Slowed road to equality

What will it take to jumpstart progress?

The Center on Women and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, recently released its annual report on the status of women and girls in Minnesota. More than 60 people from a variety of organizations and coalitions gathered and analyzed data about economics, safety and security, health and reproductive rights, and power and leadership.

Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy, and Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, led the initiative. They spoke with the Minnesota Women’s Press about the research and their plans to take the findings out to Minnesota communities.

Minnesota Women’s Press: What are commonalities about the status of women and girls across the four sectors-economics, safety, health, leadership?
Debra Fitzpatrick: All of these issues are interconnected. But, the big overarching trend that we see as problematic is a stalling out of progress. Despite the many efforts over the last 30-plus years, we are not making progress in ways that we had hoped. When we thought about getting more women into the workforce, we made some assumptions that that would automatically lead to more women in leadership, that women’s pay would keep pace and become equitable with the pay men get for similar jobs. We’re not continuing the upward trajectory that we thought these changes would automatically result in.

MWP: Why do you think this is?
DF: We talk a lot about tipping points-when we make enough progress with institutional changes, those institutions sort of tip. [Now], as we’re approaching a tipping point, we’re seeing some pushback. We’re pushing up against really changing some institutional norms about the roles of men and women. The institutional changes that need to occur are challenging for our society.

Lee Roper-Batker: We’ve made such great strides, from 1920, with the ratification of the 19th amendment giving [women] the right to vote. Now this last hurdle we’ve yet to clear is really about social equality. That’s much harder. For the first time ever, women are the primary breadwinners. Are we keeping pace then with the types of changes that need to occur within family structures? Women are working so hard, bear so much responsibility and yet aren’t reaping the benefits.

In corporate America, what is happening that enables women to be able to go into those leadership positions and still give birth to children and be active mothers? A shift hasn’t occurred in terms of having those on and off ramps. We make women responsible for the privilege of raising children in our society. And, even though women are the primary breadwinners in their families, we’re complacent that this wage gap exists.

Or look at safety and security: If a girl is born in Minnesota, or anywhere in the world, her odds of facing violence are huge. We’ve become so complacent to that. We look at violence against women as entertainment. How do we shift that paradigm?

MWP: What were elements in the report that stood out for you?
LR-B: Two things about girls: One is that 60 percent of teen pregnancies are preceded by sexual assault. Why then around pregnancy prevention aren’t we looking at how it links to sexual assault? And that by reducing sexual assault we’re going to also reduce teen pregnancy.

Another is that 60 percent of girls who’ve had sex with a female partner, who are bullied, attempt suicide. Where is the leadership around focusing on lesbian and bisexual girls and their needs? There was a big campaign called “It Gets Better” that was really targeted towards boys. Where are campaigns for girls who are suffering, too? In any community, we need to apply a gender lens to what we’re doing.

MWP: Are there assumptions that this report challenges?
DF: An assumption that most people believe is that men and women should be treated equally, but we still see that stereotypes drive a lot of decisions that are made – traditional stereotypes about who men and women are held by both men and women and they are equally devastating.

We looked at research showing how when we look at résumés of men and women, when we put a male name on a résumé, and then we put a female name on the exact same résumé, the female résumé is rated lower. That kind of thing shows up in all kinds of decisions that are made.

Research shows similar kinds of bias and stereotypes about women who are mothers and their challenges in the workplace, related to how competent they are perceived and their opportunities for advancement. Can we think of a “mother” and a “leader” in the same thought process?

LR-B: A big assumption is that we have achieved equality, that it’s a done deal. If we see that women are still job clustering, what are the assumptions we’re making about what’s happening to girls in school around career tracking? If we think that it’s a safe world for women and girls, what assumptions do we have to challenge? Domestic violence and sexual assault are still incredibly hidden and normalized in our culture. That’s not OK.

There’s an assumption that women can do it all, the superwoman phenomenon is here, but it’s not one we embrace. It’s not fair to women. There’s got to be room for women to be mothers and be in executive leadership.

MWP: Are there results in this report that surprised you?
LR-B: I think about the link between women being the primary breadwinners and declining home ownership. Housing for women remains a huge, standout concern. We’re seeing a very unaffordable rental market in the Twin Cities-it’s the highest in the Midwest. At the same time, we’ve seen home ownership rates declining by almost 10 percent in the past decade. Again, [we ask] what are the interventions? What do we need to do so that women see themselves as being able to get into homes, to have a wealth-building strategy and provide stability for themselves and their families?

DF: Studies show it’s better for the bottom line for corporations to have more women on their boards. When we have this opportunity-like the creation of 72 new corporate board seats in publicly held companies in Minnesota, and then only 14 of those seats going to women-what continues to shock me is that despite the rhetoric and evidence about how important it is in economic terms to have women at the table, that we still are seeing these decisions made that are contrary to the evidence.

LR-B: And access to quality child care. Two years ago, when we took this research out to over two dozen Minnesota communities, people talked about lack of access to child care as being the No. 1 barrier to women’s economic well-being. This is a shared community problem.

MWP: What are the ways you are getting the research out in the community?
LR-B: In June, we’ll be going to 14 communities with our “Road to Equality Tour.” We’ll be in Rochester, Willmar, St. Cloud, Duluth and Moorhead; we’ll meet with women at Shakopee women’s prison, the Latina community in Willmar and Native American women at Leech Lake. We do focus groups with a cross-sector of leaders from a community. We really drill down and talk about what the implications of the research are in that community. We ask what they see as critical issues.

