SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lags behind every other state in the country when it comes to offering men and women equal pay for equal work, and leaders from the state's business community are urging local employers to level the playing field sooner rather than later.

On Friday, the Salt Lake Chamber, along with the Women's Leadership Institute, released the "Best Practices Guide for Closing the Gender Wage Gap." According to the American Association of University Women, Utah is the worst state in the nation for the gender wage gap when it comes to equal compensation.

While the matter of pay equity in the workplace has been an issue of concern for years, the guidebook offers policies, programs and actions companies can implement to help close the gender wage gap, explained Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller.

"We know that no business leader sets out to intentionally pay female employees less than their male counterparts. However, the gap exists and, despite our best intentions, persists," he said. "Our hope is that companies and individual business owners use this document to identify areas where they can improve and create individualized plans for closing the gender pay gap within their own organization."

He added that while the gender pay gap will not be fixed in one day or with a single resource, policy change or training, every step in the right direction helps to narrow the gap.

Noting that some critics may question the validity of the findings regarding pay equity, Miller said failing to address the matter may create a significant issue for business leaders who are trying to attract quality workers in an economy that has exceptionally low unemployment and a desperate need for employee talent.

"Whether you think we're worst or 10th worst, there's room for improvement (so) let's focus on fixing the problem," he said. "In an economy like we have in Utah, the company that can show they are taking proactive steps to address the gender pay gap will set themselves apart."

He said companies that can distinguish themselves by showing that they are going to be proactive in being fairer will reap the benefit of attracting better quality talent of any gender.

The guide is divided into five sections: evaluation, education, recruitment, retention and advancement. The sections are designed to work in collaboration and build upon each other, listing short-term actions that businesses can take and long-term policies that can be adopted over time, explained Patricia Jones, CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute.

"We have an amazing opportunity before us to be leaders in closing the gender wage gap," she said. "We believe members of Utah's business community are willing and able to not only take the necessary steps to ensure the work Utah women perform is valued fairly, but also prove that we can be leaders in creating solutions that result in an equitable pay environment."

Jones said tackling the problem of gender pay equity is a multifaceted problem that will take a time and effort to address properly. But figuring out why Utah is so low on the gender wage gap is something that businesses should look into intently.

She noted that the guide offers suggestions on what employers can do in the short term to address the pay gap, including to conduct a landscape analysis of a company's pay distribution by role, level and gender; provide unconscious bias training for all staff; set company goals to hire and promote more women; look at the distribution of men and women among projects and high-level responsibilities; and set short-term, attainable goals for closing gaps.

"A lot of companies are surprised to learn there are inequities," she said. "It's really about looking internally at your own reflection, having a discussion and making amends by creating the processes needed to make the adjustments."

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Additionally, she said companies can be more transparent about their wage scales so that prospective employees know what they are getting into. She also noted that most work environments and business communities are designed to favor men, which is something that has helped to create the wage inequality that currently exists.

"Our corporate and political system was built by and for men," Jones said. "In our (institute), we really make it a point that men are allies and advocates of women. Men can work with women knowing that the ultimate goal is that we will all benefit from it."

Meanwhile, Laura Bogusch, general manager at Boeing Salt Lake, was a participant in a focus group as a member of the local business community familiar with the employee hiring process. She said companies need to concentrate on hiring, retaining and promoting qualified women as part of an overall effort to develop a more diverse and ultimately more productive workforce.

"Our business is going to be more successful when we have women and other minorities in place within the company where we have more influential jobs," she said. "(Closing the gender wage gap) is something that's going to take time. But starting the conversation and admitting there are some things we could do differently to make a change is really a great first step."

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