Minnesota has a wider wage gap than most states. How can we close it?

Set of black opened envelope and cash dollars
Advocates for pay transparency say sharing how much money you make could help close the wage gap.
Karolina Grabowska for Pexels

Minnesota is a national leader for women’s participation in the workplace. And yet, we also have a wider gender wage gap than most other states. That means that women in Minnesota are consistently paid less than men. And over the past decade, we’ve made little progress in closing the wage gap. 

That has huge financial implications for women. The average Minnesota woman loses close to $448,000 during her lifetime due to the wage gap alone.

Christina Ewig, faculty director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota; Youngmin Chu, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs; and Cynthia Bauerly, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Women's Foundation of Minnesota talk with MPR News host Angela Davis about the latest research about the wage gap in Minnesota, and what we can do to begin to close that gap. 

a radio host and three guests sitting in a studio
MPR News host Angela Davis talks with Christina Ewig, Youngmin Chu and Cynthia Bauerly about the gender wage gap in Minnesota and what we can do to close it.
Samantha Matsumoto | MPR News

Here are some takeaways from the conversation.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Click the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

What have you discovered about the gap in pay between men and women?

Ewig: Research tells us there are three big factors behind the gender wage gap: 

  • Occupational segregation: We have a clustering of women in particular kinds of jobs and men in other kinds of jobs. We tend to pay feminized jobs less. Think about a childcare provider versus a construction worker.

  • Discrimination: Even though it's very difficult to measure it, we assume that a good portion of the wage gap is discrimination.

  • Experience gaps: That’s due to time that's taken out of the labor force, whether it's working part time or taking off that year to take care of an infant child. That translates into losing extra wages, promotions and raises.

Chu: As women get into male-dominated fields, the gap increases because the presence of women in male-dominated fields means the devaluation of occupations. These occupations start to see what is called a wage erosion.

Bauerly: What we see is even more stark when it comes to women of different races and ethnicities: White women in Minnesota are making about 78 cents a dollar, compared to men. Native women make 56 cents, compared to men. So it is persistent.

Topics that impact the gender wage gap

Pay transparency

Chu: Research shows that salary transparency can give some opportunities for women to negotiate with their wages. It gives some opportunities for a woman to seek another job that pays fairly. Implementing wage transparency laws would be helpful for reducing the gender wage gap as well. 

Ewig: Companies should have transparent systems that can provide a framework for equity. Transparency can not only be a lever for the woman coming in and saying, “look, I see how other people are paid,” but we can also build it into something larger. For example, the state of Minnesota has a pay equity certificate that was part of our Women's Economic Security Act, and what it does is, if a large employer wants to contract with the state, they must be certified that they have pay equity in their corporation. We need to start thinking about incentives to get employers to think about equity as a good thing and a way to attract good talent.

Parenthood and caregiving

Bauerly: Women are the ones who tend to take a step out of an employment space to take care of children when they get pregnant, or take care of an elderly family member. Paid family medical leave and paid sick leave policies can really help make sure that women don't have to make that choice between taking care of their children or a parent and themselves and their job.

Ewig: We're second in the nation for women in the workforce, that doesn't mean that they're necessarily participating full time. That can have an impact on wages over time. The cost of child care in Minnesota is really high. Some folks are gonna say: “why should I spend my entire salary on childcare?” It may be leading to more part-time work.

Chu: Sometimes women feel really shameful or stigmatized when giving birth, getting out of the labor market and coming back. The workplace should value what women are doing. That is another important part to reduce the gender wage gap.

Pay negotiation

Ewig: When we talk about wage negotiation and raises, there's a couple of things to keep in mind. There is some psychological and economic research that shows that women are more risk averse than men and that has to do with socialization. With little girls we say, ‘be careful!,’ but with little boys we’re like, ‘well, they’re just going to take off.’ Because women are socialized to not be as aggressive and to be more risk averse, when they do push hard on negotiations, they can often be seen negatively.

The role of gender

Bauerly: There is still a difference between masculinity and femininity when we think about jobs and roles.

Ewig: It is about changing men's behaviors. The fact that men are not the ones running out to pick up the kids after school and having to leave at five o'clock on the dot. If we had care work more evenly distributed between men and women, I think we would see employers and our society in general, valuing that. 

Your opinions on gender wage gap

Listeners called into the show and shared their personal experiences related the gender wage gap in Minnesota. Here are some of them.

‘I was paid $10,000 less a year than my male counterpart’

I'm a licensed psychologist and I worked in a mental health agency. I was paid $10,000 less a year than my male counterpart. I know it is a persistent problem, because regardless of me bringing it up, it never changed. I also think that the harder, less desirable positions are covered by women and then they can keep the salaries low.

– Jeanie in Rochester

‘My best practice is to tell I make 30 to 35 percent more of what I’m making’

When I first noticed the gender pay gap, I said: “I'm not going to let this ruin my trajectory going forward.” So when employers were not transparent in the salary from their posting and asked me what I was currently making to make up for that, I added about 30 to 35 percent to my current role when they asked what I was currently making. That is because I already knew that I was probably not the same level as my male counterparts. That is also being reflected when you go on apps like Glassdoor or Fishbowl which a lot of us in the management consulting world utilize. It's anonymous, we post our salaries, location and years of experience. There are some pretty big discrepancies that you see depending on what company you're from. 

– Shadon in Shoreview

‘I need the ability to manage my own time’

I work in a technical field and in that area, I was pretty well aware that I made about 20 percent less than male counterparts. After getting a disappointing raise last year, I got a new job and I told them straightforwardly what I expected to make, and they met it. I was making what I should be making, but unfortunately, the company I moved to didn't have the flexibility that I needed to care for three young children, two of which aren't yet in school. They were very rigid and it did not work for my family. So I went back to the old, lower-paying job because I needed that ability to manage my own time.

– Michelle in Minneapolis

‘Negotiation was a fear and a concern’

I'm working with some female counterparts to obtain a new opportunity: they were laid off and are facing a lot of challenging situations. During discussion with them, we talked about negotiation. The first thing that came to their mind is, “This is the lowest I can take,” and in my mindset — maybe it's taught on the gender side — it's not what's the lowest, it’s what's the most I'm gonna get out. For them, negotiation was a fear and a concern. To me the concept is advocacy, finding support from your male counterparts, using different techniques that they've used, and finding out what can be best supported. In the current environment, a lot of these large organizations are looking to hire female leaders, so strike while the iron is hot, go look for that new job, negotiate, push and get that extra money.

– DJ in Saint Paul

‘I do value you but I don't have to pay you as much as this guy’

I'm a manager at a construction company, and I have a coworker who is essentially doing less responsibilities than I do, and is being paid 40 percent more than I am. I happen to know this because I do our payroll. I am a very assertive person and I came to my boss with a very logical argument and asked what would it take for him to value me the same way. He essentially said: “I do value you the same way, but I don't have to pay you as much as this guy because that is just the way of the market and that is just the way of the world.” I have never in my life felt disenfranchised until that moment, and I was amazed to find that this is a very real thing. 

– Andrea in Maple Lake

Useful resources

Here are a few websites that might be of interest:

Subscribe to the MPR News with Angela Davis podcast on: Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or RSS.