Utah women earn an average of 70 cents on the dollar compared to men — the biggest wage gap among the states. So the Salt Lake Chamber and the Women’s Leadership Institute released a battle plan Friday aiming to narrow it.

“The wage gap is real, and it hurts us. The good news is we can solve it,” said Pat Jones, CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute and a former state senator. “We have a significant opportunity before us to be leaders in closing this gap.”

She noted that studies have suggested multiple reasons for the wage gap: Utah women have more children than average, causing absences that hurt their tenure and experience; they tend to choose lower-paying careers; they have lower graduation rates; and they suffer widespread gender discrimination in pay.

The groups released a best-practices guide — and some challenges — for Utah businesses as they evaluate their own wage gaps and hopefully seek to improve them with better education, recruitment, retention and advancement of women.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Derek Miller, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Pat Jones, CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute, release a proposal on how to close the gender wage gap in Utah during a news conference at the Salt Lake Chamber on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.

“I do not believe there is any business owner or business leader in our state that wakes up in the morning and asks themselves, ‘What can I do today to make sure that the women in my organization are paid less than the men,'" said Salt Lake Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller. “Yet we know that still happens.”

He said that comes “either because of unconscious workplace biases or unintentional business processes.”

He commented to his wife, he said, that he was surprised that studies show men are more likely to negotiate their entry pay than women, and his wife said, “Wait, you can negotiate your pay offer?”

In another example, Miller said he talked to one international business operating in Utah that regularly tries to equalize pay between genders. But when it surveys pay a year after taking action, it usually finds the gap has reappeared — requiring re-equalizing — and the cycle repeats.

Also, he said even businesses owned by women in Utah tend to have the same wage gap seen in other firms.

So one of the suggestions in the new best-practices guide for businesses is simply to evaluate their gaps. It also urges them to publish the salary information for the various roles and levels within a firm. “This kind of transparency will engender trust and loyalty,” it says.

Among the other suggestions:

• Avoid asking for previous wage information during the hiring process. “Women have a strict disadvantage” when that occurs because of existing wage gaps, Jones said. Asking for such information tends to perpetuate disparities.

• Put a paid-leave policy in place for all new parents. It would lessen the difference in work missed between moms and dads, and change the perception about which parent should take off a significant amount of time when a couple have a baby.

• Allow employees access to customizable, flexible schedules. It allows parents time to work around child care schedules, maintain full-time jobs and stay on track for potential advancement.

• Provide “unconscious bias” training for all staffers, especially just before they are involved in hiring anyone.

The guide also invited firms to take what it calls the “ElevateHer Challenge.”

That includes increasing the percentage of women in senior leadership, boosting the retention rate of women at all levels, raising the number of women on boards of directors, monitoring pay by gender and closing gaps, developing a mentoring program for women and encouraging them to run for public office.

Jones said 250 organizations in Utah have agreed to take that challenge so far.

Miller said closing the wage gap will help Utah in many ways.

“Utah’s No. 1 challenge to our economy right now is finding skilled workers,” Miller said. “Closing the gender pay gap is an important way to overcome this challenge.”

Besides being important economically, he said, closing the wage gap “is also a moral imperative for our state.”

Miller noted that Utah often brags about being No. 1 with its economy or growth, but “where there are areas of weakness and areas for improvement we need to be wise enough to recognize those areas and, more importantly, wise enough to correct them.”