WE ARE COMMITTED to taking action to reduce the gender pay gap here at the City of Seattle.
  • Hannah K. Lee
  • "Throughout our region, women on average earn 73 cents for every dollar men earn. That differential, the widest gap in the nation, is appalling."

As Seattle's mayor, and as the Seattle City Council member chairing the Gender Pay Equity Committee, we are committed to taking action to reduce the gender pay gap among city employees. We’ve made a serious commitment to ensuring equal opportunity for men and women with the city’s first ever Gender Equity Initiative. But, that said, it’s a complex problem with many causes, and there are no quick-fix solutions.

First, we must acknowledge that the gender pay gap among city employees still exists, with women earning about 90 cents to every dollar that a man earns. The gap is even larger for women of color. While the City of Seattle’s pay gap is smaller than that of the region as a whole, we will not be satisfied until we have full equity.

The central cause of the problem, however, does not appear to be within groups of employees doing the same work. Our city strives to compensate similarly situated employees—those in the same job class with similar experience and qualifications—equally regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other protected basis.

We are living with the remains of institutional biases that lead to unfair and often unintentional preconceptions about who is “capable” of doing certain types of work. As a result, more men than women may be hired or promoted into higher paying roles.

We recognize these preconceptions exist and we embrace the challenge to remedy biases that may impact opportunities for women. The city is currently updating targeted recruitment and outreach strategies to attract more women and people of color into higher paying positions. We’ve recently added a new recruiter in the Department of Human Resources, who is working on this issue with departments across the city.

The Mayor’s Office and the council have tried to lead by example. Forty-seven percent of Mayor’s Office staff (including a majority of managers), and half of the mayor’s newly appointed department directors, are women. Additionally, the legislative department’s division directors are all women. They have been charged to lead by example, as well.

Today we don’t have good estimates of what additional resources may be required to support pay equity. By December, we will have the results of a consultant study that will examine city pay and hiring practices by gender and race, which should help us identify further actions. We can then have a robust discussion on policy options and finances in collaboration with our labor partners.

Lip service and studies alone aren’t the answer. Both the Mayor’s Office and the council are prepared to pass a budget supplemental that funds pay equity remedies in 2015.

There are other things we can do sooner, including advancing policies that promote women’s participation in our workforce. For example, we’re working together to implement a paid parental leave benefit for city employees in 2015. A majority of council members favor adding placeholder funding signifying support for parental leave policies in next year’s budget. The council and the mayor's staff will work together to examine the data and best practices to create a benefit that signals the city’s support of families and of new parents' right to spend time bonding with their new babies or adopted children. We look forward to sharing more details early in the new year.

We’re also working to ensure that all employees and managers receive the right training to promote gender equity in the workplace. By June, our citywide strategic plan will create more rigorous standards and transparency in our hiring and management practices. We will work with each city department to determine whether other policies and practices are contributing to pay inequities. Our Office for Civil Rights and Department of Human Resources are working to identify more equitable actions.

All of these efforts are part of the city's Gender Justice Project, and they will help us to ensure that the city is a place where women feel welcomed, encouraged and supported for many years to come. The Gender Justice Project can also help us create a baseline report, and set a bar for future re-evaluations. It could also develop a gender equity toolkit and set short- and long-term goals for employer members.

As community leaders, addressing gender pay equity for city employees is a beginning, but not enough. Throughout our region, women on average earn 73 cents for every dollar men earn. That differential, the widest gap in the nation, is appalling.

Working together, the city council and the Mayor’s Office are working to create a regional coalition to address gender equity. We envision a broad conversation involving leaders from business, labor, nonprofits, and academic institutions. It’s the right thing to do for today’s workers, and it's the right way to support our economy and build a just society.