2015’s Best and Worst States for Women’s Equality

by Richie Bernardo

States-with-the-Highest-and-Lowest-Gender-Inequality-BadgeWomen’s rights in the U.S. have made leaps and bounds since the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yet many women still struggle to crack the proverbial glass ceiling. And it doesn’t take a feminist to convince anyone that the gender gap in 21st-century America remains disgracefully wide. In 2014, the U.S. failed to make the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal countries. Worse, it lagged behind developing nations — including Burundi, Latvia, Nicaragua and the Philippines — with primary areas of weakness in health and political empowerment.

Perhaps most apparent about the issue is how far gender inequality stretches in the workplace. Despite women’s advances toward social equality, they continue to be disproportionately under-represented in leadership positions. According to the Center for American Progress, women “are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” And even though they comprise the majority of the labor force in the financial services and health care industries, not a single woman in these fields is head honcho of her company.

Apart from unequal representation in executive leadership, salary inequity also has been central to the gender-gap debate. Few experts dispute the existence of an earnings gap between women and men, but measuring the disparity remains a challenge. Although the U.S. has completely closed its gender education gap, about two-thirds of minimum-wage workers across the country are female, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Unfortunately, women still have too few voices in government to help them achieve full social and economic equality in the near future.

In observance of Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, WalletHub crunched the numbers to find the most gender-egalitarian of the 50 U.S. states. We did so by examining 11 key metrics, ranging from the gap between female and male executives to the disparity between women’s and men’s unemployment rates. Our findings, as well as expert commentary and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Main Findings

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Overall Rank

State

“Workplace Environment” Rank

“Education” Rank

“Political Empowerment” Rank

1 Hawaii 1 1 3
2 New York 3 8 11
3 Illinois 5 1 18
4 Maryland 2 13 11
5 Vermont 4 11 8
6 Maine 18 20 1
7 Minnesota 11 17 9
8 Wisconsin 14 7 20
T-9 Missouri 17 9 16
T-9 New Hampshire 30 22 4
11 North Carolina 34 1 21
12 Tennessee 24 1 39
13 New Mexico 29 16 17
14 Alaska 18 28 5
15 West Virginia 14 10 32
16 Montana 43 18 14
17 Washington 11 43 1
18 Nebraska 25 23 31
19 Mississippi 37 1 45
20 Arizona 8 45 7
21 Massachusetts 18 32 15
22 Georgia 27 14 40
23 South Dakota 36 12 36
24 Connecticut 23 34 11
25 Colorado 16 34 19
26 North Dakota 44 19 26
27 Arkansas 48 1 42
28 Florida 6 42 23
29 Nevada 7 46 10
30 Indiana 40 24 35
31 California 10 47 6
32 Kansas 46 27 24
33 Rhode Island 9 40 32
34 Oklahoma 35 15 48
35 Michigan 38 31 24
36 Kentucky 28 25 46
37 Iowa 41 29 28
38 New Jersey 18 41 27
39 Alabama 31 30 36
T-40 Delaware 31 38 32
T-40 Ohio 22 43 29
42 Oregon 13 48 22
43 Virginia 26 33 43
44 Louisiana 49 20 49
45 Pennsylvania 39 36 43
46 Wyoming 50 25 50
47 Texas 46 38 41
48 South Carolina 42 36 47
49 Idaho 33 50 30
50 Utah 45 49 36

Best-and-Worst-States-for-Women-Equality-Artwork2

Ask the Experts

As the U.S. falls in rank on the WEC’s Global Gender Gap Index, we asked a panel of experts to shed light on the reasons behind the country’s disappointing performance with closing its gender gap. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?
  2. The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?
  3. What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?
  4. Although women hold about 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What advice you have for women who want to break-in into any of these three categories? What policy changes would you recommend?
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  • Daniel P. Aldrich Full Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for Resilience Studies at Northeastern University
  • Brian J. Gaines Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Jennifer Scanlon William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of the Humanities in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College
  • Josh Gold Associate Professor of Political Science at Salt Lake Community College
  • Joseph Losco Professor and Director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University
  • Shauna Lani Shames Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University-Camden
  • Nichole Bauer Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Alabama
  • Barbara Koziak Associate Professor of Government and Politics at St. John's University

Daniel P. Aldrich

Full Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for Resilience Studies at Northeastern University
Daniel P. Aldrich
The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?

