By Hilary Morgan
CEO, YWCA Alaska
In an unprecedented move last May, YWCA Alaska’s Board of Directors resolved to eliminate the gender pay gap in Alaska by 2025. While this would not be an easy undertaking in any state, for Alaska this is an especially daunting task. In 2014, Alaskan women made just 67.8 cents for every dollar paid to men. At almost 10 cents behind the national average, Alaska is ranked 48th in the nation for the gender wage ratio.
In Alaska, the gender pay gap narrowed just 5 cents over the 20-year period prior to 2014 – 1 penny for every 4 years. At that rate, Alaskan women will not see pay equity until 2142. When YWCA Alaska staff realized this, they decided that enough was enough. Hilary Morgan, YWCA Alaska CEO, presented the information to the YWCA Alaska Board of Directors in May of 2014. By the end of the meeting, the Board had unanimously passed a resolution to eliminate Alaska’s gender pay gap by 2025 and an initiative was born.
But this is unlike any other initiative. YWCA Alaska’s unique approach to this age-old issue is impressive; not only in scope and breadth but in increased likelihood of success. There are three major components.
- The Initiative’s focus is on the economic impact of the gap rather than the social injustice of unequal pay. Alaska, being relatively isolated from the rest of the United States, is facing such shortage of skilled workers that businesses in the state refer to the labor pool as a puddle. Forty-eight % of the Alaska labor pool are women. The fact that women in Alaska make less than men in every major industry does not attract female workers to a state where they are desperately needed. YWCA Alaska sees this situation as the perfect opportunity to work with businesses to transform Alaska’s workplaces into gender neutral environments that attract the best workers, both male and female.
- YWCA Alaska intentionally chose to avoid legislative or political routes to this solution. Since 1963 with the passage of the Fair Pay Act it became illegal to pay women and men differently for the same job. Since then there have been scores of piecemeal legislation addressing women’s rights with regard to pay. These have not demonstratively changed the financial landscape for women. Additionally, there have been several efforts that amass the top community thinkers to form a task force lead by a Mayor or Governor. As soon as that political official is not re-elected, the effort dies. For these reason, YWCA Alaska sought a different approach.
- The YWCA Alaska Gender Pay Gap Initiative uses a 2-pronged approach focused on changing the societal, educational, and economic dynamics that contribute the gender pay gap. The YW has been in existence in this country for well over a 100 years and the Alaska YW for 26 years. We are not going anywhere. We are the perfect entity to take this issue on to resolution. With over 200 YWCA affiliates throughout the United States and YW’s in 122 countries throughout the world, we have an established distribution system, as the Alaska effort is successful, to close the gap once and for all. The two prongs of YWCA Alaska’s approach are:
- The Initiative works directly with businesses, organizations, and their leaders to create gender neutral workplaces.
- The Initiative works to further the education of women and girls on career choice, salary negotiation, and the subtle nuances of gender bias.
To date, YWCA Alaska’s Initiative has nearly completed all their Year 1 action items. They have also received $75,000 for the effort from one of the largest Alaskan employers, Providence Hospital.
Critical steps planned for the Initiative’s first 3 years include:
- Obtaining endorsements from businesses and community members (Y1-3);
- Educate community at large on issues surrounding the Gender Pay Gap (Ongoing)
- Implementing a Best Alaskan Companies for Working Women Survey (Y1 Pilot/Y2&3 Expanded);
- Creating a consultation and rating program for businesses who wish to implement gender neutral policies (Y2-3);
- Building high school and college training programs for women on the topics of career planning and salary negotiation (Y1-3);
- Produce a needs assessment for vocational education programs to promote non-traditional occupations to girls in the state (Y3);
- Design and implement an Attitudes Towards Working Women survey (Y3)
- Hosting an annual Gender Pay Equity Summit (Ongoing)
YWCA Alaska knows that by giving businesses the tools to build gender neutral policies and by ensuring women and girls are prepared to enter the workforce, the gender pay gap in Alaska will be eliminated. With over 40 current endorsements from businesses and statewide leaders, including Alaska’s Governor Bill Walker, the Initiative is quickly gaining community support and momentum. We look forward to working with YWCA affiliates country- and worldwide to close the gap once and for all!
Hilary Morgan is the Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Alaska.