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10/19/2003

Catching up

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — More than 66 million women are in the workforce today, nearly four times the number of just a half-century ago. Nearly 60 percent of all women are working — comprising just under half of the country’s workforce.

So, has progress in terms of issues like pay equity followed the numbers?

“Lots of things have changed for the better — very much for the better,” said Julia Fitz-Randolph, director of development and communications for the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. “But when women and girls get left behind, they get left way behind.”

She said that in Colorado, one out of three women who are single parents are living with their children in poverty. Women in this state earn 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and the median income for women over the age of 15 who worked full time last year was $29,215, compared with $38,275 for men.

This, despite the fact that 28 percent of women ages 25 to 35 have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26 percent of men.

“In just about every conversation I’ve ever had, when you share the facts — like women earn 75 percent of what men in Colorado earn — where do you go with that?” Fitz-Randolph said.

“It is what it is — now how do we address that?”

In many cases, there are reasonable explanations for the inequity in pay. For example, women tend to move in and out of the workforce, depending on what is going on with their family situation.

But some cases of pay inequity aren’t so easily explained away, according to Sherry Saunders, director of communications for Business and Professional Women/USA. Her organization is supporting pay discrimination lawsuits that have been filed against retail giant Wal-Mart.

Saunders said that the suits contend that women were paid 5 percent to 15 percent less than men, even when they held the same job. An average Wal-Mart district manager’s salary, Saunders said, was $239,000 for men and $177,100 for women.

But she is quick to point out that she believes Wal-Mart to be the exception, not the rule.

“Businesses, at least large corporations, are still working very hard,” Saunders said.

“They want women in their workforce right now, just as they want diversity in their workforce.”

And strides have been made in areas besides pay, Saunders said.

“Work/life balance has really become an important issue. Employers are really responding to this because they’re better off keeping their female workers,” she said.

Being allowed to take time off to care for their children, being allowed flexibility in their schedules and telecommuting — being able to work at home when appropriate — are all issues of importance to women today, Saunders said.

BPW, with chapters locally in Boulder and in Fort Collins, is one resource for women in the business world to go for advice and support.

Another — geared toward women business owners — is the National Association of Women Business Owners, which also has a local chapter.

Gayle Rodgers, president of NAWBO’s Denver chapter, said she thinks Colorado is more supportive than other states when it comes to women in the business world — specifically women who own their own business.

“I think Colorado’s pretty entrepreneurial,” Rodgers said. “I think for me to do what I do might be harder in other parts of the country that are more traditional.”

The owner of a bindery for the past 17 years, Rodgers said she has never felt she was discriminated against for being a woman — “Then again, I never looked for it,” she said.

In fact, when asked what changes she had seen in her nearly two decades in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry, Rodgers spoke at length about challenges and rewards but never once mentioned gender.

“Because for me it’s not an issue,” she said. “Isn’t that funny? But for some people it has been an issue.

“Most women businesses are not huge, and some of our members have worked in corporate America and did not like it and left. And some of them learned some valuable skills, and some of them have faced some discrimination.”

Fitz-Randolph, of the Women’s Foundation, founded in 1987, said her organization’s goals include helping to make systemic changes where possible to improve the lives of women and children in the state.

The WFC has invested more than $7 million, and partnered with 170 agencies in 70 communities across the state. Education is critical, Fitz-Randolph said.

“As we have moved into the information age and the employment is really about the service industry and high technology, when women are left out of the conversations of math, science and technology, they are left out of the future,” said Fitz-Randolph.

According to BPW/USA, in 1955, women earned an average of 63 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Forty-eight years later, the number is 76 cents.

“At the rate we’re going, we won’t catch up until — I forget how many years,” Saunders said.

“If you look at a woman — a woman — you will often find that that woman is making at least as much as a comparable man, but that woman is often not married, has no children — and that’s an unusual woman.

“And is that what America wants?” she said. “Is that the future for women that America wants?”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.