I’VE lived the gender wage gap. When I was a city columnist for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, I took home less pay than any of the five male columnists — even though we were doing the same work.
I loved the job, but I was also my family’s sole earner. I struggled to raise two sons and care for a husband disabled by multiple sclerosis. Eventually, I moved to The Seattle Times, partly to achieve pay parity.
I was reminded of that struggle last week when the Gender Equity in Pay Task Force, created to recommend steps to reduce the city’s wage gap, presented its final report to Mayor Ed Murray and me.
Seattle has the largest wage gap among major metropolitan areas. Women earn 73 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color earn just 67 cents. For the average woman, that’s more than a $16,000 loss in wages annually. In total, that’s more than $7 billion we’re not seeing in our local economy due to the wage gap.
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An extra $16,000 a year could have made a real difference to my family. I would have been able to help my sons pay for school and invest more in my own education.
The task force’s report offers insight into why narrowing the wage gap matters. While Seattle government has a narrower gap than the region for women — they get paid 90 cents on the dollar that men receive — several departments show disturbing pay disparities between men and women. The report recommends ways the city can help women and minorities attain wage parity.
The mayor and I agree that achieving wage equity must start at City Hall. We’re proposing that the city take steps based on the task force’s recommendations, such as crafting a parental-leave policy for all city employees. The city does not offer paid time off for a new child, and parents must cobble together unused leave in order to bond with the new additions to their families.
We would also like to build capacity to target recruitment of women, as nearly two-thirds of city workers are men.
Additionally, we propose committing resources to leadership training for women. Supporting career advancement in city government would narrow the pay gap.
We also need to improve employees’ knowledge of existing benefits and rights. One way we will do this is by creating a Web portal where employees can directly access this information, and thus better negotiate for flexible work hours and pay.
Finally, we’re launching a Gender Equity Business Initiative, which will take the work of ending the pay gap into the community. The real gains would be made in partnership with private employers, encouraging them to recruit, train and promote women.
I am chairing the first City Council committee in the city’s history to oversee efforts to end the wage gap. Each city department will report on its current status and opportunities for reducing its internal wage gap this year.
It’s time that women are paid what they are worth. It will not only improve women’s lives, but uplift our entire region.
Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council.