Oklahoma women face many challenges that hinder them from achieving their full potential. It is crucial for women to have access to equal pay, quality health care and affordable child care to promote a healthy, growing economy in the state of Oklahoma. For more than 32 years, United Women’s Empowerment (United WE) has been making meaningful change for all women across Kansas, Missouri and now, Oklahoma. We have expanded our work into the state and serve as an advocate for more opportunities for Oklahoma women.
Our mission is to advance all women’s economic and civic leadership to make meaningful change. In short, we work to unite people around policy solutions to empower women and their families. We do this through evidence-based research, policy reform that positively impacts all women and civic engagement programs.
Research is the first step to true, sustainable change. In 2022, we partnered with Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business to unveil critical new research to understand the economic and civic leadership status of women in Oklahoma.
Equal pay for equal work
Our research revealed that Oklahoma’s gender earnings gap is one of the highest in the country. Oklahoma women earned 75 cents for every dollar earned by a man between 2015 and 2019. This is less than the national average of 81 cents per dollar for women. If current trends continue, women in Oklahoma will not see equal pay until 2076.
If equal pay were a reality in Oklahoma, the poverty rate for working women would be reduced by nearly 50%, and women’s earnings would increase by about $5.4 billion annually. Policy reforms, such as banning salary history questions on employment applications, to impact gender pay equity are needed.
Child care: Meeting demand & empowering families
One of the biggest problems impacting Oklahoma’s economic growth and workforce development is child care. Yet, child care is unaffordable for many families. The average cost of child care in the state is more expensive than a year of in-state tuition at a four-year public college. The annual cost of child care for an infant in Oklahoma in 2020 was $8,940, or $745 a month.
While child care disproportionately impacts women, it’s more than a women’s issue. It is an economic and workforce development challenge. The typical married couple in Oklahoma spends about 12% of their income for infant care and 21% of their income for two children. Child care is considered affordable if it costs 7% or less of a family‘s income.
We know the child care issue is complex and requires data and a long-term, multipronged approach.
Civic leadership: A seat at the table
Our research revealed that in 2021, one-fifth of Oklahoma legislators were women — far lower than the national average. Women leaders are more likely to raise issues and consider policies that benefit women and families, so it’s important that the Legislature — as well as municipal, county and state level civic boards and commissions — reflect the communities they serve. With the support of Mayor David Holt and through our Appointments Project, we aim to build civic boards that are more inclusive and representative of the Oklahoma City community. The Appointments Project works to empower women and create vibrant and inclusive communities by increasing the gender diversity of appointed civic boards and commissions. We partner with community organizations like VEST and the Latino Community Development Agency to engage more diverse women.
Achieving gender equity in public service won’t just benefit women — it will benefit everyone by improving governance and decision making.
We will partner again with OSU on an evidence-based research study to examine child care licensing at the city and county level across the state and identify barriers that may limit child care access. We will convene, educate and advocate for systems-level solutions to advance women. We also will conduct statewide town halls, providing women the opportunity to share and listen by identifying barriers impacting women in the workforce, including child care, paid family leave, broadband access and more.
We must unite to advance and support policies that strengthen Oklahoma women and families for the economic development of the state. When we all work together so more women can participate in the economy, our families and communities thrive.
The average cost of child care in the state is more expensive than a year of in-state tuition at a four-year public college.
Wendy Doyle has led United WE to invest in research, advocacy and policy solutions to remove economic barriers for women.