McGinn demonstrates the concept of equality. Rabble-rousing feminists look on approvingly.
  • Anna Minard
  • McGinn demonstrates the concept of equality. Rabble-rousing feminists look on approvingly.
This morning, Mayor Mike McGinn announced that at the recommendation of his Gender Equity in Pay Task Force, he's setting aside $1.5 million in funds from the next budget to address pay equity on the city's payroll. The task force, convened in the face of a July report showing that the city pays its female employees less than its male employees, is expected to come out with recommendations in January, but the budgeting process is happening now, and they anticipate needing serious funds to implement their recommendations work. A separate line item will fund a position within the city's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to lead that implementation.

So, if the recommendations aren't out yet, what will this $1.5 million fund? "One of the main places we see this going," said McGinn at a press conference, "is pay equalization." Meaning? Well, likely it'll mean bringing the pay scale of traditionally female-dominated jobs up higher to match similar but more male-dominated fields. As co-director of the task force Patricia Hayden explained, the city's problem doesn't appear to be about men and women working identical jobs for different salaries. Instead it's "more of a segregation in work." Women concentrate in lower-paid fields, like administrative assistants, and men in higher-paid fields, like fire and police.

One of the questions the task force is asking as they comb through the city's wage data, is if "jobs that attract more women than men may not be valued as much," explained McGinn. If the answer is yes—and it appears to be—then fixing it will cost real money.

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That's not to say that those job categories—administrative assistants versus police officers—are great examples of where there needs to be pay equalization. A thorough, non-gender-biased analysis would probably tell you that an active-duty police officer should make more money than an administrative assistant. But that same thorough analysis of other jobs may very will demonstrate what we know about the market in general: Job titles that attract more women are generally paid less, and the more women in the field, the less money everyone makes.

The mayor bringing up the idea of pay equalization in general is a really good sign, as far as I'm concerned. When that report was first bubbling around at city hall, I talked to a slew of people who work on gender pay equity, and this idea of re-analyzing why certain job categories make what they do came up over and over. Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, explained that many public and private employers are starting to use a "comparable worth" analysis of pay to make sure there's not inherent gender bias in pay scales.

"Equal pay," explained Hegewisch, looks at when "two IT people working next to each other doing the same job and the woman gets less than the man." But comparable worth, she said, addresses the now more common situation, and the one Seattle is facing: It's "the HR manager being a woman and the IT manager being a man, and IT is valued higher because people think it's worth more. Or a child-care worker getting less than the person collecting the rubbish." The phrase "comparable worth" is a buzzword and has a specific meaning; I'm not seeing anyone at City Hall ready to use the phrase. But if they're expecting to adjust pay scales, they're looking to address, in a meaningful way, the sort of longstanding structural problems that produce a gender pay gap even in liberal ol' Seattle.