News Flash: Women now outnumber men in the workforce. The December 2019 U.S. Department of Labor Statistics report shows that there were 109,000 more working women than men.

This is only the second time there have been more working women than men. The first was early this century during the Great Recession when in order to save money companies laid off men before the lower-paid women. However, that gender balance did not last long.

Many experts now expect that women will continue to outpace men in the workforce. While the majority will enter the job market in traditionally female fields, such as lower level service positions, a growing number of women are moving into more male oriented positions in manufacturing and professional areas. Women now exceed men in achieving college degrees and are becoming more qualified for high-wage positions.

You might expect that with more women than men in the workplace, the gender pay gap would close. That unfortunately is not the case. AAUW’s research shows that the national pay gap remained relatively steady over the past several years with women making about 80 cents for every $1 men make. In Hawaii, the gap has worsened with the median annual earnings for women dropping from 84% of men’s earnings in 2015 to 83% in 2018.

Minority women fare worse. According to AAUW’s ongoing research into the gender pay gap, “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap,” Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders women’s median annual earnings were 62% of white men’s earnings.

Downtown Honolulu is the heart of Hawaii’s business sector. In spite of more women in the workplace, they continue to be paid less than men. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The National Partnership for Women and Families report, “What’s the Wage Gap in the States,” says the gender pay gap penalizes all households in Hawaii, as many households rely on the paychecks of more than one household member. Gender pay gap penalizes children excessively, since many children reside in female-headed households. If the $8,149 annual gender pay gap were eliminated, a working woman in Hawaii would have enough money to purchase 11.2 additional months of child care and 5.5 additional months of rent.

Women continue to lag behind men for representation in managerial and executive positions according to AAUW’s “Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership.”

White women make up about 24% of corporate executive positions, however, the numbers fall dramatically for minority groups. Black women — 2%. Hispanic and Asian-American women — 1%. All other ethnic groups — less than 1%.

With the demand for highly skilled workers there will be a greater demand for equal pay for equal work, no matter the gender of the worker, and to embrace policies that companies have avoided implementing. Issues like paid family leave and childcare also enter into the conversation, but when one takes a closer look, these policies affect both genders, not just women.

Women continue to lag behind men for representation in managerial and executive positions.

In order to shrink the gender pay gap, women must become equally represented in policy decision-making positions both in businesses and government. Just look at the gender gap in the Hawaii Legislature. Currently women hold just seven of the 25 state Senate seats and 17 of the 51 state House seats. At least two women are retiring this year, so to gain parity, 10 new women representatives must be elected in the House and several new women in the Senate (depending on how many seats are up for re-election this year).

This is a great time for women to step up. The 2018 national election proved that women can and will be elected if they run for office.

Though there’s much work to be done to bridge and close all the gender workplace gaps, a more inclusive and equal workplace is good for everyone. More women in the workplace, and more women of color in the workplace, means that a diversity of opinions and voices will the heard that otherwise would have been silent. Products and services will work for more people and markets that have been ignored if there is better representation in the workforce.

More women in the workplace being paid and treated as equals is good not only for the bottom line in Hawaii but also for all people in the United States.

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