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Women as legislators, women as employers: striving for balance in public policy.


Striving for Balance in Public Policy

In its first year of statehood in 1896, Utah became America's third state to give suffrage to women. Today, nearly 100 years later, Utah's 12 women state legislators represent as many as 240,000 Utahns.

Rep. Joanne R. Milner, D-Salt Lake City, represents one of the poorest districts in all of Utah. One night, after a day of work that included attending an extravagant fund-raising luncheon, she answered a knock on her door. Three young hispanic boys stood on her doorstep, each holding a large empty bucket. "Can we borrow some hot water so we can take baths?" they asked. Having served five years as a state legislator, Milner is convinced that business leaders and politicians need to expose themselves to such stark economic and social realities.

More than half of Utah's population is women. Additionally, more women work in this state than in other states--especially women with young children. "For many women, work is not a choice, but a necessity," Milner stated. And she, like many others, is disappointed that women make up only 11 percent of Utah's Legislature, saying that other state legislatures are 15 to 36 percent women. Arizona's Legislature, for example, is about 36 percent women. "Women bring a different vantage point to the Legislature, she commented. "Utah will have better public policy if it has that balance."

Laws That Passed. . .Others That Failed

Milner sponsored a bill this year called Affirmative Action Plan for Utah. Until the bill passed in the most recent session, Utah had no Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) in place, though the state was in the process of developing one. While the new law pertains only to state government's equal-opporunity hiring practices, many lawmakers believe it serves as a guideline for private industry, as well. According to Milner, the plan does not impose hiring quotas or require employers to accept people who are unqualified. "It calls for a good faith effort in providing recruiting, training, and promotional opportunities for women and minorities who are proportionately underrepresented in administrative and higher-paying jobs," she pointed out.

"Affirmative Action requires collection of employment data to see where we are now, and if we can justify our goals and time frames," Milner explained. "As we enter the 21st century, [employers need to ask] |do opportunities exist for a diverse workforce?' For the past several years, Utah has not had the empirical data to show how we're doing. We don't know the breakdown of our workforce. Some statistics have been collected by race, but it is imperative for us to see if women are still in clerical-type jobs, as opposed to making headway in managerial and administrative careers."

Milner also introduced a bill that would require establishment of a pay-equity task force. "That piece of legislation did not see daylight," she said. "It really would have pointed out any employment disparities. Equal pay is not just a female issue, but a men's and women's issue. The state should be an exemplary model for private industry. Large companies in private industry, in a few exceptional cases, have actually set better [employment] standards than the state, since many companies are depending on federal contracts," she said. "In order for them to secure the contracts, they must abide by affirmative action plans, goals, and timeframes."

"Utah's Affirmative Action Plan is a triumph in the sense that we passd it," agreed Sen. Karen Shepherd, D-Salt Lake City. "But, it is an embarrassment that it wasn't in place already. It appears that the [current] administration is not willing to have any kind of guidelines about diversity in the workplace. It seems to think that whatever happens will happen naturally. In the best of all possible worlds, that's a great idea, but we don't live in that world. If it were not for affirmative action, we would not have the diversity in our workplace that we have now," Shepherd stated.

Utah has less diversity as a whole, and that is reflected in the workplace, according to Shepherd. "The most worrisome concern facing women in business is that in Utah the wage gap is 54 cents to the $1, compared to the national average of 74 cents to the $1," she revealed. "The Utah wage gap has not moved, and that is very troubling."

Reporting Wage Data by Gender

Rep. Afton Bradshaw, R-Salt Lake City, has twice introduced a bill that would ask employers to identify part- and full-time occupations by hourly rates of pay and by gender. "I don't think women are getting a fair shake. Nobody knows which jobs are held by women," said Bradshaw.

Shepherd believes that lack of accurate employment data hurts Utah's economic development. "If we did a good job of gathering data, we might learn that we've made more progress than we thought, and that would be good," she said.

But the measure faced tremendous opposition during the session. Lawmakers asked for it to be sent for interim study by the Rules Committee. The bill did not pass. "There has been no interest in this bill at all," stated Bradshaw, who encourages voters who are supportive of the bill to call the Rules Committee.

Stan Parrish, executive director of the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, has worked for two years to get the Legislature to renew funding of the Women's Business Development Center. That bill, too, did not pass. While he is convinced that Utah needs a central clearinghouse of information and professional expertise to help women in business, he wonders about the constitutionality of requiring employers to reveal specific wage and employment data. "It's one thing if it is offered voluntarily," he added.