First, it is important to understand that the gender gap being measured here looks at the sex ratio at birth and female life expectancy over male values. A number of other countries have women doing better in terms of these two health-related measures, but overall, the United States ranks among the top 20 nations in terms of gender gaps. In this specific field, while women outlive men in almost all industrialized nations, their individual health outcomes are worse than man of the same age. It also means that the ratio of boys to girls being born does not match the calculated natural proportion, possibly because of sex-selective abortions. These gaps in health and in sex ratios are being driven by a combination of norms (ideas, how we see the world) and institutional design. Many health care institutions continue to focus on men's health and therefore drug research and other investigations continue to focus on men. Fixing the problem is challenging; some peer-reviewed studies have shown that increasing educational opportunities for women and also providing women-focused research and health care solutions can help close the gap in this field.

The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

Women in the US seem to be less interested in effecting political change through office - but they certainly vote, demonstrate, and carry out other forms of civic engagement at high rates. As such, there are a variety of ways to close the political gender gap.

First, some countries have adopted programs which require political parties to run a certain number of female candidates - this has worked quite well but I am not sure that the two main US political parties would undertake this option. Another approach from nations like India involves focusing on improving the political role models for young women and encouraging them to join politics - many studies have shown that women are less likely than men to express an interest in running for office. A combination of the two may prove most effective.

What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?

Here, again, the underlying problems for the gender pay gap (beyond discrimination from managers) are both norm- and institution-based. Studies have shown that women are less likely than men to advocate for higher wages, and need coaching and a supportive environment to make this behavior more regular. The first solution would be to change the norms in the workplace so that managers and women workers see women as deserving of equal pay. The second set of solutions would require firms to track the gender gap internally and work to correct it - this would make institutions more aware of discriminatory norms and practices inside their boardrooms. Other institutional changes involve creating better child care programs, maternity and paternity leaves, and flexible time systems that allow both genders to make care giving part of the regular work / life balance.

Although women hold about 52% of all professional level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What advice you have for women who want to break-in into any of these three categories? What policy changes would you recommend?

The most effective policy solutions to the executive gender gap will be ones which combine norms and institutions. First, should stockholders and external evaluators take seriously the ratio of women in leadership as a sign of company performance, many publicly listed firms would move more quickly to seat women board members and executives. Next, we need to change the norms held by society more generally, and encourage women to envision themselves as leaders while providing institutions to support this - such as better child care solutions, flextime, and equal pay. It is easy to imagine a woman who is initially serious about a career at a firm but is regularly denied equal pay - it would be logical for her to start her own firm rather than stay at a large Fortune 500, one that does not take gender equality seriously. A combination of better institutional support, outside evaluation of firms based on their ability to close the gender gap, and new norms will be the best policy changes here.

Brian J. Gaines

Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Brian J. Gaines
The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?

Generally, I'd begin by stressing that closing gender gaps is not necessarily a pressing priority. Gaps can be closed by bringing the lagging gender up or by bringing the leading gender down, and these are not usually equally desirable strategies.

Regarding health and survival, the paradox is that women outlive men in all the industrial/rich nations, but they also have lower health indices at any given age. This second finding depends on what variables are used to gauge health, and can be made to go away with a different index. If you separate those two outcomes (survival, health), the gaps have different signs or directions. In the US, the life expectancy gender gap for black Americans is pronounced, and so it is bound up in the distinctive problems - lower employment, higher probability of being arrested, higher incarceration rate, higher probability of being crime victim, etc. - experienced by black males as a class.

Sometimes "health and survival" is a composite of two variables: sex ratio at birth and life expectancy. Sex-selective abortion (in favor of boys over girls) is impossible in countries so poor that they don't have ultra-sound equipment (e.g., most of Africa). But it is still rampant in China, and India is not far behind. The US is not too different from the rest of the rich world, with some skew (girls being aborted more), but levels much lower than in East Asia. My understanding of abortion jurisprudence at the moment is that it would not be possible to ban abortion based on sex, even though the American public overwhelmingly disapproves of it. Anyway, this is an oddball item on your list insofar as women outperform men in raw life expectancy, and the poor result for "women" is a function of bias among pregnant women in favor of having boys, not girls. I don't know whose list has the US at 62, and whether the implication is better "health and survival" for men (males in utero), but if this is the variable formed from combining birth sex ratios and life expectancy, the 2 components look very different.

