Neylan McBaine: Breaking barriers
Search “wage gap” online and you’ll find the 2016 U.S. Census Report showing that women are paid $.11 to $.36 cents less per dollar than men, accounting for all men and women who work full-time, year-round jobs. Among states, Utah ranks third to last—Utah’s women earn $.71 to a man’s dollar. You’ll also find sites disputing these numbers, purporting a much less significant wage gap—calculating in factors such as “choice” of lower-paying careers, inability to work longer hours and lower levels of education. What is reported in the news as a simple, statistical wage gap is, in fact, a contested topic. Regardless, women consistently report frustrations with real and tangible inequalities.
These and other complexities relating to gender in the workplace are the grist for Neylan McBaine’s mill. As founder and CEO of The Seneca Council, McBaine developed programs to help companies determine if inequalities are evident through qualitative and quantitative analysis. The system is called the Gender Optimization (GO) Certification, which assesses if a company has a healthy gender culture and if not, how to put better policies into practice. Companies receive levels of certification, which they can choose to advertise or not. These certifications are a powerful recruitment tool.
“We give companies a reality check,” explains McBaine. In order for a company to train—a major investment—and retain a diverse workforce with unique perspectives and talents, it must first recognize the institutional inequalities, then be able to snuff them out with new practices.
McBaine has lived in Utah for eight years and says she has seen “egregious imbalances” in the workplace, but has a unique combination of perspectives that allows her to understand the prevalent cultural dynamics. “I am sympathetic to the culture,” she says. “And there are no villains. That’s my mantra.”
Her mélange of perspectives comes from being raised a Mormon girl in New York City and attending all-girl schools where she was immersed in an environment of “extreme empowerment.” She studied English literature at Yale, then made her way to California in 1999 and landed a role on the marketing team for the fledgling Walmart.com. Her 12-year career in marketing ranged from The Tea Collection to the “I’m a Mormon” campaign for Bonneville Communications to Brain Chase, an online educational program.
But all along, McBaine has been a champion for women. “I wanted to find a way to combine work organizational behavior and women’s advocacy,” she says, emphasizing that Utah has a long road ahead. “There’s no denying that we rank statistically low in the wage gap, graduation levels, having women in elected positions and women in high-level corporate positions.” Untapped female potential hampers Utah businesses’ abilities to compete on the national and international scene, she says. “We do want to be considered, so we need to address all the barriers.”
Giving women a voice and breaking institutional barriers have been McBaine’s work for some time. In 2010 she founded The Mormon Women Project, a nonprofit organization that publishes stories from Mormon women in order to dissolve stereotypes. She is the author of “A Moderate Mormon Manifesto,” published in 2013 and Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact, billed as a faithful and practical guide to improving the way men and women work together at church.
In the boardroom or the ward house, McBaine believes the approach and solutions are one: “We need to have meaningful conversations to discover the barriers to working well together.”