Breaking down barriers and getting results for women in the Heartland

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One of the most rewarding things about working at the Women’s Foundation is seeing our research and advocacy get translated into real policy solutions that benefit women and their families.

This year’s legislative sessions in Kansas and Missouri were prime examples of the difference we can make together when we work for change. Over the last five months, the Women’s Foundation has pushed relentlessly for progress – educating legislators one-on-one, testifying in committee, and serving as a trusted resource for policymakers. 

Here’s an update on the progress we’re making in three key areas: unlocking economic opportunity, combating sexual harassment, and expanding access to paid family and medical leave.

Historic Win: Reducing Occupational Licensing Barriers

Say the words “occupational licensing” and you’re likely to get some blank stares. I know I do. But it’s a critical issue, and this year the Women’s Foundation helped secure the passage of historic reforms that will reduce licensing barriers for women, low-income Missourians and military families.

Missouri has dozens of licensing boards that require people to spend big bucks in order to enter certain fields – and our research found that these regulations are more likely to impact women than men. For example, the average cost to attend a cosmetology school in Missouri is nearly $14,000, and hair braiders have to take this training even though the curriculum doesn’t cover hair braiding.  


That’s why we worked with lawmakers to draft legislation that will begin to address these problems – and empower more women to start businesses or pursue more flexible careers. 

HB 1500, which was signed into law by the Governor on June 1, will ease regulations on hair braiders and make Missouri the 15th state to enact a Sunrise Law. This means that if policymakers want to adopt a new licensing regulation or create another licensing board or commission, they will need a good reason for doing so – and take the least restrictive approach possible. 

The Governor also signed SB 843, which requires state and local governments to waive all occupational licensing fees for military families and low-income individuals for two years. This reform will put $5 million back into the pockets of Missouri families across the state. 

Our research actively drove these reforms to save women money and create a culture of entrepreneurship, and we got results.  

Combating Sexual Harassment

We know that sexual harassment not only harms women’s well-being, it also hurts their careers.

That’s why, after reports of sexual harassment surfaced in the Kansas State Capitol, the Women’s Foundation took action with Senate President Susan Wagle. Working with experts, stakeholders and victims’ advocates, we developed a comprehensive list of recommendations for combating sexual harassment and misconduct in Kansas state government. 

Today, just five months later, these recommendations have already led to significant reforms. Gov. Jeff Colyer signed an executive order requiring state agencies to have policies that cover state contractors, provide for sexual harassment training, and mandate anonymous reporting. The Legislature also passed an updated harassment policy, and the state’s budget now prohibits the use of state funds to settle sexual harassment cases or request non-disclosure agreements. 

We’re continuing to make progress in Missouri as well. Working with Missouri House Leadership and lawmakers, the Women’s Foundation helped stop a forced arbitration bill that would have taken the state backwards by keeping proceedings secret, findings sealed, and victims silent.   

And we’re teaming up with Attorney General Josh Hawley on a comprehensive review of existing discrimination and harassment policies in the Capitol and across state government. 

Paid Family and Medical Leave

While we were disappointed that a statewide paid family and medical leave law did not make it across the finish line in either state, we are continuing to make progress for state employees. 

Five out of six statewide executive branch officials in Missouri, along with the House of Representatives and four independent executive agencies have now adopted paid parental leave policies for state employees. These policies cover over 50,000 state workers.

This is good news, and we’ll keep fighting until no parent has to choose between caring for a loved one and making ends meet. 

What’s Next

This progress is a powerful reminder that when we work for change together, we can make a difference. 

Moving forward, there is more work to be done on all these issues, and the Women’s Foundation will continue to work to increase equity and opportunity for women across the region. 

Together we can make Kansas and Missouri models for the nation with research-backed policy solutions that build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous future for all.