The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

A surprising point about low rates of female representation is that it seems to be more a result of women choosing not to run than of electorates exhibiting an unwillingness to vote for female candidates.

On the latter point, though, there's a slight and interesting partisan bias too - all else equal, female Democrats are less willing to vote for a Republican woman running against a Democratic man than are Republican women choosing between a Republican man and a Democratic woman. That factor has played a small part in increasing the gap in Democratic and Republican female caucus sizes.

On the whole, the US system features weak parties and decentralized decision-making, so the strong-armed approach of requiring quotas of female candidates, used in numerous European nations, is very hard if not impossible to implement.

Neither of the major US parties can simply dictate that some fixed proportion of all its candidates must be female, as long as nominees are chosen in district-specific primaries.

What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?

On the pay gap, one hears two very different sets of numbers. Often we hear that women earn something like 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. That comparison is arguably misleading insofar as it ignores experience gaps. The conditional comparison, corresponding to "equal pay for equal work and equal experience," is more like 90-95 cents (to women) for every dollar earned by men. That small gap could be closed, but most of the gap in the raw means (well over half) seems to originate in different choices by men and women about how much to work, when to take leave, what kinds of jobs to seek, etc. The usual proposed remedy is more friendly child-care benefits, as a mandate in law or offered voluntarily by far-sighted employers. Those could make male and female labor-market patterns more similar, but there are tradeoffs involved, and some cultural trends are moving the opposite direction, towards reinforcing different male and female career trajectories. Many women who have the luxury of choice - well educated women with spouses who earn enough to support a family alone - prefer more time child rearing, even at the cost of slightly lower pay (over the career). There's a live debate, in short, on whether it is "good policy" to pass laws intended to incentivize outsourcing of child care writ large.

Jennifer Scanlon

William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of the Humanities in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College
Jennifer Scanlon
The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?

It's a paradox: although women live longer than men, their health is far less robust. Nations that exercise deliberate intention in closing this gender gap see significant gains. Some have closed it altogether. In the United States, we have to become more deliberate in exploring the reasons for the disparity. As we enter the presidential campaign season, there's a lot of talk about women's health; that's promising. We have to continue to push on both the research and the policy ends of this issue.

The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

We can learn about the gender gap in political empowerment from other countries; we can also learn from our own experience. Women who run for political office in the United States as in many other countries actually have fairly good rates of getting elected; the problem is that not enough women run. It is still true that women are empowered by seeing other women in office, so developing strategies for increasing the number of women running for office can help close this gap.

What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?

One approach to closing the gender pay gap is fairly simple: getting the word out that pay equity is good for business! We have enough evidence by now that promoting women, and paying them well, is not just about justice; it's smart business practice. Diversity results in more effective decision making and better outcomes. We could do a better job of advertising this by highlighting the companies and the leaders in so many fields that have found it to be true.

Although women hold about 52% of all professional level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What advice you have for women who want to break-in into any of these three categories? What policy changes would you recommend?

Clearly this kind of change is slow, but it's not likely to speed up at all without deliberate effort on the part of organizations. The literature shows that employees of all kinds are more satisfied at work if they are employed in collaborative, inclusive workplaces with a variety of role models. Those same kinds of workplaces are more likely to promote women. The cultural changes that will help women, then, will help everyone.

Josh Gold

Associate Professor of Political Science at Salt Lake Community College
Josh Gold
The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?

A] Put simply, patriarchy. However, unraveling its persistence in the actions of and outcomes consequent to the daily operations of social institutions in the 21st century is a complex matter. See Estelle Freedmen’s No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. She essentially argues that the historical development of the industrial revolution within capitalist economic forms of social organization, combined with the liberal political movements of the day (17th-19th cents.), privileged all public and work-spaces for men, while legally mandating women to the domestic spheres (of men) as their property (chattel). The politics of work outside the home meant men were to always bring home the bacon, and women were meant to serve men once they returned home (but also all day, cleaning, cooking, raising children, etc.). The politics of liberalism privileged the vote and political office exclusively to men, etc.

Also, the USA has an especially masculine history of conquering, colonization, extermination, and subordination of any groups of people who weren’t white, male, straight, etc. (or could pose as such). Women, in other words, continue to be second-class citizens here. They are not alone.

