Women made history in the 2018 midterm elections, running for and winning offices by record numbers, making it the “Year of the Woman” according to Brookings. The number of state legislature offices held by women rose from 25% in 2018 to 29% in 2019, per the Center for American Women and Politics, an encouraging sign for the future of working women. With more women in office, it’s more likely that issues centering on women in the workforce will get the attention they deserve.
And they do deserve attention. Despite women’s higher educational attainment, the rate at which women are participating in the workforce has plateaued, as have their wages. Women’s average earnings were still almost 82% of men’s in 2017, the most recent year available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the picture for working women can look brighter (or bleaker) depending on where they live. For the second year in a row, to find the best places to be a working woman, MagnifyMoney analyzed and ranked the 50 largest U.S. metros.
- Washington, D.C., once again holds the top spot with an overall score of 74.
- Seattle jumped from sixth place to second, with an overall score of 66.2. This is because the state of Washington created a family leave insurance plan that allows workers to receive at least partial pay when they use their Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time starting in 2020. FMLA is used as a stand-in for maternity leave by many American women. Under federal law, employers can’t fire workers for taking up to 12 weeks off for qualifying events, but employers do not have to pay workers for that time.
- Charlotte, N.C., dropped to the lowest spot on our list, with an overall score of 32.1. Women are underrepresented in leadership roles there, both in business and in government.
- Detroit came in second to last, with a final score of 33.5, thanks mostly to high unemployment and a wide gender pay gap.
- Twenty-seven states offer no protections to workers who are pregnant or who have children. This is unchanged from last year, although some states with existing protection — such as Massachusetts, Washington and New York — as well as the District of Columbia expanded their benefits. Only 22 states have some kind of pregnancy accommodation laws, and some of those are scant.
- These protections are nonexistent in six of the bottom-ranking 10 cities: Detroit, Memphis, Birmingham, Miami, New Orleans and Cleveland.
The 10 best U.S. metros for working women
The map and table above show the 10 cities that offer working women have the most equitable compensations and most opportunities for career advancement. Four of these cities are located on the Pacific Coast, with three of those in California. Neighboring cities Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and Boston and Providence have spots in the top 10.
Here’s a closer look at how these cities rank on different factors.
The nation’s capital is tops again.
Washington, D.C. is the best place overall for working women. It has the highest percentage of managerial positions in its workforce filled by women, at 43.9%, of any city. Boston, Providence, R.I., and Sacramento, Calif. were the other top 10 cities with high rates of women leadership in management positions, at just over 43% each.
D.C. also has some of the strongest parental and pregnancy leave policies of the 50 cities surveyed, second only to Boston. Of the top 10 cities, Washington is where child care is the most affordable, costing an average 19.9% of women’s median earnings.
Seattle is friendly to female entrepreneurs, as the U.S. city with the highest number of women-owned business, at 39.7%. San Diego is the other top 10 city with a high 35.8% rate of businesses owned by women. The West Coast, in general, is a place where women entrepreneurs are succeeding.
Western states welcome new legislators.
While Las Vegas had the highest number of female legislators of any city surveyed — Nevada is the only state where women hold a slightly majority in the state legislature (50.8%) — it didn’t crack the top 10 due to relatively high unemployment and low parental protection rates. Of the cities that did, Denver and Seattle have the highest numbers of women holding state legislative positions, at 46% and 40.8% respectively. Women in Colorado hold a majority in the state’s lower house.
The 2018 midterm election brought more women into statewide office, an encouraging sign for the future of working women. Across the country, the share of women who hold state office rose from just 25% in 2018 to 29% in 2019 — the highest in history. Mississippi had the lowest representation rate in the country at just under 14%, but none of its cities are big enough to make it on our list. That distinction falls to Memphis and Nashville, Tenn., where only 15% of state lawmakers are women.
Minneapolis has the lowest unemployment rate
No. 4 Minneapolis has a 3.6% unemployment rate, the lowest among all 50 cities surveyed and well below the U.S. average of 4% in January. Denver, where just 4.2% of women in the labor force are unemployed, is the other top 10 city scoring well on this factor.
