More than three dozen women rallied Tuesday at the Missouri State Capitol, demanding state legislators pass legislation to close Missouri's gender pay gap.
Women across the country held rallies Tuesday supporting state and federal legislation to close the pay gap. In Missouri, women earn 78 percent of what men are paid. Leaders with the American Association of University Women, which organized many of the events nationwide, said making salaries transparent could help close the gap.
Nationwide, women earn 80 cents for every dollar men make, according to the AAUW.
About 50 people from across Missouri attended Tuesday's events at the Capitol, which included seminars examining why the pay gap exists and its long-term effects on society. The day culminated when attendees met with legislators from across the state.
Karen Francis, chair of the AAUW's national public policy committee, said sexual harassment and discrimination against new expecting mothers plays a large role in creating the pay gap. This can make it harder for women to re-enter the workforce and to advance into leadership positions.
"The gender pay gap is real," Francis told the crowd during a seminar in the basement of the Missouri statehouse. "It happens in every occupation."
The AAUW found this year that Missouri ranks No. 30 in pay disparities between men and women. A separate study provided by the group found that at the current rate of progress, women will not earn salaries at the same rate as men until 2066.
Congress has tried to address the pay gap before. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, which made it illegal for employers to pay men and women in the same field at different rates. AAUW CEO Kim Churches and others on a conference call with media members Monday said the pay gap persists because the Equal Pay Act did not address the cultural reasons behind the gap.
Churches said the AAUW is calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which could make it illegal to pay men and women who perform substantially equal work at different rates. The U.S. House approved the bill in January 2009, but the bill failed in the Senate. Since then, the bill has languished after being introduced in each new congressional session.
State Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, introduced a similar bill at the state level this year which would prohibit employers from paying men and women at different rates for similar work. Missouri's Senate Small Business and Industry Committee heard Sifton's bill Feb. 20, but the committee has not voted to advance it.
Francis, Churches and Fatima Gross, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, said requiring companies to collect and report pay data would ensure employees are paid at the same rates.
"Pay discrimination is among the most difficult to detect and to address," Gross said. "When employees are paid less because of their sex or their race, or ethnicity, they have no idea they are being discriminated against."
Nationwide, women employed full time in 2015 made an average of $40,742, compared to $51,212 for men, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Black and Hispanic women face additional discrimination compared to their white counterparts.
Hispanic women earned just 56.3 percent of the median weekly earnings of white men in 2015. Black women earned 61.2 percent, and Asian women earned 87.3 percent.
In 1981, women made just 59.2 percent of what men made. Francis, from AAUW, serves as a volunteer in her role, though she works nearly full time to help solve the pay gap.
Since she entered teaching in the late 1970s, Francis conceded, progress has been made. Still, she feels driven to fight for future women and ensure they don't work on the same uneven playing field she did.
Francis said sexual harassment plays a role in the way women are treated in workplaces. To solve the pay-gap problem, though, Francis said people need to think more about ways women are treated in society as a whole. This attitude can help end occupational segregation and put more women in male-dominated fields like manufacturing and men in female-dominated fields like teaching.
"You have to have managers that want to see diversity to see a change," Francis said. "I firmly believe that there is a lot of bias out there about women in leadership and opportunities for women to succeed."