Report: Policy changes needed to improve womens status in Missouri

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COLUMBIA - A new report released by the Missouri Women's Foundation Thursday shows a need for policy changes to improve the status of women in Missouri. 

The ongoing research examines five different issue areas related to the status of women in Missouri, and benchmarks the progress made in each area. Those areas are employment/income, education/childcare, social/economic, health and leadership/public engagement.

The group began research in 2015, and released Thursday's report as an update to what it found during the study's first year.

Some areas have improved. For example, researchers found that a higher percentage of Missouri women now have health insurance coverage than two years ago.

However, there was also regression. Despite women making up 51 percent of Missouri’s population, the report showed the percentage of women in the Missouri legislature is now only 22.3 percent, down from 25 percent two years ago.

The lead researcher for the report, Emily Johnson with the Institute of Public Policy at the University of Missouri, said the most concerning part is the gender wage gap. She said women who work full time in Missouri earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn. Nationally, women are paid 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. 

Johnson said Missouri's number is an improvement from where women started in the workplace, but improvement plateaued about six years ago.

"The Women's Foundation is definitely interested in pay equity," Johnson said. "It has put forth some different policies and pay equity guidelines to help encourage employers and the state to make a difference in those numbers."

The foundation's suggested policy changes include paid family and medical leave, further research into occupational licensing, pay equity guidelines and a project to encourage more women to fill leadership roles in Missouri government. 

Johnson said everyone is able to and should help to make a change. 

"I don't think there is anyone that is not a target for this information," Johnson said. "You know, all of us are obviously either women or have women in our lives or care about the circumstances and status of women in this state, in this country and in this world for that matter."

Mid-Missouri groups like the Columbia Chamber of Commerce work to include women in leadership roles. It uses its Women's Network division to hold programs that focus on women in business roles. 

Chamber president Matt McCormick said the Women's Network works with women to help them excel in the working world. 

"It's constantly making sure that we have programing and we have organizations that understand the continued growth of women in business, women in our leadership roles throughout our community as a whole," McCormick said. "Not necessarily in just one specific industry." 

McCormick said, according to one national study, Columbia had a wage gap of only about 15 cents on the dollar, as opposed to the state's 22 cents. However, he said there is still a long way to go. 

"It's good to see that Columbia ranked extremely high on the least amount of gap, but any gap is a bad gap. So, we continue to work that way to close the gap." 

Johnson said she expects roadblocks along the way. 

"We're talking about cultural and structural and institutional changes that are required; things that have been in place, you know, women's work being undervalued or not being paid as much in certain professions," Johnson said. "Those things have been around for a really long time and so it's going to require both a cultural and an institutional change to make progress on that." 

Johnson said she expects the report to be released every three years or so from now on. 

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