L.A. once again has the lowest wage gap.
Then there’s the earnings gap between men and women, which is the lowest in
Los Angeles at just 11.2%. However, LA was not one of the top 10 cities — it came in at No. 21 overall. Two other California cities had the smallest gap in earnings by gender. San Diego women earn just 12.4% less than men, and Sacramento women earn 13.7% less.
Child care is costliest in Boston.
Despite landing in the top 10 cities for working women, Boston is where child care is the most costly with day care costs equal to 27.4% of median earnings among women.
But on the brighter side, Boston and Minneapolis are the two cities where more women receive employer-sponsored health insurance benefits. In Minneapolis, 71.4% of working women received health insurance coverage through an employer, as do 70.5% of women in Boston.
The 10 worst U.S. metros for working women
Of the 10 cities that offer women the least favorable economic conditions, public policies, and leadership opportunities, most are concentrated in the South. Specifically, seven of the 10 are in Southern states:
- Charlotte, N.C.
- Memphis, Tenn.
- Birmingham, Ala.
- New Orleans
- Oklahoma City
Of the remaining worst cities for working women, Detroit and Cleveland are located in the Midwest. Salt Lake City, Utah is the sole western city among these 10.
Here are some details on how these cities ranked on specific factors.
Tennessee lags in female representation.
Tennessee has one of the lowest percentage of state legislative offices filled by women, at 15.2% — affecting Memphis’ rank among the 10 worst cities. New Orleans and Birmingham also had low rates of female representation in their state legislatures. One bright spot for Birmingham: Of all 50 cities surveyed, the lowest child care costs relative to women’s median earnings were in Birmingham, Ala.
Houston has the lowest percentage of women in management positions of all 50 cities surveyed, at just 35.9%. It’s followed closely by Salt Lake City, where just 36.2% of managers are women, and Oklahoma City at 38.1%.
Women are least likely to own business in Buffalo, N.Y. It’s not among the 10 worst cities for working women, but in Buffalo just 23.7% of business have female owners. Birmingham is a bottom 10 city that’s nearly as bad on this measure, with just 23.9% of businesses owned by women.
Unemployment rates soar in southern California.
Riverside, Calif., near Los Angeles, had the highest unemployment rate among female workers, at 9.5%. Of the 10 bottom-ranked cities, Memphis and Detroit are close behind with respective unemployment rates of 7.9% and 7.5% among women.
Wage gaps span the map.
New Orleans has the widest gap in earnings between men and women of all 50 cities (tied with San Jose). In both cities, women’s median earnings are 26.6% lower than men’s earnings, but the Big Easy is also weighed down by low rates of female representation in the state legislature and parental protections. Salt Lake City nearly matches New Orleans and San Jose with a pay gap of 26.5% between men and women working there. Detroit also has wide gender pay gap that means female workers earn 25.9% less than their male peers.
Women working in Miami are the least likely to receive health coverage through their employers. Less than half (49%) of Miami’s women have employer-based health insurance.
Charlotte drops three spots.
Already in the No. 47 spot last year, Charlotte, N.C. drops to last place in this year’s rankings. Women have nearly nonexistent parental protections here and among the 10 worst cities, Charlotte women pay the most in child care. They see 26.5% of their paychecks eaten up by child care costs, on average.
Full rankings: Where the largest 50 U.S. metros fit in
The map and list above provides a full overview of where each of the 50 largest U.S. cities rank. Check to see if your city is among the place friendly for working women, or a spot where they’ll have the hardest time getting ahead.
4 tips for modern working women
The results of our rankings show that while working women are doing better in some places than others, they’re still far from achieving parity with working men.
While it’s more difficult for women to change the working conditions and equality in their cities (or lack of it), they can still take steps to make sure they’re getting ahead at the office. Here’s how women can stand out at work and advance their career — and pay — more quickly.
