What’s the issue: Women still trail men in pay and face many other economic challenges, a report on Jackson County finds.

How does it affect me: There’s a push to lower the barriers to greater flexibility in the workplace.

 

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A new survey on the status of women in Jackson County could help create a roadmap for policy changes to make it easier to go into business and balance the demands of work and family.

The report is by the Women’s Foundation, which serves Missouri and Kansas. It points to well-documented issues such as pay disparity. In Jackson County, women make 81.7 cents for every $1 earned by men, the report finds.

That’s actually a little better than the national average, and Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, says that’s worth celebrating. She agreed that awareness itself is part of solving that, and she suggested employers audit their own payrolls.

“I think that’s a very basic takeaway,” she said.

Another suggestion: Employers could stop asking for salary histories, which can have the effect of punishing a worker for having lower-paying jobs earlier in their careers.

But the foundation is looking at broader issues as well, “and we are focused on economic development,” Doyle said.

One policy goal is to drop some of the barriers to starting one’s own business. One example: The group testified in a favor of a bill to drop the requirement that those in the hair-braiding business have costly training in cosmetology even though, advocates say, that curriculum isn’t in line with the work of braiding hair. The bill didn’t pass.

That’s the kind of business, Doyle said, that many women say they’d like to get into because they can control their own schedules. Moms raising children say they are looking for flexibility.

“So that’s why we picked this topic up,” Doyle said.

The cosmetology/hair-braiding issue is a matter of state regulation, and she said the foundation favors having a cost-benefit analysis of new regulations. Its report notes that Missouri has 40 boards overseeing 55 professions and says “some regulations have become burdensome and unnecessary” and suggests that burden falls disproportionately on women.

A woman who leaves the workforce for maternity leave or family care, for instance, has to put her license on inactive status while still paying fees and keeping training up to date, the report notes.

Child care is seen as another challenge, and the report says only 51 percent of the child-care centers in the county are licensed.

State Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, said the state generally isn’t doing a great job in helping people get into the jobs that are and will be in demand and that pay well.

“We don’t have the workforce development in Missouri to get those kinds of jobs,” she said.

She also noted the “sandwich generation” issue – people taking care of elders while also raising their kids – and crushing demands on one’s time that creates. Flexibility becomes a big issue affecting work options and choices.

Many of the problems, she said, are deeply rooted. A working mother will often find that paying for child care eats up a huge portion of her paycheck – a disincentive to get a job in the first place.

“That’s part of the system,” Lauer said, stressing the need for a holistic approach to these issues.

The report also pointed to health concerns: 17.7 percent of Jackson County residents under 65 lack health insurance. Also, only six women in 10 who are enrolled in Medicare have had a mammogram in the last two years.

Bridget McCandless, president and CEO of the Health Foundation of Greater Kansas City, suggested caution on the mammogram finding, noting the current debate over how often women should have one and the fact that women over 75 aren’t advised to get them at all. The bigger picture, she said, includes things such as smoking rates and the incidence of cancer.

She did point to the challenges women face in the workplace.

“Women do make different choices than men,” she said, adding, “They value flexibility over money.”

Barbara Potts was the second female City Council member in Independence, in the 1970s, and then became its first woman mayor.

Is there progress to be found in this report, she was asked.

“That’s a really good question,” she said, but added that things have come a long way.

The pay gap is one.

“It’s slow,” she said, “and it takes some patience and education.”

Just pointing it out and raising awareness is a step in the right direction, she said.

“It’s takes perseverance and patience. … Don’t give up,” she said.