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Utah Women 20/20: The Personal Impacts And Unique Factors In The Utah Wage Gap

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women in Utah make on average 70 cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same job, resulting in Utah having one of the largest wage gaps in the nation. 

"I noticed more and more that my male colleagues who, you know, may have been there slightly longer than me - we’re not talking 10 years, it was maybe months - doing the same work, sometimes less work and making more money," said Meghan Falcon, a working Utah mother who experienced the wage gap in Utah. 

"In fact when I was working for a particular company I took a different position and was told not only was I going to take a pay cut but that I would not be able to ask for any sort of pay raise because I chose to take this other position," she said. "Yet when a male colleague of mine made the same decision he was not told the same thing; he kept the wage he had earned at the previous position and I was forced to take a $1.50 pay cut.

"We definitely saw where we had to become a lot more stringent ... I mean beyond just normal budgeting. This was a lot more stringent of an approach we had to take on grocery shopping to take to ensure that our money was going to make it to the next paycheck, to where we had enough to eat, to where our school-aged child was going to get a lunch every day, he was going to get a breakfast every day... It was getting to the point where we were going to have to cut certain hours of childcare because we couldn’t afford it."

And it seems Meghan is not alone in her experience. Research shows that women in Utah do experience a larger wage gap than women across the nation.

According to a study from the American Association of University Women, both in 2016 and 2017, Utah ranked 50th in wage gap, compared to all 50 states and Washington D.C.

"There is not another state like Utah, specifically the family focus but the larger family sizes, the disparity between men and women in education across the nation," said Dr. Susan Madsen, a leading researcher at Utah Valley University who investigates the wage gap in Utah. 

She has found that some of the contributing factors to Utah’s low rankings are, for example, women in Utah obtain fewer higher degrees of education when compared to the rest of the nation.

"In almost every other state women exceed men in terms of bachelors and masters degrees and so forth," she said. "We are one of the few states that really struggle with that ... every level of education you obtain is linked to increased salary."

Another one of the biggest factors for the wage gap is career selection. According to Madsen, more women are choosing careers that pay lower wages across the nation, and especially here in Utah. Women are not selecting higher-paying fields such as business or STEM.

"If you really think that nursing or social work, or being a dental hygienist or cosmetology or those things are really your only options and you don’t even consider other options," Madsen said, "then I would argue they don’t really have a choice because they don’t know, they may love those fields."

And remember Meghan? For her, the wage discrimination against women in Utah had personal impacts. She made $1.50 less than her equivalent male colleague for the same work.

" I mean $1.50 doesn’t sound like a lot but you figure 8 hours a day, each hour deducting $1.50, that’s a lot," she said. "And that’s just in one day. That doesn’t take into account your 40-hour week where you’re losing that $1.50 every hour."

So to do the math, in an 8-hour work day working at $1.50 less, Meghan lost $12 compared to her male colleague, which over a 40-hour work week is a loss of $60 a week. And these losses add up to Meghan losing thousands of dollars each year.

So she left the state of Utah, moved to Texas and is now making a higher wage sayings it’s based on her experience and education.

Some private companies in Utah are making strides to achieve pay parity, which is paying employees the same wage for the same job based on their experience, education and performance reviews.

"In September 2017, we made our first announcements around the fact that we had achieved pay parity," says Rosemary Arriada-Keiper, the VP of compensation at Adobe located in Lehi, Utah. 

To achieve pay parity, Adobe systematically assessed their employees’ pay.

"What we did in this modeling is if there were gaps that were identified that could not be explained as a result of performance, years of experience, etc. it raised a red flag," Arriada-Keiper said. "And what that meant for us is taking a deeper dive to look and see if in fact it couldn’t be explained . . . and if it couldn’t be then it meant that we would give individuals an adjustment."

Adobe has achieved pay parity for all of its employees in the United States and is now actively working to achieve pay parity for its global employees.

“People need to be persistent because again depending on the price tag that comes along with these potential adjustments, it is not always financially feasible, even though it is a risk to the company, right?" Arriada-Keiper said. "But you’ve got to be able to identify the issues in order to be able to fix them. And then I think once you’ve been able to identify the issue, it is working on a plan to consistently try and chip away at the dollar pay.”

Under the Utah Antidiscrimination Act, employers are prohibited from compensation discrimination based on gender; however, unlike in other states, there is not a separate equal-pay law requiring that men and women be paid equally for equal work.

“So one thing that states have done ... is to do some required work within the state government as a start," Madsen said. "I know some of the legislators moved forward to try and have some legislation to do this, but they got squished down by the state government and that was to have a really thorough analysis within the state on pay."

In 2017, a bill was shut down in the Utah legislature that would have required private employers to adopt and disclose equal pay criteria. 

The Utah Women’s Giving Circle, a grassroots community with everyday philanthropists raising the questions and raising the funds to empower Utah women and girls. Information available here. And the Utah State University’s Center for Women and Gender, providing a professional and social climate to enhance opportunities through learning, discovery, and engagement. Information available here.

Music in this story is by Blue Dot Sessions with their songs "Building the Sled" and "Leela"