If you are a college-educated woman working in Wichita, chances are you make less than your male peers.
Same job, same degree, same experience. Less pay.
Never miss a local story.
That’s true of the United States in general. But the wage gap between women and men is larger here. Wichita ranks in the bottom 20 percent of similar sized cities for wage equality, according to an analysis of government microdata by Harvard-trained James Chung and Reach Advisors.
That wage gap, Chung said, is holding back the city’s economy.
Chung was hired by the Wichita Community Foundation to drill deep into economic data and start a fact-based community conversation to improve the economics of Wichita.
One of Chung’s conclusions? Wichita businesses need to recruit and retain more college-educated women.
College-educated women aren’t coming here, staying or making as much money as their peers.
That costs the Wichita economy $176 million a year, he said.
“It’s not a value judgment, political statement or social mission we’re trying to put forward, but there is something about the Wichita labor market that is not working the same way as other labor markets, and it’s constraining Wichita,” Chung said.
Chung hopes business leaders in Wichita will take notice.
“If we think about this in a smart way, this is something that can have a positive impact on Kansas and the economy in Wichita,” Chung said.
The issue needs to be at the forefront of economic conversations in the community, said Laura Bernstorf, a 34-year-old engineer at Airbus and former chairwoman of Young Professionals of Wichita.
“It just needs to be OK to talk about,” Bernstorf said.
“It’s like anything that divides people – usually because we’ve created such an emotional charge around it. When it becomes OK to talk about it, it starts to diffuse a lot of the issues. Then you can get to the facts, and that’s when the real change can start to happen.”
‘They’re not coming’
Chung’s team, Reach Advisors, uses government microdata to compare information on Wichita to similar cities across the nation. They looked at 33 noncoastal metro areas with a population of 450,000 to just under 1 million.
There should be about 4,000 more college-educated women in the workforce for an economy of Wichita’s size, according to Chung’s analysis.
“If they were there, Wichita would be seeing about $176 million more production a year, which would be a significant bump,” Chung said.
That’s a lot more homes, cars, dining out in Wichita that would bump the Wichita gross regional product up by about half a percent.
James Chung, economic analyst
“That’s a lot more homes, cars, dining out in Wichita that would bump the Wichita gross regional product up by about half a percent. With 4,000 more educated women in the workforce, it would be easier for Wichita companies to grow and expand. It would be easier for Wichita to attract more companies if the labor force were there. But for some reason, there’s a blockage that’s not happening in other Midwestern and midsized cities.”
Part of that starts with recruiting younger, college-educated talent.
The population of college-educated men in Wichita in their 20s and early 30s is growing at about the national average.
But the population of college-educated women in Wichita in their 20s and early 30s is growing significantly slower than the national rate – and about half the rate of growth of cities like Des Moines.
“That’s the problem,” Chung said. “They’re not coming.”
Today, young women are 1.5 times more likely to graduate from college than young men. If you’re an employer that relies on young, educated talent, you need to pay attention to that demographic, Chung said.
“If we can’t attract the majority of college grads, we’re looking at a smaller labor pool and a smaller talent pool,” he said.
The other problem is that the professionals who are here tend to leave beginning in their mid-30s, as they are hitting their peak earning years.
Wichita is losing its workforce at a faster rate than other places, Chung said. That’s particularly true of well-trained professional women.
Sommer Keplar, 35, left Wichita with her husband, Kevin, and their young son last year.
In 2003, Keplar came to Wichita to get her master’s degree at Wichita State University, knowing virtually nothing about the city. She later started working at Via Christi as the manager for learning and development, and met her husband, who is from Wichita.
But last year, they found themselves at a crossroads, she said. She had just earned her MBA from WSU, and they decided to move to Omaha.
The move wasn’t so much about her career, Keplar said. “It was more about quality of life and what was best for our family.”
Living in Omaha allowed them to be closer to her family in South Dakota but still within driving distance of her husband’s family. They also were drawn to Omaha for several reasons: better parks, voted a top city for runners, broad support for publicly funded education.
“Omaha does feel a little more progressive,” she said.
She also felt that in her new career as a health care project management consultant, there would be more opportunities in Omaha.
“We very much both liked Wichita, we just really wanted to experience something beyond Wichita,” Keplar said.
“We miss Wichita dearly, but we don’t regret our decision.”
A steeper gap
A gender wage gap exists across the U.S. Overall, women earn 83 percent of what men earn, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Among women across all races and ethnicities, hourly earnings lag behind those of white men and men in their own racial or ethnic group.
Nationally, the median wage is still higher for men than women in most circumstances when equalized for educational attainment and years of work, Chung said.
But in Wichita, it’s a steeper gap. Chung’s group analyzed wage information filtered by age, educational attainment, job function and full time versus part time.
In every single comparative analysis we ran, the wage gap between men and women was larger than the wage gap for the U.S overall.
James Chung, economic analyst
“In every single comparative analysis we ran, the wage gap between men and women was larger than the wage gap for the U.S overall,” he said.
“It’s a bottom 20 percent city (compared to similar cities) when you’re looking at the wage differentials. They don’t come here, and there’s a higher dropout factor once they’re here as well.”
The wage differences can’t just be attributed to the fact that Wichita is an aviation and manufacturing town, he said.
For example, Chung’s group also compared data to Cedar Rapids, which is even more of a manufacturing city than Wichita. Wichita’s wage gap, in a variety of filters, is 4 to 12 percentage points higher than the wage gap in Cedar Rapids.
Wichita’s gender wage gap was 5 to 18 percentage points higher than Des Moines, another comparable city, in the categories Reach Advisors analyzed.
‘How can we keep them here?’
Chung says businesses need to start thinking about what they can do to improve their work environment to help recruit and retain talent.
“We need to intentionally focus on the inclusion of women in all aspects of business and in the community,” said Junetta Everett, vice president of professional relations for Delta Dental of Kansas, who is leading a diversity and inclusion initiative for the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Some of that focus needs to be on getting more women and people of different ethnicities on boards of directors, she said.
Wichita has done well with a diverse group of City Council members but needs to go further, she said.
“We need more women in mover-and-shaker positions,” she said.
“How can we keep them here? Recognizing them and making sure they are included in everything we do in business, work and play. Listening to them, and then putting them in roles of power.”
At Delta Dental of Kansas, about half of the leadership team is female and from multiple generations, Everett said.
“Whether that was intentional or we just chose best people for positions, I can’t say, but we absolutely embrace diversity,” she said.
Benefits can be especially helpful for employee recruitment and retention.
At Delta Dental, both men and women get 12 weeks of paid family leave after a child is born, Everett said.
I think sometimes focusing not just on women but on family-friendly benefits will put Wichita on the map.
Junetta Everett, Delta Dental of Kansas
“I think sometimes focusing not just on women but on family friendly benefits will put Wichita on the map,” she said.
“Employers should start asking themselves: ‘Do I have a diversity program at my place of business? If not, what should that look like? If I don’t, where can I get assistance in implementing one? And if I do, am I willing to share with others how that works?’ ”