Minding the gender gap: Chattanooga narrows pay differences but trails U.S. gains

Minding the gender gap: Chattanooga narrows pay differences but trails U.S. gains

September 4th, 2018 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

This story was updated at 10:33 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 to remove a reference to the Mayor's Women's Council to distinguish from the task force mentioned in the third paragraph.

If you go

The Symposium will be held Thursday, Sept. 6 at the Volkswagen Conference Center at 8001 Volkswagen Drive in Chattanooga with registration starting at 10 a.m.and welcoming remarks at noon. General admission tickets are free with no lunch and $15 for a luncheon ticket. Free Volkswagen Academy Tours will be available at 10am and 2:30pm.

Register at www.lucydoes.com/events-1/minding-the-gaps-a-symposium-on-women-in-the-workforce

The share of women managers has grown to a record high as the wage gap between men and women has narrowed over time.

But Chattanooga businesses have not gone as far as the nation as a whole in closing the gender gap in pay and among bosses, studies show.

A new task force created last November wants to help narrow the gender gap in the workplace and has organized a symposium Thursday to address lingering differences in pay and management ranks. The initiative known as "All Lanes Open" is sponsoring a symposium at the Volkswagen Academy billed as "Minding the Gaps" and will focus on how to encourage women to enter jobs predominantly held by men and to develop ways to improve gender diversity in many male-dominated fields, which often pay the most money.

Researcher and author William "Buddy" Scarborough of University of Illinois Chicago Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy will discuss what the data shows about gender equality in the Chattanooga market and how the gap between men and women can be narrowed to improve business results for shareholders, customers and employees.

"In 1980, women's representation in management and the gender wage gap was on par with the national averages in Chattanooga — both the U.S. and Chattanooga had a 33 percent gender wage gap in 1980," Scarborough said. "But when you track gender wage disparities over time, you find that since 1990, Chattanooga has not kept pace with the progress nationwide."

In Chattanooga, 36 percent of all managers are now women, compared with 40 percent who are women nationwide, Scarborough said. The gender wage gap in Chattanooga is now 22 percent, compared with a nationwide average gap in pay between the sexes of only 19 percent.

"While Chattanooga was following the national averages (in closing gender gaps in wages and jobs), there has kind of been a stall in the past couple of decades," Scarborough said.

Despite the lingering differences in pay and jobs between the sexes, Scarborough said "there seems to be a lot of local energy" to address the challenge and he hopes more employers will look for ways to address cultural, social, personal and historical patterns that might limit female advancement in the workplace or promote wage inequality, whether intended or not.

Closing the gender gap is not only fairer for women. It's better for both men and women by leading in most instances to better run companies, Scarborough said.

"My central argument, which is backed up by research, is that gender equality is not only a moral imperative, but it essential for economic development," he said. "So for cities to be competitive, they need to invest in promoting gender equality."

Thursday's women's symposium is being organized by Sabrina L. Butcher, the chief executive officer and founder of Chattanooga-based LUCYdoes who chairs the task force on "All Lanes Open."

For most of her career as a mechanic, engineer and manufacturing consultant, Sabrina Butcher has been one of the few — and sometimes the only — woman among male colleagues on the shop floor or the corporate office.

Butcher will help lead a panel of experts who have either broken through glass ceilings on their own or have coached leaders to become more inclusive and aware of the gaps. Panelists at Thursday's symposium will include attorney Chantelle Roberson, an assistant vice president and senior regulatory counsel for Unum; Megan Horn, a process engineer for Hendrick Motorsports (NASCAR) and former process engineer for Norfolk Southern Railroad, and Nicole Koesling, senior vice president of human resources for Volkswagen of America.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340