The following can be done to close this gap:
  • tax-payer subsidized day-care;
  • tax-payer subsidized pre-natal care;
  • legal mandates requiring private and public employers to pay equal wages for equal work;
  • legal mandates requiring gender diversity on the boards (of directors) of publicly traded corps.;
  • a constitutional mandate requiring some significant proportion of congressional seats be reserved for women;
  • tax-payer subsidized health care for all Americans, especially children (who suffer the most poverty nation-wide).
This list is far from exhaustive.

The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

Yes, as already noted above, legally requiring corporate boards to reserve a significant segment of their seats for women is being practiced by most Scandinavian nation-states, among others. Moreover, Norway constitutionally requires one third of their parliament seats be reserved for women. Both strategies not only promote gender diversity - all sorts of studies demonstrate such policies generate better, healthier outcomes for women (and men), shareholders, community members where corporations operate, etc.

What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?
  • A constitutional amendment, e.g., the era of the ‘70s.
  • Besides that, legal mandates requiring publicly-traded corporations reserve many corporate board seats for women.
  • Laws requiring equal pay for equal work.
  • Free day care subsidized by all tax-payers, as is done across most of the first world nation-states, would allow women to pursue all sorts of work that are now closed to them because of the costs of day care, here, in the USA.
Although women hold about 52% of all professional level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What advice you have for women who want to break-in into any of these three categories? What policy changes would you recommend?

I have already spoken to policy changes, suggestions, etc.

As for advice for women trying to break into top economic positions in the US economy, I haven’t any. However, my advice is for WalletHub.com. As I clicked on your recent study, I saw only the faces of white males representing the fields of business, economics, finance, real estate, etc. I too am a white male w/ graduate degrees [in political science]. I consider myself to be a male ally of women, feminism and the processes working to undermine patriarchy in the 21st century, but your website is so [white &] male-centered it’s hard to take your questions seriously. Diversify at once!

The political climate in the US is nowhere near discussing such strategies and tactics for addressing the statistical truths (about women) your questions pose. Even Hillary Clinton hasn’t raised much attention to the policy and legal means for addressing gender gaps concerning the health and survival of American women. Symbols aren’t necessarily the same thing as substance. Why isn’t Hilary being repeatedly asked your first question on the campaign trail?

Finally, Marilyn Frye’s article “Oppression” is a good place to begin unraveling the system (of domination and subordination) known as patriarchy. It’s useful, in fact, for understanding any form of oppression.

Joseph Losco

Professor and Director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University
Joseph Losco
The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?

Probably a number of reasons. Maternal fatality figures increased substantially between 2010 and 2013. But the numbers may simply reflect better accounting procedures (see Scientific American, June 8, 2015). However, the lack of good prenatal care in both inner cities and rural areas as well as the lack of quality birth control and women’s health resources in those same areas is surely implicated.

The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

One of the most significant factors in increasing female political participation is the availability of role models. For example, in general, more women in states with female governors become politically active than in states with male leadership. As women become more visible in leadership, their numbers increase.

Shauna Lani Shames

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University-Camden
Shauna Lani Shames
The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

We're also 71st in the world in terms of women's representation in our parliament!

We know that having women in office is important in a lot of ways. First, it’s just simple justice – as women in India would chant in the movement for constitutional amendments for gender quotas there, “Democracy without women is not democracy.” But also, scholars have found that having more women in office leads to more representative government, more responsive government, more transparency, less hierarchy, and also to better public policy outputs. So there are good reasons to want more gender equal representation, on both the process and the policy output sides.

In some ways, the U.S. can learn a lot from countries that outpace us in terms of political gender parity. Most other countries that are ahead of us in these rankings have some form of gender-based quotas. Sometimes, these are reserved seats for women in the legislature or in cabinets or in local councils. In other places, there are no reserved seats but the political parties have to have women as some percentage (usually a quarter or a third, or, in France, a full half ) of their political candidates. If we want women elected in any kind of critical mass, which seems essential so they are not just tokens, the quota or reservation solution is the quickest way.

In this country, however, we are rather allergic to the idea of quotas (witness the backlash against the misunderstood idea of affirmative action) – but this doesn’t mean we can’t have any “equality machinery.” Lately, many U.S. corporate boards, realizing that having women makes them stronger, have taken up the idea of “business targets” – that is that having a certain proportion of women on their boards is not a hard-and-fast rule, but it is published, promoted, and pursued as a business goal. Political parties would do well to imitate this model voluntarily, and promote their actions to voters (after all, both parties are constantly trying to woo women, but too often do little concrete to deserve their votes). This would also force the parties and political powerbrokers to do much more recruiting of women, which is essential. We know from the research that women need more recruitment, support, and encouragement than men in order to run in the first place, but usually get far less.

