Gender equity in city employment requires long-term effort

Guest Opinion: Two City Council members say that digging into the numbers show a problem deeply embedded in city government personnel practices.
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City Council member and mayoral candidate, Tim Burgess.

Guest Opinion: Two City Council members say that digging into the numbers show a problem deeply embedded in city government personnel practices.

The Mayor’s Office released a study of gender pay equity in July showing that in city employment, men, on average, are paid 9.5 percent more than women and constitute nearly two-thirds of the workforce.

Frankly, those results are dismal, and are as disturbing as the recent news that Seattle ranks dead last among the country’s largest 50 major metropolitan areas for gender pay equity.

We recently took a closer look at the raw data of gender and salaries in and among city departments, and the resulting analysis was quite thought-provoking . Charts illustrate that no one or two solutions can achieve pay equity in the city workforce.

While some departments have commendable records on pay equity — Transportation, Finance, Seattle Public Utilities, the Library and Neighborhoods — others are pretty shameful. It’s particularly daunting to discover that the police, law and personnel departments, the Municipal Court and the Mayor’s Office have the lowest female-to-male employee salary ratio among major departments.

Solving the gender pay gap requires innovation and flexibility — departments need to develop specific actions to fit their particular needs. But there are some citywide changes that will help across departments. This initial look at the data points to two, in particular.

First, the city needs to place more women into positions of leadership. Among the most noteworthy findings is that only one of the top 20 highest paid city employees is a woman, with no women in the top ten.

Second, the analysis shows women make up the smallest percentage of the city workforce from age 36 to age 45. We need to explore more family-friendly policies. Many forward-thinking employers (Starbucks and Amazon come to mind) have on-site childcare. City government does not offer this service. Nor does Seattle have any provision for paid parental leave, and offers only 90 days of unpaid Family and Medical Leave. Anecdotally, we know of city employees who have had to piece together different types of paid leave (vacation, their own sick leave, borrowed sick leave from colleagues) to take minimal paid parental leave. More flextime scheduling or job sharing options might also help attract and retain more women.

Mayor Mike McGinn appointed a Gender Equity in Pay Taskforce to take an in-depth look at solving the City’s pay gap, including options to strengthen the City’s family friendly policies. Councilmember Godden has been appointed to serve on the taskforce and is committed to ensuring that the group is not just window dressing during an election year. The solutions will be bold, sustainable and result in true change.

The ongoing gender pay gap and the example set by the city government itself does not do Seattle proud. With an improved economy, and the potential of more job opportunities opening at the city, now is the time to change our policies and practices to attract and retain more women. Seattle, of all cities, can and should do better.

Jean Godden and Tim Burgess are members of the Seattle City Council. Godden serves on the City’s Gender Equity in Pay Taskforce and Burgess chairs the Council committee that provides oversight of the City labor and personnel issues.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jean Godden

Jean Godden

Jean Godden served 12 years on Seattle City Council.