My advanced physics class in community college was intended to “weed out” those of us not cut out for engineering. The professor, however, had bigoted ideas of who needed weeding out. He mocked and harassed myself and the one other woman in a class of thirty. He demeaned our intelligence and made it clear we were not welcome. I passed the class and went on to pursue my PhD in biomedical sciences. But, I could never fully shake it off and will always carry the scars of being treated as an intruder in my own classroom.
A decade later, in Seattle, I am still fighting gender discrimination. Seattle is making progress, Washington state just certified Affirmative Action Initiative I-1000, which dismantles a 1998 anti-affirmative action law that wreaked havoc on equity within our state. This is merely a first step.
Women in King County earn 76 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color, the gap is worse: in Washington, Latina women receive 46 cents, Native women receive 59 cents and Black women receive 61 cents on the dollar white, non-Hispanic men earn for full-time work. When not controlling for profession, the wage gap increases dramatically, and in Seattle, the data shows that the gap widens as education level increases. Women with professional and advanced degrees make only 61 cents on the dollar compared to men in comparable positions.
Seattle’s pay gap is larger than other West Coast cities and "is significantly wider than American cities with the closest total populations—Denver, Boston, Baltimore, and Nashville," according to a Live Stories data report.
These numbers demonstrate the gross misalignment between our outcomes and our values. We must readdress this wage gap and its multi-dimensional effects on women of color and women with high student loan debt. In order to do so, we need to confront explicit and implicit discrimination in hiring, the devaluation of women’s labor, and the costs of caregiving.
I’ve worked on these issues at the University of Washington, fighting to raise pay and strengthen protections for graduate student instructors, increase childcare subsidies for low-wage workers, and expand access to opportunities for women in STEM. As a city council member, I will collaborate with our labor community to support the expansion of apprenticeship programs that recruit people of color and women into high-paying jobs in Seattle.
However, recruiting more women into male-dominated fields isn’t enough to address our economic disparities. We must ensure dignity of work and recognize that workers in female-dominated fields, like childcare, are skilled professionals who shape future generations. I will prioritize funding for programs like the Imagine Institute, which provides grassroots, worker-driven professional development for childcare workers and educators and will support their movements to expand their collective bargaining rights. I will learn from model programs like Philadelphia’s 1199c Apprenticeship program, which has improved pay and created career paths for childcare and healthcare workers.
I support building on progressive policies like the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and the Fight for $15. This means expanding labor protections including healthcare, schedule stability, and retirement for food service, retail, and domestic workers.
Finally, it is important to address our cultural framework where women disproportionately take on caregiving responsibilities for their family. These responsibilities can lead to diminished pay. I support a multifaceted approach to increase access to high quality, affordable childcare and early learning like building childcare facilities in tandem with affordable housing complexes and incentivizing large businesses to increase the number of slots in childcare.
Increased access to childcare and early learning serves our whole community. Childcare workers are better equipped to care for and teach our kids when they are paid a living wage. Parents can focus and succeed in the workplace when they know their kids are cared for by well-trained and well-paid workers. Children’s brains develop best in stable, nurturing environments.
As a scientist, every day I read and interpret data. The data on economic disparities in Seattle tell us that we have continued to reproduce pay inequity across genders. We must work to reframe the value of women’s labor and alleviate the economic burdens placed on women, and disproportionately on women of color. As a labor organizer, I organize workers and lead collective action; building coalitions to address inequity, strengthen worker protections, and fight for better benefits. As a city council member, I will continue to use data and build movements to make our city of Seattle just, safe, and prosperous for everyone.
Emily Myers is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington and is running for Seattle City Council in District 4.