Another thing we could do, which would make politics a less-unattractive career option and would help men and families as well as women, is to ensure that it is possible to balance a political career with parental (or other) caregiving responsibilities. If we continue to expect mothers/women to do more of the caretaking for children, the elderly, and the disabled, and politics is also a more-than-full-time job, there is no way we will reach gender parity in politics. Jobs of all kinds (where there are more than just a handful of employees), including those at the statehouse, should provide childcare, paid family and sick leave, and reasonable hours. This would bring in more men who also want to spend time with their kids, and surely those are the kinds of people we want in politics as well as more women. I recall hearing a story about the Welsh parliament, which did not have many women at first, but when a critical mass of women got in, they got together with similarly-minded men to ban the “midnight sittings,” where the legislature would work through the night (mostly arguing and getting little done). Together they made the legislature a better and more efficient place to work, and also one where more women wanted to be.

On an institutional level, another major thing other countries do that we don’t is have multimember districts. The U.S. system of single-member districts at all levels (where there are relatively small districts and only one person can win) seems to systematically under-represent women and other political minorities, compared with a multimember parliamentary type system. If we merged, say, three Congressional or city council districts, and make one large district that gets 3 representatives to represent it, we would be more likely to get more gender and racial diversity.

Recently I presented a paper at a conference at Harvard, organized by Rockefeller and the SSN, called “The Women Effect: Advancing Equality, Strengthening America,” where I further explored the various barriers to women’s political advancement, and other scholars explored related topics in their papers and comments. Anyone interested can read this paper and more on the conference, which addressed this same set of questions, here.

What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?

When you disaggregate the gender pay gap, it turns out to be composed of several key (and intersecting) strands. Some of it is about a long and deep history of discounting women’s work (which will still do with the unpaid family and reproductive women do in the private sphere, thinking that it is just “women’s work”). A few thousand years of this kind of gender differentiation of labor is hard to undo in just a few decades, as it turns out. It also won’t happen on its own, so laws and policies to halt outright gender bias are essential (see IWPR on this). When women and men are in the same job category and doing the same work, they should be paid the same – in this, the recent Lilly Ledbetter case and subsequent act were critical steps forward, but we need state-level legislation to this effect as well.

But also a whole lot of the pay gap is not this kind of pure sex bias – it often has to do with the differing life situations of male and female workers, and especially to do with family caregiving responsibilities. Generally, what we do now as a society and economy is punish women for taking time out of the workforce to do the essential and important work of having and raising children – we treat children as an expensive private hobby rather than what they are, a public good. This kind of discrimination is much harder to correct, but great minds have thought a lot about how to do this, and have lots of good policy recommendations: see the Center for Worklife Law, the IWPR and the Women’s Bureau within the Labor Department.

Another huge component of the gender gap has to do with negotiation and the gender divide. We know from some very good research that women are less likely than men to negotiate for salary or promotions. We also know that when women don’t ask, generally they have some really good reasons for staying quiet! There are all kinds of social incentives inveigling against women’s ambition. The solution needs to be two-fold; women need to ask more, but also not to be punished for so asking.

And finally, since about a third of women are women of color, the racial pay gap factors into the gender one as well. Some of this gap, again, is about pure discrimination within the same job categories, but a lot of it is class (a combination of income and education). A deep history of institutional racism in this country (not just slavery and not just affecting blacks, either) has a heavy hand still today in in shaping the job opportunities and salaries available to people of color. If race has deeply shaped the starting point for generation after generation in our past (and it has), then it is no use saying we’re all starting from the same point today (we aren’t). Race and gender overlap to produce a race-gender pay gap where women of color, particularly black and Hispanic women, earn the least.

Although women hold about 52% of all professional level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What advice you have for women who want to break-in into any of these three categories? What policy changes would you recommend?

