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Women-unfriendly Seattle must fix its status as the 73-cent city

Guest Opinion: The city government is making a start on fixing its gender wage gap. But a lot more needs to be done.
Seattle women last April were surprised to find that on average, women are paid 73 cents on each dollar that men are paid.

Seattle women last April were surprised to find that on average, women are paid 73 cents on each dollar that men are paid. Courtesy of Creator Apps

What if you lived in a city where you think women are doing well — or at least better than in most places — and then you find out that’s just not true? And, what’s more, you learn this city is the worst — rock bottom worst — of any of the nation’s 50 metropolitan regions?

That shock occurred last April when women all over Seattle woke up to read that Seattle businesses, on average, pay women 73 cents on each dollar that men are paid, contrasted with 77 cents nationally. Based on this grim discovery, the Seattle Women’s Commission challenged Seattle leaders to look into the situation, starting with city government's own wage gap.

How wide is the City of Seattle employee wage gap? It turned out the pay gap isn’t quite as wide as in the city as a whole: Women in city government earn 90 cents on the dollar. But it’s worse in certain departments (among them Seattle City Light and the Seattle police and fire departments). To make matters worse, the study showed that two-thirds of the city’s employees are male and that, at the time of the study last year, only one of the city’s 18 highest paid employees was female.

Following the release of early numbers, then-Mayor Mike McGinn convened the Gender Equity in Pay Taskforce, comprised of educators, labor, business and women’s leaders.

Meanwhile, I — in my role as a councilmember, who also lived the wage gap in the past and remains an outraged feminist — began researching policy directions, meeting with community leaders such as the Women’s Funding Alliance, Legal Voice and the Women’s Commission. At the same time I participated on the mayor’s task force, working for a unified city solution.

Our combined efforts initially managed to get funds into the 2014 budget to work on such solutions as figuring out what to do with the astonishing but little-known fact that the city does not offer any maternity/paternity pay. In other words, new moms are expected to go back to work the next day, unless they have saved up vacation or sick leave.

From there, the task force really dug in and came up with a rich series of recommendations, presented formally to new Mayor Ed Murray in March. Following the release of these recommendations, the mayor, Personnel Director Susan Coskey, Office of Civil Rights Director Patricia Lally and I met to consider first steps. The work plan, spelled out in a resolution passed last Monday, includes specific actions, among them:

  • The Personnel Department is working with city departments to provide a deeper analysis of citywide gender data by the end of the summer.
  • Where disparities exist, the Personnel and Civil Rights offices will identify practices that may contribute to solutions and make recommendations for adjustment.
  • Personnel and Civil Rights will develop training to address gender equity, focusing on institutional and structural sexism.
  • Personnel will partner with the City Council to study paid parental leave and identify best practices and strategies to provide that leave.
  • The city will review, modify and propose additional family-friendly practices.
  • The two departments will determine how to implement a more consistent approach to performance management and employee discipline.
  • Personnel will create and manage a recruitment program for outreach to diverse and under-represented populations.
  • The two departments will provide targeted and increased opportunities for career growth for individuals in under-represented employee groups.
  • Personnel will revise the city’s employee information collection process to include an option for transgender employees.
  • Before the end of 2014, the mayor and I will conduct a series of outreach meetings to gather input and seek to close the gender wage gap in the private sector.

Getting the city’s act together first is a good idea, but it is not too soon to start thinking about the region and its 73-cent chasm. When the figures first came out last year, Mayor Menino of Boston said that the city — also identified for its inequities — would be first to close its wage gap. We will be reaching out to find out what strategies Boston used.

Just this week, the Seattle City Council took an historic vote, approving a $15 minimum wage that will be phased in beginning next April. Since a majority of low-wage workers are women, passage is a significant step forward for gender pay equity. But it will by no means end the region’s disgraceful pay gap between men and women; that’s unfinished but priority business.

Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of its Libraries, Utilities, and Center Committee. She was a columnist and chronicler of Seattle life for many years at both Seattle daily newspapers. She has endorsed state Sen. Ed Murray for mayor. You can follow her on Twitter: @jean_godden.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 6:12 a.m. Inappropriate

I often find "progresive" men way more sexist than so-called "conservative" men.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 6:40 a.m. Inappropriate

What's next Jean? You have been on the Council waaaay tooo long. Maybe you should be more outraged with the salaries your executives are being paid? Is there a wage differential among other groups in City Government? Ethnic groups? Weight challenged? Smokers? Sexual preferences? The over 55 crowd? Let's just keep on studying everything, form a stakeholder committee, hire a consultant and write a white paper to define action items and "the way forward". Then we can defend the lawsuits for historic institutional wage discrimination, pay fines, fees, court costs and a huge settlement...it is the Seattle way.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 7:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Sounds like a good idea and simple, cheap solution: print a flyer that tells parents to encourage their daughters to study science, law or business, not social services, cup cake icing or unwed baby making.

Simon

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 8:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Maybe you should've made minimum wage $20 for women, Jean.

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh boy. I'm pretty darn on the liberal end of the spectrum but what I absolutely deplore is spin. When you get right down to it and look at the robust studies - there is almost zero difference in the pay women receive, and yes this is the distinction - FOR THE SAME TYPE OF WORK.

And yes, as we all suspect, women are more apt to take a break because of family reasons than men. So now, what exactly will you be asking the tax payers for down the road after this "study" is complete. Maternity and Paternity paid leave I suppose. The poor middle class family who is getting quite squeezed in Seattle these days - housing prices are getting quite astonishing, there seems to be an endless stream of additional tax measures going forward, and wages are relatively stagnant.

