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Gender gap wide in Mississippi business world

A national report that shows the gender gap in the business world is still significant didn’t come as a surprise to women in Mississippi working on improving the condition of the state’s women.

As bad as the figures are for the entire country, they are worse for Mississippi. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research in its 2000 update of the Status of Women in Mississippi ranked Mississippi women as 48th in managerial and professional occupations and 51st in women’s median annual earnings. The state also has the lowest percentage of women elected officials in the country.

Marianne Hill, senior economist with the Institutions of Higher Learning, said census data shows that Mississippi women are more concentrated in certain low-paying traditional women jobs than other women in the South, or in the country. Traditional women’s jobs include the secretarial, cashier/clerk, teaching and nursing professions.

Hill did a study back in 1996 with census data that showed in order for men and women in Mississippi to have the same kinds of jobs, 62% of women would have to change their jobs.

The problem both in the state and nationwide is that some prestigious high paying jobs have been largely closed to women, and there are fewer career ladders available for women than men.

“In the corporate world, the more high paying a job is, the less access women tend to have,” Hill said. “And the wage gap for any occupation increases over time. At the entry level women may start at the same pay as men. But over time the wage gap widens significantly.”

Hill said women need to realize that it will require being organized to ensure better opportunities. “It is important not just for individual women but for society as a whole that women have position of equality, and that women’s voices are given equal weight not just in the family, community and politics, but also in the business world,” she said.

Gender gap ‘alive and well’

Edna Boone, a member of the recently establish Mississippi Commission on the Status of Women, said the data seem to support that the gender gap in the business world, as in other arenas, is alive and well.

“I think that when some women succeed and that is made visible, people just assume that real progress is being made and that the issue is no longer relevant,” said Boone, who was the first woman appointed to the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources. “Women still earn on average 71% of what men earn for doing the same work, and Mississippi still ranks last overall in per capita earnings.”

Boone was employed in the community college system before retirement working to assist low-income women. She said that while her primary concern is for low-income families in the state, she believes that the gender gap affects Mississippi women across the socio-economic spectrum.

The Mississippi Women’s Commission has been holding public hearings recently to obtain input on the concerns of women in Mississippi. Some of the concerns that have been raised include women’s lingering lack of political participation and representation in state and local government; gender inequities in the court system; the dearth of women appointees on key boards and commissions; and too few women in top ranking professional positions in corporations, government and academia.

Although Mississippi ranks last in many indicators of economic and political strength, Boone said women must not give up.

Persistence needed

“We can be persistent requiring equality at all levels,” she said. “Even with the relatively small numbers of women who have made it to the top in the business world, many have made impressive progress as entrepreneurs, and they have also influenced legislation and the corporate culture and values in important ways such as demonstrating integrity and courage in exposing corporate wrongdoing, for example.

“Many very capable women have just decided their life values don’t fit the competitive, driven, bottom line world of big business. I believe that in time, however, their influence will be important in changing the present modus operandi for the better, and that just sheer numbers of women who are educated, competent, confident and visionary will make a significant difference in the equity issue.”

Jille Bartolome, a success coach from Bay St. Louis, recommends women who want to get ahead brush up on skills such as negotiating and preparation of a r

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