Taking on Equal Pay

Fall 2016, News

Traci Bruckner of the Women’s Fund Hits the Ground Running in the Ultimate Challenge

BY JENNIFER LITTON

Batgirl said it best: “Same job, same employer means equal pay for men and women.” In a ‘70s-era Department of Labor PSA, Batgirl refused to save Batman and Robin until she got equal pay. More than 40years later, Batgirl’s work is far from over.

Full-time women employees in Nebraska earn 73 cents on the dollar compared with similarly employed men. Compare that to the rate reported in the 2004 issue of Today’s Omaha Woman: 76 cents to every man’s dollar. In more than 10 years, we’ve actually taken three steps (or cents) backwards.

According to a report conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), if current trends continue, women in Nebraska won’t see equal pay until the year 2066.

Recently, the Women’s Fund of Omaha created a new staff position to focus on policy, because although few people realize it, policy has a broad impact on the lives of women and girls. Traci Bruckner, research and policy coordinator with the Women’s Fund, will be focusing on policy in the Nebraska Legislature on four key priority areas: economic self-sufficiency, which includes equal pay; domestic violence; women’s leadership and sexual literacy.

“We will be monitoring legislation to see how well they serve those roles, Bruckner says. “We will also work proactively with other organizations and senators to bring forward policy solutions grounded in research that provide every woman and girl the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Bruckner says that what gets her out of bed in the morning is to “fight the good fight,” because when women do well, their families do well. “I believe injustice and I think women have, for too long, been undervalued. If women were valued, we would see a lot better outcomes for families.”

Bruckner, who lives in Wayne, Neb. with her husband and son, spent the last 15 years working with the Center for Rural Affairs on agriculture, conservation and rural policy issues. Her work involved social justice and providing economic opportunity for small and mid-sized farmers. Some of her work included workshops for women farmers and landowners. “We looked at how women had not really been recognized as a decision-maker in the farming business and we helped embolden them in that role.”

Bruckner says her past work is a niceties-in to her new role of empowering women at the Women’s Fund. “At the Women’s Fund, we identify critical issues by providing data-driven research. We share that research with legislators to inform policy development. And we develop strategic partnerships with organizations and coalitions to help us accomplish our policy goals.”

For this to work, it’s really important to engage the broader community of women, she says, adding she is a fan of the accessibility of the Nebraska Unicameral system and its one-house Legislature. “It was designed with the idea that the citizens of Nebraska really are intended to be that second house. Every bill receives public hearing and anyone can testify at that public hearing.

Bruckner hopes to make a difference by bringing forward the voices of women and girls and engaging women in that unique legislative process. She says she thinks it’s a shame that Nebraska ranks 47th nationally when it comes to equal pay, and that for women of color, the situation is especially problematic. Hispanic women in our state not only earn less than their male colleagues, but also less than their white female colleagues.

The IWPR’s Status of Women in the States Report cites that a Hispanic woman makes around $5,000 less annually than her male colleague. Senator Tanya Cook has been instrumental in the fight for equal pay. In 2016, a bill that she introduced was merged and amended with another from Senator Heath Mello before passing. Bruckner says there is much to be done on this issue and that the Women’s Fund will focus on research before determining how to move forward with their advocacy plans.

On a national level, research from IWPR indicates that policy should focus on the following key areas:

• Allowing people to freely disclose their wages

• Expanding the opportunities for women in technical jobs

• Increasing the minimum wage nationwide

• Supporting the unionization of working women.

• Strengthening work family policies, including paid leave

Bruckner says that when women have to leave work for family medical reasons and have unpaid leave they are set back not only economically in terms of lost wages, but also in terms of their capacity to grow in leadership roles within their positions.

“Public policy to ensure paid family leave and medical leave for women and men is an area that would really help with equalizing that pay gap, as well.” The world could use more people like Batgirl and Traci Bruckner. W

 

 

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