Oh - unless you are at the top of the heap of City government. What is the SCL lead's pay raise that was just announced?

Lily32

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

It's the Democrat's ongoing Politics of Identity. All must maintain victimhood. All must remain strident. All are entitled.

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Agree with some others, lots of "studying" here, but no promises of substance, and no mention of this morning's news that the top paid 7 or 10 city employees are all men, and the council took action yesterday to approve giving them great big raises. This is just window dressing BS from Ms. Godden. Is she up for reelection soon? That would explain this blather.

mspat

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Written as if the author was a former gossip columnist. Big surprise. That Seattle could have elected the folks at City Hall is beyond stunning, a very sad commentary on the state of the city.

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-05/to-work-or-not-to-work-women-s-dilemna-cuts-growth-jobs.html

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

The key point is that Seattle compares poorly to the National average. Not that there exists a differential.The hypocrisy continues!

Seasoned

Posted Fri, Jun 6, 6:36 a.m. Inappropriate

That's not fair. That's like comparing apples and umm... I don't know... an early morning walk in light rain while drinking Starbucks and watching ferries.

You can't compare us with the national average. We're different and special in so many ways.

Their methodology must be wrong.

tvjames

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Wrong. The data says absolutely nothing about a wage gap trend between men and women doing the same type of work - either within Seattle or among cities. All they did in this study was take census data for men and women and voila - a study is born.

Lily32

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Technology (Microsoft), Aeronautics/Engineering (Boeing), and Biotech (Amgen) - all high-pay sectors in which women are under-represented, arguably by choice. Women, while the majority of college attendees, still shy away from the hard sciences (and toward the soft sciences).

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Job selection is a choice and women, for whatever reason have historically chosen the path of least resistance and conformity when it comes to jobs. Not all women, there are adventuresome souls in their ranks, but the vast majority...then whine.

Djinn

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 12:48 p.m. Inappropriate

But this does not explain progressive Seattle compared to the National Average. Nor does it explain the lack of women in high positions within the City goverment, which are not STEM jobs, BTW.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 1:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The differential extends beyond just STEM jobs - to higher degrees in Public Administration, Urban Planning, Civil Engineering, MBAs, etc. Note: Having a helpmate to support you is an advantage in earning higher degrees.

The Police and Fire Departments also skew heavily toward male employees. Many jobs at Seattle Light and Seattle Public Utilities also skew toward men, as well as road repair/maintenance crews, etc.

My sister worked state jobs (employment security) in four states as she followed her husband (who worked as a reporter/news manager in radio/television news departments, a nomad profession). How many women employees in city (or state) government have made lateral, as opposed to vertical, career moves, changed careers, or stepped down pay grades?

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 1:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I think that the reasons are more complex than that.

Certainly the perception of some careers/professions being masculine or feminine impacts choices (by both men and women). Women are generally more family-oriented than career-oriented.

More women are earning "second incomes" than men, and thus are more likely to follow mates in job/career transfers than are men, which has the effect of disrupting career paths.

At the top-income levels (partner/executive) women are competing with men able to work 60 hours or more a week because they have stay-at-home helpmates who take care of literally everything else.

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Again, there are two disparities - National and Seattle. Seattle does worse than the National average.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Seasoned: "Again, there are two disparities - National and Seattle. Seattle does worse than the National average."

And why do you think that is? I earlier pointed to the role of the technology, aeronautical, and biotech sectors, all heavily skewed toward men in hiring, in the NW economy.

I think the pay-gap/equal-pay campaign can be criticized without buying into anti-female or anti-liberal diatribes. It's not a simple left vs right issue.

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 5:27 p.m. Inappropriate

She has been on the council and just noticed this?

No wonder I thought she died long ago.

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 8:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Total equality on the Seattle City Council! Men, women and crazy people are all paid the same salary! Jean is not the crazy person.

Run for office, economic sense not needed!

Posted Fri, Jun 6, 7:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Again, there are other parts of the country where tech or heavy industry predominate. And within the city government, the disparity has nothing to do with STEM. Yet we are still worse than the national average.

Seasoned

Posted Fri, Jun 6, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

So, where? There are at best a couple municipal areas that compare with the Seattle area when it comes to tech employment - San Jose (Silicon Valley) and Boston. City-owned (City Light and SPU) vs private utilities, alone could skew employment figures. With such a small sample, variation is to be expected.

As an aeronautical manufacturing center, the Seattle area pretty much stands alone, with only Airbus, a multinational European consortium, as a direct competitor. Trying to compare the Seattle area with rust-bucket manufacturing centers like Detroit makes no sense whatsoever.

Municipal government employment has very little to do with STEM, except in such areas as civil engineering. The connection to the tech industry, however, is that tech employees, especially at the higher skill and experience levels are recruited not just locally, but nationwide, with the same going for aeronautical employees. Wives move with husbands, which means a higher churn among, mostly male, tech employees, will have an impact on wives having to interrupt civil service career paths, for instance.

You are simply cherry picking a couple data points to draw a facile, and clearly agenda-driven, conclusion. I have no expectation that you will engage in any real discussion of these issues, since your obvious purpose is simply to continue dishing up pablum for the simpletons.

Posted Thu, Jun 12, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

I believe it was reported in the NY Times in a recent story about wage differences that close to 1/3 of US women don't work and that 25% of women with children don't work.

chapala21

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