DF: We’ve teamed up with Social Explorer to make available American Community Survey Data in a Web-based tool that will allow people to do their own analysis of the data. One of the most important [elements] of this research is to understand women’s lives in an intersectional way, looking at aspects of identity, place and income, and how those different aspects really affect the life experiences of women and girls. This tool-the Gender Equality Explorer-will allow people to do that for themselves at www.GenderEqualityExplorer.org

MWP: Sometimes it feels like the problems are so big, but the actions that you list throughout the report are really manageable for an individual.
DF: We hope to encourage that conversation in the community about actions individuals can take, building the list of 30-minute [actions] or beyond.

LR-B: There’s no panacea for this. It’s the continual work that so many men and women are doing together that’s ultimately going to create economic fairness, that will advance women’s health issues, to make this a world where women and girls can experience it as a place of safety, where women can have equal leadership with men, in government, in business or in families. It’s all a part of the continuum of change, and we’re going to get there.

FFI: See below for data from the “The Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota Research Overview.” report. The full report is available online at www.wfmn.org

The Center on Women and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, recently released its annual report, “Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota Research Overview.” The findings were compiled in four distinct arenas: economics, safety, health and leadership. Here is a sampling of the data collected and analyzed. See the complete report at www.wfmn.org

• Regardless of education, age or race/ethnicity, the wage gap continues. On average, a Minnesota woman is shortchanged $11,000 annually or $1 million over the course of her professional career; women with advanced degrees experience a $2 million loss.

• While women now make up a majority of the workforce in Minnesota and earn a majority of all post-secondary degrees, these changes have not translated into economic parity.

• Education often increases the wage gap.

• The gap is largest in rural and some high-wealth suburban areas of the state.

• Female-headed households are more likely to be in poverty. 74% of Native American, 54% of African-American, 49% of Latina and 40% of Asian female-headed households with children fall below the federal poverty line.

• More than twice as many women over 65 than men live below the poverty line, earning just over $11,233 a year in Social Security benefits.

• Minnesota has the third highest child-care costs in the country.

• By 12th grade, 12% of Minnesota girls experience date-related sexual assault.

• 26% of female college students have suffered intimate-partner violence.

• By midlife, 33% of Minnesota women have experienced a rape crime.

• An estimated 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape.

• Domestic violence is the second leading cause of homelessness among Minnesota women.

• In 2009, 80% of women murdered in Minnesota were battered women killed by an intimate partner.

• A majority of Minnesota adult women are now considered obese (25%) or overweight (30%).

• 16% of girls at a healthy weight think they are overweight.

• Women of color are more likely to receive a late-stage diagnosis of breast cancer.

• 44% of sexually active ninth-grade Latinas and more than one-third of white girls never use any form of birth control; one-third of sexually active black girls never talk with their partner about preventing pregnancy. Sexually active Asian girls and boys are least likely to talk about or use birth control.

• Almost twice as many Minnesota girls report suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide as boys.

• More than 50% of Minnesota county commissions do not include a single woman.

• Women candidates win in equal rates to men, but fewer women run for office. In the 2010 general election, only 22% of mayoral candidates, 26% of city council candidates and 18% of county commission candidates were women.

• 37% of Minnesota school board members are women and 14% of K-12 superintendents are women, even though women make up three-quarters of the education workforce.

• No woman of color has ever held statewide elected office.

• None of Minnesota’s 21 Fortune 500 companies is led by a woman. Women hold just 14.3% of most corporate board seats in the state.

• Only one woman has ever been appointed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This powerful court, which includes Minnesota, sits just below the U.S. Supreme Court and has the worst gender diversity of any circuit court in the country.

What you can do in 30 minutes or less:

To balance the economic scales for all women and girls:
• Learn how to negotiate for the wage you deserve: www.wageproject.org. Then coach the girls and women in your life to do the same.

• Buy from women-owned, women-run businesses.

To create a world that is safe for all women and girls:
• Support MN Girls Are Not For Sale to end the prostitution of Minnesota girls: www.MNGirlsNotForSale.org

• Pay attention to the way others in your life talk about women and girls. Challenge racist, sexist and/or homophobic comments.

• Boycott restaurants (e.g., Hooters) and clothiers (e.g. Abercrombie) that objectify girls and women.

To improve the health and well-being of Minnesota women and girls:
• Create an ongoing, open dialogue with girls and boys in your life about reproductive and sexual health.

• Bring healthy food to your next family, work or community gathering.

To help diversify leadership in Minnesota:
• Suggest a woman colleague for a promotion where you work.

• Visit www.womenwinning.org to learn about women running for office.

• Sponsor a woman to participate in The White House Project’s training, www.thewhitehouseproject.org, or the Tri-College NEW Leadership Development Institute’s training, www.tri-college.org/new_leadership_institute/

Source: “Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota Research Overview,” February 2012.

MWP: What are some of the action steps an individual can take?

Lee Roper-Batker: Civic engagement is important. Research without action is pointless. There are suggestions in the report for activities that [people] can do in 30 minutes or less to change the world for women and girls. [For example,] encouraging young girls to look at jobs that are nontraditional, high-skill or high-paying for them. Or how to do a pay audit in your company so that you can look at the issue of the wage gap. The state provides a free audit to do that.

Debra Fitzpatrick: I think the [action] suggestions really challenge the normalization of things. When we’re watching TV with our kids, watching carefully, calling out those situations that we all just seem to sort of in a subconscious level just become part of the background noise of our lives.