The purpose of the center, according to Parrish, was to help women as employers. "There are a variety of social issues facing women as employees," he acknowledged. "But our perspective was to help women business owners through the hurdles and obstacles they encounter, such as getting a loan. Other objectives were to serve as an educational and marketing function." He said that out of frustration or lack of knowledge, entrepreneurs often abandon their ideas. "Our goal is to promote diversity in the economy and encourage women going back to the workforce to consider opening a business rather than to just look for a job."

According to Parrish, over 90 percent of businesses in Utah are classified as small business, and a disproportionate number of those are owned by men, not women. "So where do you go to find help? Most businesspeople don't know where to turn to learn how to start a business. They have questions about improving an existing business, expansion plans, how to transfer technology to a commercial application, and a variety of other problems, but they don't know where to turn. The Women's Business Development Center would have provided that necessary assistance."

Utah's Image as a Place for Women

Legislators and businesspeople agree that Utah is a great place to live, to raise a family, and to work. That is the message communicated by officials charged with promoting economic development. Shepherd recalls the years she worked as editor and publisher of Network magazine, when each week one or two women planning to relocate with their husband's business would call from out of town with concerns about moving to Utah.

"I would tell them I'd help them find a good job, that there is a very good group of supportive women here, and that it is possible to love living here," said Shepherd. "But then they'd ask about the wage gap and express concerns about the few numbers of women legislators in the state. And those facts are difficult to explain. Certain statistics are harmful for economic development," stated Shepherd.

Is Legislation the Answer?

Shepherd and many others believe that the solution to fair hiring practices is not necessarily legislation. "The problem with trying to legislate any of it is that it's a very contentious way to accomplish the goal. People pay a heavy price for bringing lawsuits, and it's very difficult to win. The victims usually lose because individuals can't afford the litigation. On the other hand, employers would not have opened their systems had the law not forced them to."

"I don't think any further legislation is necessary, but business needs to increase their efforts and training of managers on diversity," stated Felix McGowan, executive director of the Department of Human Resource Management. "What is diversity? What will be required to maintain a competitive workforce when we'll have changing demographics? AAP only applies to state government employment practices, but businesses have the responsibility to establish their own, and to initiate some efforts to deal with the inevitabilities."

To maintain a competitive edge in the coming years, say human-resource experts, businesses need to be keenly aware of the changing demographics of the work force. By the year 2,000, the median age will rise from 36 to 39. Only 13 percent of families fit the traditional mold of a mother and father, with the mother at home. There will be demands for higher skills, said E. Faye Wine, community relations specialist at Utah Power & Light and a founder of the Governor's Office of Black Affairs and the Governor's Award for Innovative Corporate Excellence. "When one company says |maybe we can help our employees,' others will follow suit," she said at a recent conference.

"Diversity is as critical to the future survival of any entity that hires people as anything I can think of," she continued. "There are two definitions for diversity. One that we all know of is ethnic diversity. But another definition means empowerment and equality for everyone in the corporation. Any way you look at it, companies are going to have to deal with diversity sooner or later. It would be much easier to work at it before it reaches a catastrophe stage, by already having programs in place."

Corporate Solutions

"It's not that companies don't want to do the right thing, but I'm not convinced they know how," commented Laura Scholl, manager of regulatory affairs at U S WEST. She said a clinic or model would demonstrate to other companies how to make changes. Several consulting firms exist that offer diversity training and organizational empowerment workshops for businesses.

"U S WEST has established excellent diversity-training programs and has promoted a substantial number of women and minorities to executive positions," Scholl said. "Mentorship demonstrates to others how to effectively position their skills to take advantage of the limelight and public attention. By 1993 all 68,000 U S WEST employees will have attended workshops on the value of diversity."

Milner agrees that the best solution is for businesspeople to work collectively and "put pressure on legislators to initiate change. We need to start not only from the top and work down, but also from the bottom and work up. Women in business need to help others along the way in order for them to achieve success as well," she said.

According to Milner, businesspeople in general and women, specifically, should make themselves available to the community, especially to young men and women of economically depressed areas. "Businesspeople should talk with women, make themselves available to the community, and use their creative ingenuity to speak and share ideas with young women--perhaps those of color or lower socioeconomic status--about delaying having children, exploring all the options of life, and stressing the importance of education to improve their skills and upgrade their status."

Legislators also encourage women to consider running for office in the citizen's legislature. "It is a big time commitment, similar to other extracurricular involvements, but it is a valuable education in and of itself," said Milner. "You become familiar and aware of every issue and problem facing the state. You learn a little about everything, and the rewards are many. First and foremost, the only way to make changes is to take the initiative," Milner emphasized

Cheryl Smith is associate editor of Utah Business.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Smith, Cheryl
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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