LARAMIE, Wyo. — The office is quiet. Two people work at the physical facility of the Wyoming Women’s Business Center, and on this day, one is out of the building on a meeting.
Justine Castelli remains, and she’s loving the calm.
“Dabbling into the world of nonprofits, it’s really interesting,” she said. “It’s been about two months. It’s been pretty quiet.”
Then she gets home.
Home means cooking dinner and corralling her three sons: Vincenzo, Marcello, and Gianni. They’re all under the age of 10, and they rarely stay in one place.
“Usually, you would think that work is high-level stress and then home is where you get to mellow out,” Castelli said. “But I think, for a lot of working moms, it’s just the opposite.”
Castelli is a working, single mom, living in the state she’s long called home.
That state, Wyoming, has the widest wage gap between men and women in the country.
“If women were heard and appreciated for what they can offer in a job,” she said, “then a lot would have changed already. And I don’t feel like it has as much as it should.”
Wyoming is known for its stunning scenery. It’s also known as the Equality State, the first state to give women the unrestricted right to vote and to elect a female governor.
But in 2019, women in Wyoming made, on average, $20,000 less than men: 65 cents for every dollar.
“I would like to see more industries become more supportive of that word ‘mother,’” said Wendy Fanning, who runs the Wyoming Women’s Business Center. “In some rural communities, it’s tough to find child care for infants. Many people have to rely on family members to step in and help out with those care needs.”
In a Care.com study, Wyoming ranked 44th in available child care. Castelli moved back in part so her grandmother could help with the kids. A separate study found nearly 2/3 of Wyoming women work in education, food preparation, or office support: fields that tend to mean lower incomes.
But while plenty of factors make Wyoming unique, there are just as many that run nationwide and show why women’s wages still lag behind men’s in every state in America. For example:
· Women are more likely to work in lower-wage fields that are less likely to provide benefits.
· They reported nearly twice as much gender discrimination.
· Mothers were nearly twice as likely as fathers to say taking time off for childcare had a negative effect on their careers.
Then, there’s COVID-19. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the pandemic “has set women’s labor force participation back more than 30 years.”
“It’s the perseverance that you have to have as a single mother or as a woman,” Castelli said. “Yeah, this is the way the world is, but sitting here and waiting for something to fall into your lap is not going to help you.”
In the last three years, Wyoming legislators have submitted a series of bills aimed at closing the gap. All but one failed.
Instead, groups on the ground have focused on educating and empowering. Castelli went through a program called Climb Wyoming, which offers job training and placement for low-income single moms.
Now, she works for Fanning at the Business Center, which provides aid and resources for female entrepreneurs.
“For me to turn around in this position and be able to pull up women entrepreneurs and help them, knowing they’re economically disadvantaged like I have been, it’s amazing,” Castelli said. “It’s like helping a younger version of myself.”
It’s how Castelli perseveres: quiet focus at work, leadership and love at home.