Lately, a lot of the discussion around this kind of gender leadership gap has focused on the women themselves, as if they are the ones at fault for not “making it.” They should “lean in” and speak low and such. This is fine advice – they should! It makes me furious when women (or men, for that matter) in my classes speak in an unconfident squeak or start comments with “Maybe I’m just dumb, but…” or “Does anyone else think that…” – I like to see a bit of moxie, as my family would say. So yes, great, lean in like Sheryl Sandberg, by all means. Reach high, don’t be afraid to fall down once in a while, etc. (my wife thinks all girls should have to play competitive team sports and learn how to fall down and get back up when young). Some of the best thinkers on this issue have already mapped out what they call the “labyrinth” of leadership.

But generally I think women themselves are not the ones to blame or retrain. I think they are often doing a pretty darn good job at their jobs, and don’t have all that much power over whether or not they get promoted or chosen for leadership – the onus here should lie with those who do the choosing, promoting, and recruitment. Of course the women have got to apply, and say yes when asked and all that, and they should. But also the crony-capitalism situation we’re in is just no good for almost anyone except those at the very top.

So they need to either force themselves, or be forced, to diversify. If they can’t or won’t do it on their own, perhaps policies or even laws are needed. Indeed, other countries have realized that some force needs to be applied because of the foot dragging and inaction that otherwise results.

Nichole Bauer

Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Alabama
Nichole Bauer
The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?

Two key factors contribute to this health and wellness gap. First, economic dynamics play a significant role. Women earn far less than men do in comparable positions at all levels of employment. Even more problematic are the differences in professions held by women and men. Women are far more likely to be in low paying, hourly jobs compared to men.

The second factor relates to policies surrounding reproductive rights and access to services in the US. For many low-income women, there is limited access to vital health services in the US. The closure of health clinics that also happen to provide abortion services, in rural states and low-income areas directly affects the ability of women to seek out regular preventive health care. This, in turn, negatively affects the health and well-being of women.

The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

The major difference separating the US from countries with high levels of political empowerment among women is the structure of the electoral system. Parliamentary systems with multiple parties tend to elect more women than the winner take all first past the post electoral system in the US. This structural difference in critical because it limits the opportunity for gender discrimination.

There is a lot of debate about whether quota systems in parliamentary systems bring positive benefits for women. For example, Pakistan uses a quota system and women hold 20% of seats in parliament. This does not mean that Pakistan empowers women politically. Often, quota systems lead to the appointment of women who do little to substantively represent women.

The other key difference that separates the US from countries that do politically empower women, such as Scandinavian nations, is that these countries have policies and systems in place that benefit women. For example, Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian countries with high levels of political empowerment among women also have favorable parental leave policies. Political empowerment, health, education, and income gaps between women and men are all closely linked to one another.

What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?

Specific policies are hard to pin down. The US has had pay equity laws for nearly 50 years, but there is still a large pay disparity. The biggest change that needs to occur is a shift in how we think about women, reproduction, parenting, and the workplace. The argument that women self-select out of career opportunities because they choose to have children sets up a false dichotomy between the parenting choices of women and men. Moreover, this argument implies that if women didn’t have kids there’d be no pay gap — but that gap exists for female professionals with and without children.

Policies that do not stigmatize women for having children are a good first step. The Family Medical Leave Act gives women 6 weeks of unpaid leave after giving birth. This is woefully inadequate. Expanded parental leave can have a positive impact. But, women also need access to affordable childcare options when they do go back to work.

One of the other reasons of the gender pay gap is subtle implicit bias in the hiring and promotion processes. Creating gender blind hiring and promotion procedures can remove the opportunity to make assumptions about the abilities of women based simply on their gender.

Although women hold about 52% of all professional level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What advice you have for women who want to break-in into any of these three categories? What policy changes would you recommend?

The expectation placed on women trying to break into executive positions is that women need to change their behaviors to match the expectations set by men in positions of authority. However, when women conform to this expectation they can still be punished. Businesses want decisive leaders, but we see decisive women as cold, distant, and unlikable. Women need to develop strategies to mitigate these biases. The onus is upon women, not the men in charge, to overcome gender bias.

This is a problem that gender blind hiring and promotion processes can mitigate. It is well established that people in positions of authority tend to favor people that look like them, and in the professional sector, this translates into men hiring other men. More education and awareness about how to avoid subtle gender bias can also promote long-term cultural change. Knowing how gender bias affects the way others think about women in positions of authority can help limit these negative effects.

Barbara Koziak

Associate Professor of Government and Politics at St. John's University
Barbara Koziak
The US is currently ranked 62nd globally when it comes to the gender gap in health and survival. What is driving this? What should be done to close this gap?

