Lady Problems

How Seattle's Sexist Pay Gap Became a Top Priority in the Male-Dominated Mayor's Race

Lady Problems

photos by Kelly O

DUDES’ MOODS Worried about women.

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In a crowded mayor's race with an all-male crew of front- runners, an unlikely issue has shot to the front of the debate: equal pay for women, at city hall itself and in the city at large.

After a national study released in April found the pay gap between men and women in Seattle to be the worst of the country's 50 largest metro areas, the city decided to look more closely at its own employees. Turns out, there's a real problem: The city payroll is two-thirds men, pays men on average 9.5 percent more than women, and has fewer women in higher-paid positions.

So the mayoral candidates—all primed to elbow each other out of the way to fill the first pothole—now routinely bring up the issue of gender pay.

Especially mayoral candidate and Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, who touts work on pay equity in his campaign ads. At the very top of a recent campaign flyer's list of promises—above all the blurbs on transit and education and police—Harrell says that as mayor, he'll "institute legislation to improve women's pay equity in the workplace," and he claims to be the "first local legislator to discuss [the] issue and take action."

Harrell's city council committee held a hearing on the matter July 3, and he's promising to "present a resolution to affirm the City's support and ongoing work" on the pay gap, according to an e-mail from his staff. (Last year, Harrell also passed a bill protecting the right of mothers to breast-feed in public.)

Some other candidates have stumbled. At a candidate forum in May, long-shot contender Charlie Staadecker admitted he didn't know about the city's pay gap; shortly before he dropped out, Council Member Tim Burgess's joke about the gap disappearing if everyone had daughters like him landed poorly. And a recent editorial in the Seattle Times spanked Ed Murray and Peter Steinbrueck for blaming McGinn for the problem, saying the blame clearly falls on "a generation of city leadership" and "socio-economic, educational and cultural factors."

Commissioned in early May by Mayor McGinn and separately by Burgess, the city's report was released on July 16, by which time council members were foaming at the mouth trying to get hold of it. Given that the city employs more than 10,000 people and uses 600 job classifications, "getting a complete and accurate analysis of gender pay across those classifications took longer than we expected," says mayoral spokesman Robert Cruickshank.

That long-awaited data shows more men reach higher-paid positions at the city—a good old-fashioned glass ceiling, if you will. Departments and job classifications that collect more women, like the parks department, tend to be paid less. And certain departments—police, City Light, planning and development—have larger pay gaps than others.

The fact that the city's workforce is only one-third female shocked both Beth Hester, the mayor's public affairs director, and Julie Nelson, the director of the Office for Civil Rights. "I've worked for the city for 23 years," Nelson says. "My departments have always been more females than males."

Hester says because the city's departments are so different in scope and structure, the problems (and their solutions) are likely to be different in various departments. "The sound bite is 9.5," she says—that's the average pay gap. "But 9.5 does not begin to tell that story."

Take, for example, the police department, whose gender pay gap is more dramatic: It's 21 percent.

"If you look in our command structure, they're mostly men," explains Seattle Police Department spokeswoman Detective Reneé Witt. But promotion within SPD is voluntary and test-based, she says, without much room for obvious bias. "If I wanted to... study, and take the promotional exam, I have the opportunity to do that." But, she continues, "I've been on 20 years, and I have zero interest in promoting." And there's a very clear reason: "I have a life outside of the department," says Witt. "And when you start to promote—sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and above—you're kind of at the department's will." (A Pew Research Center study found this spring that working moms still do 15 hours more housework and child care per week than working dads.)

Meanwhile, the fire department lacks women in higher-paid positions; only 9 percent of firefighters are female, while the department's civilian workforce is 58 percent female, according to spokesman Kyle Moore. He adds that the fire department has begun to focus on hiring more diverse candidates and encouraging them to seek promotions.

A new task force, convened by Mayor McGinn, will soon begin to dig deeper into the wage gap data in order to start fashioning solutions—a set of recommendations on short-term solutions is due by September, long-term ones by the end of the year. In January, we should have the beginnings of a Gender Justice Initiative.

If the city can start to set its house in order, it'll be the first big step toward addressing the private sector pay gap. Says the cochair of the Seattle Women's Commission, Bridgette Maryman: "The city needs to walk the walk and talk the talk before it can encourage businesses to do anything." recommended


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Mike Force 1
I read the kicker as 'sexiest pay gap'.
Posted by Mike Force on July 24, 2013 at 11:35 AM · Report this
I tried pointing this problem and situation out to Seattle's former Mayor and City Attorney and Seattle's City Council Members a few years back and it fell on non hearing and non responsive people. I have the e-mails to them. But now it seems like such a big deal and "oh so important" since a few are running for mayor and being called out on this problem that has been going on for years right under their ignoring and non responsive noses.
Posted by Gray Panther on July 24, 2013 at 11:53 AM · Report this
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I wouldnt trust McGinn to lead a PTA meeting, let alone the largest city in the state.

If you are LGBT (and white), or wealthy (and white) or a faux environmentalist (as in pro development, anti open spaces), McGinn is the way to go.

If you are poor, working class, a student, anti-1%, latino, black, or native, McGinn wants you shipped the hell out of his city to Renton or Kent or Burien. And he will work to prevent low income housing and work with racist, abusive SPD leadership to harass you into leaving.

McGinn wants to be Seattle Bloomberg or Daley, and he has the $$$ and corporate backing to do so. Hopefully Seattle isnt dumb enough fall for it...though it seems the stranger has.
Posted by araucania on July 25, 2013 at 9:42 AM · Report this
@4 What a trip! I got through "If you are LGBT (and white), or wealthy (and white) or a faux environmentalist (as in pro development, anti open spaces)..." and I was SURE you were going to mention the candidate endorsed by the Downtown Seattle Association (or CASE, if we're splitting hairs) the Seattle Times, and funded by a downtown PAC! Instead, you mention the candidate endorsed by the Teamsters No. 28, Local 17, Unite Here Local 8, and UFCW 21. You must think that the members of those working-class unions are dumb dumb dumb.