- Seek assignments that will get you noticed. Women are more likely to be assigned “office housework,” administrative tasks that keep a workplace running smoothly but won’t get them noticed. To position yourself for a raise or promotion, volunteer and ask for more high-profile assignments tied to important business or revenue goals. And don’t be shy about pushing back if you’re assigned mundane duties and tasks; it’s reasonable to request that these be fairly shared among all workers.
- Find a mentor or ally at work. Look around your workplace to find the people who are in the positions you’d like to move into as you advance your career. See if these people are willing to mentor you — this can be especially beneficial if they are also women. Women can also seek mentorship, feedback and support for your professional growth from your direct manager. Lastly, you can ask for help and give support to your female peers, making sure your workplace is somewhere that women’s contributions are noticed, recognized and rewarded.
- Balance work with personal responsibilities. The expectations often put on women outside the office can affect performance at work, especially for working mothers. While having children tends to have minimal effect on men’s careers, it might even give their paychecks a boost. For women, motherhood is often a professional setback. Society tells women they can “have it all,” but maybe the message should include “just not all at once”. Get clear on your priorities in life and how your job fits into that, and you can more easily identify when it makes sense to go full-steam at work and when to back off.
- Manage your finances carefully. Although they have lower earnings compared to men, working women can help compensate for this by making wise money choices. Women have more student loans than men, for instance, so prioritizing paying down this and other debt is a first step to start catching up. Women also tend to have lower retirement savings than men, so make this a focus as well. Take full advantage of any employer match you get for retirement contributions. After that, continue to slowly increase contributions and use raises to boost your retirement savings rates.
Building a career and financial foundation that works for you won’t happen overnight. But following these tips, working on your professional skills, and developing solid money habits can go a long way.
Each of the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) was ranked against each other, on a 100-point scale, based on eight factors relevant to women’s ability to achieve financial and professional success. The final score for each MSA is the average of points assigned for each metric, and those points are assigned based on where the metro falls between the highest and lowest values for all metros.
The eight factors are:
- Employment. The percent of women who are unemployed, as reported in the American Community Survey 2017 (five-year estimate) from the U.S. Census Bureau (“2017 ACS”).
- Health care. The percent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 (inclusive) who have employer-based health insurance, as reported by the 2017 ACS.
- Business ownership. Percent of businesses with employees that are owned, either wholly or equally, by women, derived from the 2016 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Management positions. Percent of people in management occupations who are women, derived from the 2017 ACS.
- Wage gap. Gap, as a percent, between median earnings of men and women, derived from the 2017 ACS.
- Child care. The average cost of in-center child care, as a percent of median earnings for women. Day care costs were reported in The Care Index from New America and Care.com, and median earnings were reported by the 2017 ACS.
- Representation. The percent of elected state (or district) legislators who are women, as reported by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.
- Workplace protections. State pregnancy and parental workplace protections were scored on the following bases. The highest possible score was 100 points and the lowest was zero. The highest actual score was 57 and the lowest actual score was zero.
- Paid leave: The number of paid parental leave weeks covered by the state, divided by a maximum of 12 weeks, up to 50 points. Data was reported by the National Partnership for Women & Families.
- Pregnancy accommodation protections: Each MSA was granted points based on six factors reported by the National Partnership for Women & Families, for a possible total of 30 points, for the following:
- The existence of such a law
- If the law covers both public and private employees
- If the law covers all employers, regardless of employer size
- If the law doesn’t specify medical documentation for accommodations
- If the law doesn’t include an “undue hardship” exemption for employers
- If the law expressly extends protections for issues related to breastfeeding
- Allowable time off to attend school events: The number of hours spent at a child’s school, per year, for which a parent cannot be fired, divided by a maximum of 40 hours, up to 20 points. Data was reported by workplacefairness.org.
For the sake of clarity, each metro name is the first city and state listed in the MSA title, which we understand to be the most populous component of each MSA. The Care Index (child care costs) refers to Norfolk, Va., which we associate with the Virginia Beach MSA.
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