By investing in the status of women, states can encourage the kind of broad-based economic growth and successes that benefit both their economies and the men, women, and children that reside within their borders.
All women need policies promoting equality and basic well-being:
• Federal, state, and local governments can increase women’s earnings by strengthening their support for the enforcement of equal opportunity laws. With more resources, federal, state, and local equal opportunity offices could resolve complaints more quickly and, if more cases were resolved in the plaintiffs’ favor due to stronger and more timely enforcement efforts, employers would have greater incentives to improve their employment practices. Equal employment offices could also audit large employers regularly for discrimination.
• Businesses should regularly evaluate their wage and promotion practices to ensure that men and women of all races and ethnicities are fairly compensated for their work. Employers could be required by federal or state policies or by union contracts to show that comparable jobs are paid fairly, using tools such as job evaluation systems that measure job content on many dimensions.
• Employers could actively recruit women into predominantly male jobs that pay well compared to traditionally female jobs with similar educational and skill requirements. They should also actively prevent harassment and discrimination in these traditionally male fields.
• Federal, state, and local governments should improve educational and job training opportunities for women, especially in occupations not traditionally held by women. States should also invest in technological training in primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, in order to reduce the digital divide keeping many disadvantaged women out of these occupations. States should enforce Title IX rules about equal access to educational programs at the secondary school level.
• State and local activists concerned with the quality of life of women, workers of color, and low-wage workers should get involved in living wage campaigns and efforts to tie the federal or state minimum wages to cost of living increases. All raise public awareness about the importance of setting a reasonable wage floor, which disproportionately benefits women workers—and particularly women of color—because they are more likely to be in low-wage work.
• Educational attainment should be encouraged among all women, but especially women of color, through affirmative action policies encouraging their enrollment in higher education and through increased financial aid and scholarship programs reducing economic barriers. Native American women’s educational opportunities can be specifically expanded by increased investment in tribal colleges and universities.
• Rates of women’s business ownership and business success could be increased by ensuring that federal, state, and local government contracts are accessible to women-owned businesses and by public and private sector investment in loan and entrepreneurial programs that expand small-business opportunities for all.
• Women workers would benefit from greater availability of health insurance and paid parental and dependent-care leave policies—benefits often least available to the lowest paid workers. These benefits can be expanded through state policy mandates, including strategies such as using unemployment insurance or temporary disability benefits, and through the private sector, where businesses can incorporate them into worker compensation packages and collective bargaining agreements.
• Small and large businesses can also evaluate the needs of their workers for flexibility and family-friendly benefits on an ongoing basis by surveying employees and then seeking to meet their needs.
• States can reduce women’s poverty by implementing welfare reform programs that provide a range of important support services, such as high quality education and training opportunities, while still providing a basic safety net for those who earn very low wages or cannot work.
• Because union representation correlates strongly with higher wages for women and improved pay equity, benefits, and working conditions, federal and state laws that facilitate the freedom of workers to form unions would especially assist women workers. For example, states should repeal so-called “right to work” provisions, which prohibit requiring employees who benefit from unions to pay dues and undermine unionization by granting its benefits to workers who do not join.
• State and tribal policies should support the economic and political development of reservations and Native American tribes by incorporating tribally designed economic development strategies, supporting and reinforcing tribal sovereignty, and serving tribal goals.
• States should broaden supports and protections for immigrant women workers, many of whom work in poorly regulated private household or low-wage manufacturing positions, by raising awareness of immigrants’ and workers’ rights. Increased investment in language training would improve the skills of immigrants as workers and open their access to better-paying jobs as well.
• Women can increase the visibility of all the issues facing their lives by striving to assume leadership positions in a variety of places—on reservations and in tribal governments, in towns and cities, in state and federal government, in businesses and corporations, in community groups, and in any other place where leadership is needed.