They even sell more tickets. Additionally, the men's team has been in existence for 89 years and the women's team has been around since 1989-91. The men have had 3x as long to build that support and there has been a much larger investment. So if we're just measuring based on return on investment, the women are absolutely a better investment.
Stage Direction [Second commenter/questioner about the US Women's Soccer Team]
Q: The issue is that soccer is more popular for men internationally so men do generate more revenue and deserve to be paid more.
A: In fact, this wage issue isn't international, it is just about the US Soccer Federation, not the international governing body. But there has still been a bigger and longer investment in men's soccer than in women's soccer and so the revenue generation is partly a result of that.
Q: I only employ women at my business. Are you telling me that what I pay my employees would be compared to men?
A: Yes. When they measure, they do try to compare apples to apples so they would be looking at comparable skills, education, years of experience, and even geographic area. You wouldn't be compared to, say, New York City. But your employees' wages would be compared to men's wages, yes.
Q: My wife and my sister have both been teachers for the last 30 years and neither one of them has ever complained that a man earned more than them. Where are you getting this data from?
A: These data come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are certainly cases where individual women earn more than individual men. We all know women who have earned more than men, men who have earned more than women. But this is looking at it on average, overall. Men outearn women, even in fields like this where we don't expect it.
Q: I work in healthcare and there has been an increasing requirement in the last 10 years for more certification. What effect do you think that need for more initials after your name has had on women's wages?
A: Women are receiving bachelor's degrees at higher rates than men, but they are getting out of school with more debt. They take on bigger loans, usually to help pay for childcare, and then they earn less when they get out because of the gender wage gap, so it takes them longer to pay back that debt as well. Women carry more debt and for longer as a result of the gender wage gap.
Q: Isn't this just a "forced" wage gap because of reimbursement rates from the Federal government?
A: During the last Joint Labor/Health meeting, they looked at Wyoming's aging population and the paid caregivers. They noted inadequate savings for our aging population and some of this is because of the gender wage gap. Most of the paid caregivers are also women. And even when they get their certifications, they earn significantly more than they did five years earlier but still not enough for self-sufficiency in almost all of Wyoming's counties.
Q: How many of you have a daughter? How many of you have read Melinda Gates's new book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World?
[Show of hands: Lots of people had daughters, few people had even heard of the book.]
A: Melinda Gates has taken up this cause and understands the impact of women's economic security on the global economy. Well worth reading. Thanks for bringing that up.
Q: The economy is really good, nationally unemployment is extremely low, in Wyoming it is even lower. Has this had any benefit or made any impact on the wage gap?
A: This is a great question about what happens in a labor constrained environment. The National Association of Counties actually has an excellent piece on how to manage hiring and gender wage gap and raises in a labor constrained environment. When you're hiring in times like this, you often have to hire at a higher rate and so the obvious concern is between newcomers and veterans - your newcomers are making too much compared to your veterans. This does have impact on the gender wage gap. And some women are being hired in at higher rates. So it has some positive effect.
[Note: I should have also added that it has had some negative effect, too, given that women are often veteran employees at organizations, especially local government.]
Q: You said that Wyoming used to be 48th or 49th and we've improved. What was the wage gap when we were ranked lower?
A: 64¢ on the dollar. Women in Wyoming used to earn 64¢ compared to men. Now women earn about 71¢. Again, the wage gap has closed slightly in Wyoming because men's wages have fallen which is not at all what we want to see.
As I write out the Q&A, I find myself wondering if was as contentious as I remembered and described. Fortunately, the remarks of the club leaders serve as confirmation of the tenor of the barrage of questions. (The words "visceral" and "skepticism" were used several times as descriptors).
The audience listened, they asked. Even if some of them held the intention of disproving the premise in both the listening and the asking, at least they were engaging. At least we know what they want to know, what they don't believe, where our education could do more.
That feels like progress.