- Lisa S./Shutterstock
As members of Seattle’s Gender Equity in Pay Task Force, we are committed to equal pay for equal work. We appreciate the recognition by the Seattle Times’ editorial board that sometimes invisible institutional and cultural barriers prevent women from achieving equal pay with men. And we agree that the first priority of Seattle’s Mayor and City Council should be to tackle structures and practices that lead to a 9.5% difference in the earnings of women and men employed by the City.
However, we disagree with the editorial board that efforts to address Seattle’s pay gap should end with City employees. The editorial argues that the City should confine their work to close the pay gap to City Hall and let the private sector act in good faith. If leading by example were enough, then women throughout the Seattle metropolitan area would be making 90.5 cents to every dollar earned by men rather than just 73 cents—even less for women of color.
They also argue that programs like sick days and family leave—which have enormous impacts on the economic security of working women—would be detrimental to small businesses. But the experience of paid sick days in Seattle and family leave programs across the country provide more than ample proof that paid leave is good for workers, families and business.
If women earned equal pay, their families would have greater economic security, children would have better health and opportunity, and our whole economy would be more prosperous. A 2013 study by the National Partnership for Women and Families showed over $7 billion missing from our local economy because women are paid so much less.
A Stanford study concluded that up to 40% of the wage gap nationally cannot be explained by differences in jobs, qualifications, or hours worked.
The good news for City of Seattle employees, according to our task force analyses, is that men and women with the same job title and grade do earn the same. But in City employment, as in our broader society, men and women tend to hold different jobs. Jobs dominated by women pay much less than jobs held primarily by men. Jobs in which women of color are concentrated pay least of all.
Because of that, our first recommendation as a task force is that the City conduct an analysis that scores jobs on their skill, effort, and responsibility. Then we will know if some jobs are undervalued simply because they are "women’s work."
We also recommend that the City develop consistent family-friendly policies. Throughout our society, women remain the primary caregivers—for newborns, sick children, elderly parents. While the City already has model employee benefits in most respects, access to family-friendly policies such as flexible scheduling is uneven across departments, and the City lacks a paid parental leave policy.
Policies that make balancing work and family difficult without enhancing job outcomes are the kind of institutional biases that all employers must change for women to reach parity in opportunities and earnings with men.
We’ve made a lot of progress in the 50 years since Congress banned discrimination in employment on the basis of sex and race. But we can do better.
Our Mayor and City Council have a responsibility to serve everyone who lives and works in Seattle. Our task force was united in recommending that the City both lead by example and where appropriate pursue new laws. Together, we hope to make Seattle the first city to assure that everyone has access to equal pay, regardless of gender, race, and gender identity.