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Those 'Best' and 'Worst' Places for Working Women Have Some Things in Common

Do geography, politics and female lawmakers make a difference?

A woman working on a laptop in an office.

​For years, organizations have ranked cities, states and countries according to how friendly their workplaces are toward women, using barometers such as paid maternity leave, gender pay equity, flexible schedules and the percentage of managerial jobs held by women.

There are some common themes on these lists of the best and worst places for working women: Typically, the "best" places are in states that tend to choose Democratic presidential candidates and that are often on the East and West coasts or north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The "worst" places tend to be in the South, religiously or socially conservative states, and places where female legislative representation is lacking.

 "It seems pretty clear from the results [of these studies] that more-liberal [areas] are better for female entrepreneurs, female politicians, moms and women in general," said Stefanie K. Johnson, associate professor at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder. "This makes sense, because more-conservative values, like we tend to see in the South and Midwest, include a greater emphasis on traditional gender roles. Women stay home with children, men go to work. It's hard to check those values at the [workplace] door."  

The Latest 'Best' List

MagnifyMoney, a personal finance website for consumers, recently published its list of best and worst places for working women. MagnifyMoney analyzed and ranked the 50 largest U.S. cities based on eight factors that affect women's ability to achieve financial and professional success. The study concluded that:

  • Washington, D.C., is the best place overall for working women. It has the highest percentage of managerial jobs held by women . It also has some of the strongest parental- and pregnancy-leave policies of the 50 cities surveyed, and it has the most affordable child care among the top 10 cities on the list.
  • Boston; Providence, R.I.; and Sacramento, Calif., were among the top 10 cities, thanks in large part to their high rates of women in management.
  • Seattle and San Diego have among the highest number of women-owned business. "The West Coast, in general, is a place where women entrepreneurs are succeeding," the study authors wrote.
  • Minneapolis has the lowest unemployment rate for women of all the cities surveyed and the highest percentage of working women covered by employer health insurance.
  • Denver is another top 10 city with low unemployment among women.
  • Los Angeles has the lowest gender wage gap, with an 11.2 percent spread between women's wages and men's. 
  • San Diego and Sacramento, Calif., had the next-smallest gender wage gaps, at 12.4 percent and 13.7 percent, respectively.

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 And the 'Worst' Cities Are … 

Of the 10 cities that offer women the least-favorable economic conditions, public policies and leadership opportunities, 7 of the 10 are in the South, MagnifyMoney found. They are:

  • Charlotte, N.C.
  • Memphis, Tenn.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • Oklahoma City
  • Houston

    Here are details on the cities' rankings: 
  • Memphis faces low female representation in the Tennessee Statehouse. The state has one of the lowest percentages of women in state legislative offices. Memphis also has a relatively high unemployment rate for women. 
  • New Orleans has the widest gap in earnings between men and women of all 50 cities, at 26.6 percent. There's also a low rate of female representation in the Louisiana Statehouse. 
  • Birmingham also faces a low rate of female representation in the Alabama Statehouse.
  • Detroit has a high unemployment rate for women, as well a wide gender pay gap.
  • Houston has the lowest percentage of women in management.
  • Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City have low percentages of women in management. And Salt Lake City has a high gender pay gap.
  • In Miami, fewer than half of working women receive health coverage through their employers. 
  • Charlotte came in last in the rankings. In that city, women have "nearly nonexistent parental protections," the report authors wrote, and more of their paychecks go toward child care there than in any of the other surveyed cities: More than a quarter of their paychecks, on average, go to child care.

Social and Political Leanings

"If a company has an inflexible system where working women feel they can't take time off to care for children or aging parents—these tasks still fall largely to women—they may be more likely to leave the workforce for extended periods, and that can take a huge chunk out of their lifetime earnings," said Mandi Woodruff, executive editor at LendingTree, a website where consumers can compare loan options. "If a company doesn't offer paid time off for maternity leave, that also puts women at a disadvantage and can limit their future earnings."

It's unclear how much of a correlation exists between workplaces that accommodate women and a region's geography, social conservatism, political leanings or female legislative representation. Yet most of those interviewed for this article argued that a correlation exists.

"According to our analysis … blue states [those whose voters predominately choose Democratic presidential candidates] tend to be friendlier toward [women]," said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for WalletHub, which provides online financial tools and conducts a best and worst study similar to MagnifyMoney's. "These states tend to have better child care in general. This includes everything from more pediatricians per capita, to a larger share of nationally accredited child care centers with more child care workers. In terms of work/life balance, Democratic states tend to have better parental-leave policies, as well."

Social and religious conservatism can translate into conservative views on a woman's role outside the home, Johnson said.

"It is very difficult for people to separate their personal values and their workplace values, so we see that women have a tougher time achieving equality in places with more-traditional gender roles," she said. "This is true at a global level." 

And there is certainly a pattern with these best and worst states when it comes to female legislative representation, Gonzalez said.

"There seem to be better conditions for working moms in states where women are better represented among lawmakers," Gonzalez said.

Said Kelly Lockwood Primus, president and COO at Leading Women, a consulting firm working to put more women in corporate leadership. "With more women in office, it's more likely that issues centering on women in the workforce will get the attention they deserve."