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A month after Legislature failed to act on #MeToo, report finds Florida lags on women’s pay

Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek (right) and Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, (center) both were sponsors of bills to combat sexual harassment during the 2018 session. The bills failed. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Florida women get smaller paychecks, participate in the workforce less often and have fewer professional or managerial jobs than the majority of their counterparts in other states, according to a report released Monday by several state and national groups.

Florida ranks near the bottom of the country for these metrics, and the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a national group which contributed to the report, gave Florida overall a "D+" for its overall performance on this issue. A state group called the Florida Women's Funding Alliance commissioned the report.

While the causes of these failures are complex, these findings came exactly a month after the Florida Legislature failed to address a problem that leadership from both chambers had said was a priority to fix: sexual harassment in the workplace.

"Research has shown that when women experience sexual harassment or worse in the workplace, the most common response is not to report it and take action to fix it — the most common response is they will quit or if they have series of experiences they'll leave the occupation entirely," said Julie Anderson, a senior research fellow for the Institute.

"So rather than staying in one place or advancing, the lateral moves and leaving contributes to the wage gap."

After the #MeToo movement hit the Florida Legislature with the disgraced departure of two male lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct, both Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran promised to address the issue.

But there were signs the bill, which would have established a sexual harassment task force and created stricter policies for state agencies and contractors, lacked momentum. Then the House attached its sexual harassment language to a broader ethics package the Senate had never heard in committee. The measure died in the Senate on the final night of the session.

"There is zero tolerance for sex harassment or any type of harassment … and that's already been implemented through our rules," Negron said outside the Senate chamber after it adjourned without taking up the bill. "The bill that came over from the House had deficiencies."

Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, was a co-sponsor of the House's version and said after she began working on this issue, women came out of the woodwork and told her their horror stories of harassment, including having to leave their jobs because of it.

"The issue, for a lot of women, they are simply not going to tell," she said. "They are going to endure it or leave the workplace and that hurts our state, our work force and our families."

Monday's report, which analyzed Census data, also found the gender wage gap is much greater for black and Hispanic women, who make about 59 cents for every dollar white men earn.

Despite this bad news, Florida has one of the smallest gender wage gaps in the country — about 88 cents for every dollar a man makes — and is on track to be the first state to close it at the current rate.

How is that possible?

Because in Florida, men's wages are falling faster than women's, according to Census data. This trend is happening in other states and began as early as 1975, and was furthered by the disappearance of manufacturing and construction jobs — jobs held mostly by men.

"That's why we say it's only 'progress' in air quotes," Anderson said. "Because we want everyone's wages to go up."