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Rochester named best place in U.S. for working women

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Elizabeth Cozine, M.D.

A new study has ranked Rochester as the best city for working women in the United States.

SmartAsset, a New York-based company that produces rankings on a wide array of topics, crowned Med City after crunching the numbers on gender pay gap, unemployment rate among women, percentage of women in the labor force, ratio of working women to working men, and a woman's leftover income after paying for housing.

Rochester finished either atop or near the top in each of those categories.

Sharonne Hayes, Mayo Clinic's Director of Diversity and Inclusion since 1990, touted the study's findings as a great recruiting tool for the nation's top-ranked hospital and its host city. It's also possible — if not likely — that Mayo's policies on gender equity played a key role in Rochester earning the distinction.

Mayo employs nearly 41,000 females across all sites, including more than 22,000 in Rochester, where women comprise nearly 70 percent of the workforce. The vast majority of those employees are in salaried positions where men and women are on identical pay scales.

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Hayes says that "sets the tone for the organization" on gender equity, and speculates that it may even have a trickle-down effect on other Rochester businesses.

"When I tell (other hospitals) that even our surgeons are salaried, they don't get paid per procedure, people outside (Mayo) are amazed," Dr. Hayes said. "That's a pretty foreign concept."

Mayo's policies are particularly newsworthy in the wake of the latest JAMA Internal Medicine study on gender equity, which revealed a pay gap of between $20,000 and $51,000 for male and female physicians across various specialties. The New York Times highlighted that study with a headline of "Dr. Paid Less" over the summer.

"It's 2016, and yet in a very methodically strong, large study that covers a broad swath of the country, you're still seeing at the very least a 10 percent difference in what men and women take home," said Dr. Molly Cooke, a professor of medicine at University of California, who has studied salary disparities among physicians.

Midwest cities dominated the list announced last month by SmartAsset. While Rochester claimed the top spot, Columbia, Mo., and Topeka, Kan., finished second and third, respectively. Minneapolis-St. Paul was ranked No. 6, Sioux Falls, S.D., ranked No. 9, Madison, Wis., claimed No. 11 and Fargo, N.D., took No. 13.

Hayes says the SmartAsset assessment heavily weighted two particular categories which benefited Midwest communities — gender pay equity and leftover pay after paying for housing, which is considerably cheaper here than on the East or West coasts.

Rochester women led the way by a significant margin in the latter category, reporting an average remaining income of $23,697 after paying for housing. Among the 25 ranked cities, the next highest was Washington, D.C., at $21,674. The national average is $17,211.

According to the study, Rochester women make 82.4 percent of what men do for performing the same job. The national average is 72 percent.

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Women in Rochester also have an unemployment rate of 3.55 percent. Only Sioux Falls and Fargo have a better numbers among the 25 top-ranked cities.

Hayes expects those numbers will help make Rochester a more attractive career destination in the years ahead, particularly as Mayo seeks to add around 30,000 jobs by 2034 through Destination Medical Center.

"Any time Rochester or Minnesota is recognized as the best or is highly ranked for something like this where it's gender equity, that's good for all of us," Hayes said. "We need a good workforce to come to us, particularly Southeast Minnesota and Rochester, so this does nothing but help us.

"But there is still a gender pay gap, even in Rochester, so that's something we need to keep our eye on."

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Samar Ibrahim, M.B., Ch.B.

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