City Council Member Jean Godden is still talking about gender pay equity.
  • City of Seattle.
  • Council Member Jean Godden is still talking about gender pay equity.

Earlier this week, City Council member Jean Godden held a town hall meeting where, over little sandwiches and paper coffee cups, she reminded everyone she’s not giving up on gender pay equity.

“It’s way past time we got serious,” she said. “We must end these disparities and we must do it in our lifetime.”

Between a panel discussion and a chance for council members to ask the panelists questions, there was a lot of rehashing of the "What year is this again?" statistics we already know. For example: Seattle women make just 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. (A slight improvement from the oft-cited 73 cents, according to Marilyn Watkins, who moderated the panel and served on the city’s Gender Equity in Pay Task Force.) It only gets worse for women of color and single moms.

But there was also a decent amount of talk about one of the issues that’s harder for the casual observer to grasp. These days, we’re not as often facing that old-fashioned sexism where women receive unequal pay for equal work, though that does still happen. Instead, it’s about the types of jobs women get. Here in Seattle, men most often hold technology, engineering, and Boeing jobs, and women get office administration, “health support,” and service jobs, Watkins told the group. This is usually called “occupational segregation” or “career tracking” (see also: “really fucked up”).

And it matters because it shows—even as the mayor says he's "corrected" his cabinet and the council is finally making progress toward paid parental leave—how deeply rooted these problems really are, and how far there still is to go.

Take this fact: Here in Seattle, when it comes to gender pay equity problems we had a national 2013 study tell us that the city's wage gap was the worst in the nation, we had a task force that recommended ways the city should address the gap, we have a city council talking about this issue, and we have a mayor yelling about it—yet we're being embarrassed on one important metric by a city across the mountains.

According to the Seattle Times, there were just two women among the 25 employees receiving the highest salaries in Seattle last year. Over in Spokane, a place most of Seattle rightfully sees as a few decades behind on progressive causes, five of the highest 25 salaries go to women, according to data I got from the city for this story. (Look at actual pay including overtime and it’s even uglier: no women among the top 25 in Seattle last year, and just one in Spokane.)

Of course, five out of 25 isn't representative of the general population either, but we're talking about Spokane, a place where on the issue of gender pay equity there’s no task force or mayoral shouting. Instead, there's a lone legislative aide in a corner of City Hall who's been cobbling together his own study on gender pay equity by—I’m not making this up—cross-checking a list of city employees against their ID photos and Facebook pages. There is some recognition of the problem, but no sophisticated effort to recruit women beyond what most cities already do.

It's hard to tell just why Spokane is ahead of Seattle on this measure. But Spokane's tactics aside, the disparity illustrates how much work is left to do here in Seattle, where it's easy to think ultra-progressive politics will simply take care of it. Among the many different suggestions for addressing the pay equity problem is that we should focus on getting more women in lower-level jobs in areas where they're underrepresented, like police and fire departments. More women firefighters and police officers means more women fire and police chiefs, and those types of positions mean higher salaries.

As Godden and the mayor put it here on Slog last month: “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.”

Fixing that involves long-term efforts ranging from fighting stereotypes to changing education, recruiting, and parental leave policies. But looking at who's in leadership now is one way to check in on how we're doing, and from the looks of it, there's plenty left to do.