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Shaffer: Fighting the gender wage gap

Women got their yearly reminder this week of how far we still have to go in the workplace as the world celebrated Equal Pay Day.

Each April, we're bombarded with the humbling data that we still make far less than our male counterparts for doing the same work.

For example, in North Dakota, a woman makes 74 cents for every dollar a man earns for doing the same work. In Minnesota, the wage gap narrows slightly with women making 80 cents to men's dollar.

Putting that into perspective, a North Dakota woman earns just $44,400 for a position in which a man would make $60,000. That's more than $15,000 a year that isn't getting into retirement funds or going toward house payments. It's a difference that sets back many households - especially those run by a single mother - for a lifetime.

And for minority women, this chasm exponentially widens.

The last time I wrote about this issue, I received a few emails from male readers who pointed to some reasons for the gender wage gap that they say aren't reported often enough.

One reader wrote that the numbers are skewed because women take more time off during their careers to have children and for other family issues.

While many women do take breaks for these reasons, it's not the reason for the difference in pay.

It starts at the national level. President Barack Obama signed two executive actions on Tuesday aimed at increasing transparency in women's pay.

Employers also have a significant role in how they support all of their workers through eliminating wage disparities from the start, creating family-leave policies and offering child care support.

But on the micro level, women can individually shrink the divide:

&#8226 Negotiate your salary.

Men are paid just 7 percent more than women in the first year out of college, and the gap widens from there over the course of a career, according to the American Association of University Women.

The AAUW has some great tips for how to effectively take on this intimidating task. Visit www.aauw.org for those tips.

&#8226 Go for those high-paying jobs in the first place. Women tend to doubt themselves more than men, leaving them reaching for lower-paying jobs.

Female managers account for only about 39 percent of the workforce; in Congress, women make up only 20 percent of senators and 18 percent of state representatives.

Readers can reach Forum features editor Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511

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