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In more than a decade working in the construction industry, York City resident Victoria Kageni-Woodard said she's never had a female superior.

As a black woman working mostly with white men, Kageni-Woodard said, she is often subjected to some unfriendly behavior on the job.

"It's not blatant hostility, but you can feel it, almost cut (the tension) with a knife," she said. "But I've grown thicker skin over the years. I like what I do and have a family to take care of."

York County: According to a recent report from the American Association of University Women, women in the congressional district overseeing York County make less than 75 percent of what men make on average, based on 2015 data.

Local women and advocates say the issue goes deeper than just failing to receive equal pay for equal work.

Kageni-Woodard, currently working in natural gas pipeline construction, said she's a union worker, so she doesn't worry as much about men being paid more than her for the same job.

But throughout her career, she's constantly seeing men given more opportunities for advancement, she said.

For example, when she was working in demolition, Kageni-Woodard said she would be placed on smaller equipment — which pays less money — because the company didn't think women could handle cranes and wrecking balls.

Kageni-Woodard got into construction following in the footsteps of her father, who was a superintendent of public works, she said.

She's seen and worked with some other women during her career, but it's mostly been relatives of male construction workers, she said.

"(The construction industry) should do more to encourage women to join," she said. "There's lots of money to be made, and women are just as capable."

Other factors: Economist Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of Keystone Research Center, said there are numerous legislative actions that could be taken to address the gender wage gap.

Chief among those is raising the minimum wage, which, Herzenberg said, studies have shown would benefit women most.

Herzenberg also said that unionizing jobs that predominantly employ women is important to address equal pay and benefits, including paid sick and family leave.

One reason the gap is still so wide, he said, is that women who have to leave the job market to raise children lose ground when they try to return.

That's the situation  facing Springettsbury Township resident Anne Gray.

Gray, a former engineer, left the job market in 2010 to care for her daughter, though she's stayed active with freelance work.

Despite the freelance work, Gray said, attempts to re-enter the technology sector have made her realize she won't get paid nearly as much as when she left.

Part of the reason she  left the workforce, she said, was because her company didn't have adequate maternity-leave benefits.

"When we talk about the wage gap, it's not just about being paid less," Gray said.

The AAUW's study did focus on the pay differences, breaking down the wage gap between men and women in each congressional district.

Legislative solutions: District 4, represented by U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, has the sixth largest percentage gap of the 18 districts in the state, according to the report.

The report recommends several legislative actions that could be taken to reduce the disparity, including requiring employers to post a salary range in job advertisements and creating a state-appointed advisory committee on pay equity.

Perry wrote in a statement that he supports equal pay for equal work, but "more mandates from Washington, as proposed by the AAUW and others, won't create equal pay for women."

"It’s a political ploy designed to reduce flexibility in the workplace and funnel money into the pockets of trial lawyers," he wrote.

Perry pointed out that it's already against the law to pay women less based on the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

"Workplace discrimination still exists in some sectors of the economy, but we need to enforce the laws already on the books and offer real solutions that seek to create more economic opportunity for women," Perry wrote.

Franklin Township resident Dawn Keefer, the Republican nominee for the 92nd House District, agreed that change shouldn't be legislated.

"We don't want to look at the government to solve everything," she said.

Advocacy: Keefer said legislators should instead work with local Chambers of Commerce and business associations to bring the issue to the forefront.

Keefer said she has been frustrated seeing men make more or get more opportunities throughout her professional career, but it might be a cultural issue.

"I don't believe women are great self-advocators," she sad. "I find women, in my opinion, are more self-deprecating or reserved, while men are quick to self-promote."

Keefer said she's more confident now, and she's working to mentor young women at Gettysburg College to prepare them to promote themselves.

"I think we need to push from that level," she said of her work with college women. "It's not about us versus them. We need to use each other as resources."

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.

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