Council Member Jean Godden speaks at City Hall on the citys next moves to address pay equity.
  • The Stranger
  • Council Member Jean Godden speaks at City Hall on the city's next moves to address pay equity.
This afternoon, Mayor Ed Murray announced the first public steps the city has taken since mid-2013 to address the pay disparity between women and men employed by the City of Seattle, a big issue during last year's mayoral campaign that's almost disappeared since then. "The wage gap between men and women in this region is real.... [and] this is an issue we can fix," said Murray at a press conference moments ago. The most exciting thing appears to be the creation of a Gender Equity Initiative, which would mirror the city's Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), a program run out of the Office for Civil Rights.

According to a joint resolution between the mayor and city council (PDF here), this means that "the City will incorporate a gender equity lens in citywide initiatives, such as legislation to increase the minimum wage, with the Seattle community and region." That probably sounds like a bunch of silly political language, but if it's done effectively, it could have the wide-reaching effect of forcing the city to analyze all its policies through the lens of how they affect gender pay equity, which is how they've used that RSJI framework.

Today also marks the release of a report full of recommendations from the task force that former mayor Mike McGinn convened to study and address the city's pay gap, which was discovered through a pay analysis last summer: Women at the city only earn 90 cents on the male dollar, and the city government workforce is only one-third female.

According to data in the new report (find a full PDF of the 75-page report right here), that earning differential changes dramatically when you take race into consideration:

At the City of Seattle, while white women earn an average of 92 cents for every dollar a white man earns, Asian and Pacific Islander women earn 85 cents, Latina women earn 83 cents, African American women earn 79 cents and Native American women earn 74 cents.

Along with new data, this report outlines a series of recommendations—so many that the city can't possibly implement them all immediately. One is to commission a "robust pay analysis" of the city's most heavily gendered job categories, with the aim of possibly adjusting pay scales to eliminate gender bias. That analysis, the report adds, would likely cost $400,000 to $500,000. Some recommendations are about more study and more coalitions and more analysis.

But other recommendations can happen a whole lot quicker.

Establishing a paid parental leave policy? The city should've already had one. Implement that fucker yesterday. (So far, city employees have, ridiculously, had to cobble together vacation time, sick leave, and unpaid leave to cover time off when they have a baby.) Launch a leadership development program to assist departments that tend to have very few women in leadership positions? It'll cost $50,000 and can start work this year. Giving applicants to the police force extra points for skills like foreign language competency and Peace Corps experience, the way they now do with military service? It's a free paperwork change and they've been talking about it forever. Make it now.

Council Member Jean Godden, who was a member of the task force that prepared the report and who heads up the city council's gender pay equity committee, says she has a few clear legislative priorities.

"We're going to bring each of the departments that we supervise in our committee assignments... and ask what they’re doing with their pay gap," she said in an interview, adding that she and Council President Tim Burgess have already directed their colleagues to make it happen ASAP. Some of this work has actually been done already, she adds, saying the parks department and the city attorney's office analyzed and addressed the wage gaps that had been found in their offices.

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Godden is also interested in making sure the data the city collects on its employees should include transgender people. "Up till now," she said, the only options have been male and female. "We're going to have a category so people don't have to choose one or the other."

And, thank god, she's serious about getting that parental leave policy in place. "It was incredible to me to realize that the city does not have any parental leave, she said. "You have a child, and the next day you should go to work, I guess?" She says work's under way to study and implement a policy.

What the city needs, after a whole lot of waiting, is to see some action. Hopefully the next steps will come quickly and be measurable. Because after the city gets its house in order, they'll have to work more broadly with the private sector to address Seattle's gender pay gap—the worst of all large cities, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.