It’s important to understand that the Global Gender Gap Report, in which the U.S. appears at 62nd place, measures only two factors — sex ratio at birth, and life expectancy — and also compares women to men in individual countries. The report does not compare women to women in different countries. Thus countries with overall low life expectancies still might rate high in the index, because both men and women share similar (low) life expectancies. Zimbabwe, for example, has an overall life expectancy of 44.21 years, giving it a next to the last ranking in the world, but shares the 1st place rank with several others countries in the gender gap index. No one wants equality in sickness and low health.

A better index that compares women to women worldwide is the United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index that uses two measures on the issue of health — maternal mortality or the number of women who die due to conditions related to childbirth, and adolescent fertility. For the year 2010, the United States ranked below 48 other countries with 21 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. But the differences among top developed countries are much smaller than the differences between developed and developing countries, where the number of maternal deaths can soar to 850 or more per 100,000 births. Since maternal mortality is often related to the lack of health care, the expanded coverage available under Obamacare should put a dent into those numbers. But the number of states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the law means that some of the most vulnerable women will still not have affordable access to prenatal care. So we should understand the healthcare coverage issue as a gender issue.

The US is currently ranked 54th globally when it comes to the gender gap in political empowerment. Are there strategies the US can learn from other countries to help close this gap?

The vast majority of other countries use different electoral systems — multi-member district and proportional representation for multiple parties in the their legislatures. U.S. states, such as Vermont and Arizona, that use multi-member districts have higher percentages of women in their legislatures. Some organizations such as Representation 2020 are pushing to change electoral laws in just this way. In addition, more than 120 countries employ either mandatory or voluntary quotas for women. But researchers have recently pointed to the simple fact that fewer girls and women develop the ambition to run. Running elections and campaigns, practicing legislating should be a feature of early public education, and later more women need to be recruited, and convinced they can and should run for office.

What policies would be most effective in closing the gender pay gap?

It’s critical to understand that the pay gap is the result of multiple causes, some of which are related to family choices about who will focus on caring for children and the home, but that means the solution must include creating a culture that values the care of children as part of a good life, so that both women and men would be expected to take time out on parental leave and to be available for children after work. The recent New York Times story about the brutal Amazon workplace shows how difficult it is to combine some kinds of work with childrearing. Thus we need both political activism on the part of parents, and government pressure on business to provide better benefits for parents. The U. S. remains the only developed country without widespread paid family leave. But there are other good partial solutions. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been stalled in Congress since 1997, includes a provision that prevents employers from penalizing workers who discuss their paychecks. It’s obvious that freedom and justice demand greater transparency.

Although women hold about 52% of all professional level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. What advice you have for women who want to break-in into any of these three categories? What policy changes would you recommend?

It’s much more possible to break in than ever before --- but too often only for women who renounce child-bearing. In my own profession, the numbers are startling. The percentage of tenured male professor who are married with children — 70%. The percentage of tenured female professors with the same family life — 44%. What this means is not that women should give up on marriage and children, but that we still need to create a world that doesn’t make the man with a wife at home the standard for how the job should work. We need creative transformation of both work and family life.

Methodology

To gauge the scope of gender-based disparities in the U.S., WalletHub compared the 50 states across three key dimensions: 1) Workplace Environment, 2) Education and 3) Political Empowerment. We then compiled 11 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights.

For each metric, we compared the differences between women and men. In certain states and for certain metrics, women have an advantage over men. In such cases, we gave equal credit to the states with no gender inequality.

Workplace Environment – Total Weight: 5

  • Pay (Median Weekly Earnings): Full Weight
  • Number of Executives: Full Weight
  • Average Work Hours (for Full-Time Workers): Full Weight
  • Number of Minimum-Wage Workers: Full Weight
  • Unemployment Rate: Full Weight
  • Entrepreneurship: Full Weight

Education – Total Weight: 5

  • Percentage of Residents Aged 25 & Older with a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher: Full Weight
  • Math Test Scores: Full Weight

Political Empowerment – Total Weight: 5

  • Percentage of Female Lawmakers in U.S. Senate: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Female Lawmakers in U.S. House of Representatives: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Female Lawmakers in State Legislature: Full Weight

 

Sources: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Women's Law Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Educational Statistics and the Center for American Women and Politics.

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Richie Bernardo is a personal finance writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, he was a…
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