I'm not even upset that you're spewing hate at McGinn, I'm just wondering whether you can come up with a better argument than the trash you're bringing now.
Posted by smelliott on July 25, 2013 at 10:50 AM · Report this
@4 @5 Seriously! I'm pro-McGinn, but there are arguments to be made against his candidacy (as there are for all candidates). It's been amusing reading araucania's tirades -- they're so divorced from reality.
Posted by grkle on July 25, 2013 at 10:58 AM · Report this
@4 so who do you support? How is he any different from McGinn?
Posted by BrianDanger on July 25, 2013 at 11:33 AM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 8
#4 time to get your head out of your horse's ass. It is very clear you have no idea how diverse many neighborhoods in Seattle are and have been. And the folks living there are very happy with McGinn. At least those I talk with often in my little diverse slice of Seattle. We have students, the 99%, working class, minorities of all types, and all those other groups you think are targets for expulsion. Time to get out of your 4 walls and explore.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on July 25, 2013 at 12:53 PM · Report this
Joey Gray--notably, a woman--has been talking about this issue since she entered the mayoral race. I know The Stranger has promoted the inevitability of these four male candidates from the beginning, but how about listening to one of the ladies too? You know, just to be a touch more equitable?
Posted by MattyK on July 25, 2013 at 2:16 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 10
Why do I get the feeling that Gender Pay Equity is the Strategic Advisors controversy of the 2013 election?
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on July 25, 2013 at 2:30 PM · Report this
11 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
How can single mothers NOT be at the bottom of the economic food chain unless the children are considered as property of the state?
Posted by billwald on July 25, 2013 at 8:25 PM · Report this

YES, because the endorsement of one set of unions after his politically calculated move to stop ONE whole foods (hey, why didnt he do that for the other WF's that opened on his watch in, say for instance, the Magnolia waterfront? Musta been bad timing huh?

But yes, those union groups are the ONLY REPRESENTATIVES of the poor and the minority populations in Seattle. Im sure those natives and blacks will gladly take those ass whippings the McGinn backed SPD deliver knowing that McGinn has the support of the grocers union! Im sure those poor people in first hill, cap hill, rainier, crown hill, greenwood and the last of ballard would have no problem with being priced out of Seattle due to rampant McGinn backed development of high price low quality condos and apartments (with no parking btw) once they know he has support from the teamsters. Sure theyll need to add 2 hours of commuting time from kent and auburn and Shoreline...still totally worthy it!

[For the record, Im not anti union, Im very much pro union...especially private business unions, but there are more important matters at stake to a lot of people that many of you shield your eyes to or secretly feel the same way about that conservatives do. McGinn is on the wrong side of those issues]
Posted by araucania on July 25, 2013 at 11:49 PM · Report this
@#6 didnt you admit you work for his campaign?

Also Ive noticed you keep saying how pro mcginn you are, but you wont so much as comment on the problems his candidacy faces, specifically involving his stance on the SPD and the OPA, and what people of color who live or work in Seattle seem to think of him.

If you cant defend the guy with substantive counter commentary, and all you can argue with is ad hominems, maybe you shouldnt be working for Team McGinn, I think Fox News would be a better fit.


Really? You have 99%ers, minorities and students? Thats not what the buzz is (or was) around the U, or SCCC, or Highline or NSCC. Its damn sure not the buzz in Capitol Hill or South Seattle or Greenwood or Beacon Hill.

Now, Im sure you have a FEW students and 'minorities' (note the pan-inclusive term you used...dont parse out specific groups that have had a problem with McGinn like Natives, African Americans and Latinos, just say 'minorities' in general and include groups who havent had problems with him) and students and 99%ers. Heck, Im sure you have some tea partiers.

But outliers are not the standard, nor should they be used as tokens and shields to criticisms of anit-inclusive and socially unpopular policy. If you cant argue on merit or substance, you shouldnt be arguing at all.
Posted by araucania on July 25, 2013 at 11:57 PM · Report this
Seattle has the biggest gender pay gap of the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S. ?? That's disheartening. It's a shame there aren't any female mayoral
candidates running. *sigh*

Can we at least stop the coal trains?
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 26, 2013 at 8:25 PM · Report this
When more women WANT to be Powerlineworkers, and in the upper ranks, and want to make the commitment to get there, there will be. The percieved glass ceiling at the city is not a brick wall. And they will always have to compete with men at some point too. Even lowered physical standards don't make it atractive enough to put a dent in it.

Until then you can't just hire women for women's sake and pay them a higher classifcation than they are qualifed for to make up for it. The city employees are still far more diverse than private industry.

And choosing to not persue an ambitious career, or just staying at your current level, is not a "bad" choice for the one who is content with it. It is their choice, and it's equally valid. Some people are happier with less stress and value time over money, just need a living wage, men and women. Does not mean they are any less productive or valuable. We still espouse the individual freedom to do that, last I checked.

Broad conclusions on pay differences of 17 people applied to 10,000 are not even statiscally valid, but are ripe for cherry picking out of context.
Posted by Nemo on July 26, 2013 at 10:59 PM · Report this
17 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
@16: I agree, actually. I wouldn't be interested in running for a public office myself, but admire women who do.
What I said and meant was that it's sad that there aren't any female candidates running for the position of Mayor of Seattle.
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 27, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Report this
19 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
isn't it about time to hire a fucking intern to do some spam filtering guys?
Posted by earn2000perhourathome on July 30, 2013 at 5:03 PM · Report this

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