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UMR discussion tackles workplace inequality

More than 100 women and a handful of men crowded into a classroom at the University of Minnesota Rochester on Monday to discuss the inequality between men and women in Minnesota.

Although the Women's Foundation of Minnesota is celebrating the April passage of the Women's Economic Security Act, they still see a lot of work to be done.

Since 2008, the foundation has traveled the state sharing statistics on the status of girls and women in Minnesota, including research presented by the University of Minnesota Center on Women and Public Policy. Rochester was its third stop on a seven-city tour.

"It's our way of staying connected and invested in the community," said Mary Beth Hanson, the director of communications for the Women's Foundation of Minnesota.

Hanson said the foundation will continue to push for public policy that supports women's equality in the workplace. According to the Center on Women and Public Policy, Minnesota has a slightly higher wage gap than the national average, which is 20 percent. One of the highest wage gaps in the state is in the health-care field. The median wage for men in the field is $113,446, and the median wage for women is $64,922.


Those statistics are just the beginning of the information the center collected. For Hanson, they are where change starts.

"You cannot create change until you know what is," she said, speaking about the current data.

Sheila Kiscaden, the Olmsted County Commissioner for District 6, was pleased with the amount of research the center provided and the opportunity it provided.

"I think public policy needs to be driven by research, not just opinion," Kiscaden said.

The Women's Foundation of Minnesota is not the only group pushing for change. The Women's Minnesota Consortium played a large role in the organization and mobilization of the movement behind WESA. But even though the act was signed into law, the group isn't done.

"There's been a lot of progress for women across the years, but we still see that women are the poorest of the poor," said the consortium's executive director Erin Parrish.

WESA didn't include everything the consortium hoped for. It's still pursuing more earned sick leave, which would allow women paid sick days — days they could stay home and care for family, or days they could use to seek other critical services, such as support for domestic abuse.

"We see this as such an important piece because (women) so often go to work sick or send their children to school sick because they can't afford to stay home," Parrish said.


Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, wants to go further than just passing laws, and educate both men and women.

"It's more than passing laws," she said. "It's that education piece. Passing laws is a small starting place."

Parrish is hoping to capitalize on the work that's been done so far and continue to push forward.

"There was so much momentum this year, and for the first time in a long time, we really saw people speak up," she said.

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