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The 6 Best Cities for Women in the Workplace 

These towns are highly rated for having higher median earnings for females, smaller wage gaps and coveted family leave laws.

By Patricia Kaowthumrong on April 21, 2023

Women at a coworking space office in Broken Arrow, OK.
Annie Bayer

The United States has a long way to go when it comes to women’s equality in the workplace. The evidence? While America is ranked 20th out of 189 in the Women’s Workplace Equality Index — which measures legal obstacles to women’s economic participation worldwide — it is behind countries such as Australia, Canada and Mexico. Females are also still underrepresented in entry-level and senior leadership roles and tech fields and are more likely to face barriers at work, from microaggressions to burnout, according to a 2022 report on Women in the Workplace released by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.

But some cities make it easier for females to thrive in the workplace. This year, in honor of National Women’s Day in March, virtual work experience company Forage released a study listing the 15 top cities for women to launch careers. To put together the roster, a team of analysts evaluated 399 U.S. cities based on data points that specified career success for women. Jenna Bellassai, the study’s lead data reporter, noted that the study is unique for including factors related to well-being and healthcare rather than just financial factors and focusing on cities of all sizes (other studies often only look at ones with the highest populations). 

“We used indicators like the median female earnings and women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings,” Bellassai said. “But we also included indicators like infant care costs as a share of median family income, access to birth control and maternal mortality rate — so we were really looking to take a holistic approach that didn’t just consider financial indicators.”

Here, we spotlight the top six cities on the list.

Portland, Maine

Situated on a peninsula in Casco Bay, Portland is known for its waterfront beauty, thriving culinary scene and charming cobblestone streets. But Maine’s largest city also has draws for working adults: It is the state’s industrial and business center, where tourism and the service sectors drive the economy. As a result, it tops Forage’s list of best cities for women to launch their careers for several reasons, including a low female unemployment rate of 2.4% (the national average in the United States is 6%) and a smaller wage gap (women earn 91.5% of a man’s salary, 18.6% more than the national average of 72.9%). Plus, more than 58% of workers in management positions are women (compared to the national average of about 42%).

Bismarck, North Dakota

Nurse at Sanford Health in Bismarck, ND, works with a test subject.
Sanford Health

Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, is the state’s second most populated city (Fargo is the first). While the enclave has a sleepy reputation, it is a hub for retail and healthcare businesses, including major employers such as Sanford Health, Aetna and Walmart. According to Forage’s study, it earned high marks as a city for working women thanks to low female unemployment (1%, one of the lowest values among all the cities on the list) and a smaller wage gap (women earn 93.7% of a man’s salary, 20.8% more than the national average). Childcare costs also take up a lower percentage of the median family income (12.6% versus the national average of 22.4%), and North Dakota residents also have access to women’s health benefits such as birth control and preventive care.

Grand Junction, Colorado

Tucked on Colorado’s beautiful Western Slope, Grand Junction is the largest city in the state outside of the Front Range corridor, which includes Denver and Colorado Springs. The town is a major transportation and business hot spot and healthcare, agriculture, tourism and oil and gas are among the economic drivers. Grand Junction is one of four Centennial State cities that made Forage’s list of top places for women to launch their careers (the others are Centennial, Denver and Broomfield), thanks to the state’s paid family leave law, which allows for 12 weeks and up to four additional weeks for complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. However, the study indicated that Grand Junction stands out from the others for its very low female unemployment rate (0.8% versus Denver’s 5.6% and Broomfield’s 3%).

Stamford, Connecticut

Stamford, CT / iStock

Stamford is located about 30 miles from Manhattan, giving residents access to the best of one of America’s most prominent cities and the benefits of mid-size-city living, including a variety of lodging options and room to roam. While those living in Stamford can easily commute to New York City for work, there are also career opportunities within city limits since it is the headquarters for big-name corporations, including Charter Communications, Indeed.com and Cenveo. In addition, Stamford scored points as a coveted home base for working females on Forage’s list due to its higher median earnings for women of $50,916 (compared to the national average of $36,726) and 12-week maximum family leave law.

Portland, Oregon

The breathtaking Pacific Northwest scenery and a healthy job market draw professionals of all stripes to Oregon’s largest city. There, a bevy of industries contribute to the economy, including software and electronics, outdoor apparel and food and beverage, and heavyweights such as Nike, HP and Boeing call the city home. While it’s not the most affordable place to live — Portland’s median home value is $522,162 — Forage ranked the city highly when it came to median female earnings ($47,516, which is $10,790 more than the national average) and women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s (more than 89%). Like Colorado and Connecticut, Oregon also has a law allowing up to 12 weeks of family leave.

Baltimore, Maryland

Johns Hopkins Montgomery County
Rockville / Doug Kapustin

Home to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. Naval Academy and other renowned higher education institutions, Baltimore is a haven for knowledge-seekers. But those already in the workforce can benefit from the city’s many booming industries, from manufacturing and finance to life sciences. According to Forage, Baltimore is an attractive landing spot for women to launch their careers because females make 89.2% of men’s earnings (16.3% higher than the national average) and occupy over 53% of the city’s management positions (11% higher than the national average). Infant care costs in Baltimore are also lower than the national average (17.6% percent versus 22.4%). In addition, the state has a generous family policy — 12 weeks with 12 additional weeks for parents experiencing special circumstances.

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