Bill passed to improve workplace conditions for women
March 21, 2014
During the 2012 presidential election, equal pay for women was one of the most discussed issues and a large contributor to the fact that 55 percent of women voted for Barack Obama, according to a survey taken by the Center for American Women and Politics.
In the years following the election, women are speaking out against prejudice in the workplace, including Rep. Jennifer M. Seelig (D-Salt Lake City).
H.B. 90, Women in the Economy Commission Act, was sponsored by Rep. Seelig and Sen. Curtis S. Bramble (R-Provo). The bill was passed through both the House and the Senate, and a draft of the bill is now enrolled for Gov. Gary R. Herbert to sign into law.
The bill calls for the formation of a commission that will consist of 11 members, and the minority leader of both the House and the Senate as well as the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate will appoint five members while the Governor will then appoint six women in business.
Rep. Seelig said she based the bill on her dissertation research on the engagement of women in politics and how they are empowered politically.
"Through that research, I learned that our lives as individuals are not so segmented into different spheres like work, home life or community service," she said. "It all intertwines, and the issues of work kept coming up, how women’s choices are bounded by institutions and how we define work. The jobs might not be as flexible for people to leave work early for a parent-teacher conference or to take part in a community project."
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Women should be appointed to the commission in the next six months, Rep. Seelig said, and the goal is that they will help to come up with solutions for issues women face in the workplace, flexibility and pay equity being a couple of those issues they may tackle.
Park City Women’s Business Network (PCWBN) membership chair Kathleen Barlow said she hopes the women that are appointed to the commission vary in business and socioeconomic groups and aren’t afraid to speak up and give women in business a voice.
"I think the commission is a great idea, because there was a report in the media recently that ranked Provo no. 1 in the country for lowest women’s pay in the country," she said. "This commission is needed, especially in Utah, because a lot of improvements can be made."
According to the text of the bill, six members will be appointed by the Governor. A representative of a business with fewer than 50 employees, a representative of a business with between 50 and 500 employees and a representative of a business with 500 or more employees. They must also have all been awarded for work flexibility or work-life balance.
The other three women appointed will be one who has experience in demographic work and is employed by a state institution of higher education, one from a nonprofit organization that addresses issues related to domestic violence and one with managerial experience with organized labor.
"We are hoping, with this commission, we can get a strong look at the experiences of women and families and how work impacts them and their ability to make life choices," Rep. Seelig said. "That is so we can make recommendations to businesses and the government to be able to meet people where they are at in their lives and learn what it is they need."
Sherry Weaver, a member of the PCWBN board, said women need resources to allow them flexibility and support when it comes to balancing work and home life.
"I have a village. I have resources through my friends, and I have everything scheduled," she said. "I have a great, hands-on husband and father of my children, and we just coordinate our schedules to make sure someone is covered. If not, I reach out to my friends."
After-school programs also benefit her family. She said without the afterschool programs her two children are involved in, she doesn’t know that she would be as successful as a working mom. Barlow agreed, saying that balance and flexibility in the work schedule are very important for women.
Weaver and Barlow both added they have experienced discrimination in previous jobs by employers who believed their male counterparts could do their jobs better because they were able to dedicate more time to their jobs. They think the lack of pay equity may have something to do with that.
"In large part, people say that women choose lower paying jobs," Rep. Seelig said. "I say that is an incomplete sentence. Women choose to manage the responsibilities they have for themselves and their families, and part of that is being able to be there and take care of their loved ones."
Barlow said she hopes the commission will address those issues and make the workplace better for women in the future. That is why the PCWBN raises money for college scholarships for young women graduating from Park City High School.
Last year, the organization raised $16,000 in scholarships, and their goal this year is to raise $25,000. According to Barlow, their scholarships are the highest per scholarship in Park City, and they are always accepting donations to make those scholarships even more valuable.
"I hope the commission helps to pave a better way for future businesswomen and open up doors that perhaps were not open before," she said. "I hope it finds ways to encourage women to do whatever they want to do and go as high as they can."
Rep. Seelig said she is open to any suggestions, ideas or stories from women in business throughout the state to help make the commission more effective once it is formed.
"If any women out there have any ideas or stories from their lives and real world work experiences, how things in government are related to work how things in the workplace could be improved to support them and their families, I want to hear it," she said. "I want to help create equal opportunities and choices for women and their families, find the prescriptions for change. But first, we need to learn."
Rep. Jennifer M. Seelig can be contacted at 801-538-1650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.