The city of Seattle pays men 9.5 percent more than women on average, mostly because men make up about two-thirds of the city work force and are more represented in the highest-wage jobs, according to a report released Tuesday by Mayor Mike McGinn.
As the mayor did so, he also announced the creation of a task force as part of a broader Gender Justice Initiative to recommend solutions to what he called the complex problem of unequal pay. He asked the head of the city’s Office of Civil Rights, Julie Nelson, and a YWCA director, Patricia Hayden, to lead the initiative.
“Though much progress has been made toward gender justice since women fought for the right to vote nearly 100 years ago, we have a lot of work ahead of us on the road to true gender equality,” McGinn wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
McGinn’s rivals for mayor quickly criticized the effort as inadequate and questioned why he hadn’t taken steps sooner in his administration to hire and promote more women.
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“We don’t need another task force or study,” said former Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, one of eight candidates challenging McGinn in the Aug. 6 primary. “I’m not blaming the mayor for creating the problem, but he’s had four years to address the issue with his own deeds.”
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, another mayoral contender, said that because the city is the fourth-largest employer in Seattle, the mayor should expand his focus beyond city government.
“I welcome the task force, but I’d want to look at private employers and the federal government, as well. Women have faced a glass ceiling for decades,” Harrell said.
State Sen. Ed Murray said the McGinn administration had failed at the basic promise of equal pay and equal opportunity for women in the workplace.
He said that if elected, he would immediately “task the city human-resources department with developing an action plan to eliminate this glaring disparity.”
The pay-disparity report was requested by McGinn and the City Council after a study released in April found Seattle had the worst pay gap for women among the 50 largest U.S. cities.
That study, by the National Partnership for Women and Families, found that Seattle-area women are paid 73 cents for every dollar earned by men, an average annual difference of $16,346 for full-time workers.
David Stewart, the Seattle personnel director who wrote the city report, noted that almost 142,000 Seattle households are now headed by women.
“If the gap in earnings could be reduced or eliminated, it would equate to more food on the table, more fuel in the vehicle and additional mortgage payments,” the report says.
The city analysis found that several departments had larger gender pay gaps than others. At City Light and the Department of Planning and Development, the gap is about 11 percent. In the police department, the disparity is 21 percent.
The survey covered almost 10,000 city employees in 871 job classes.
Stewart called the results a single snapshot of employee data and cautioned that the causes for disparate pay were many and weren’t analyzed for the report.
One of the most striking findings, though, was that men outnumber women almost 2 to 1 in city employment (3,600 women and 6,285 men), and there are more men in classes of employment with typically higher wages.
The report also found that departments in which women on average exceed men in earnings were on the lower end of the pay scale citywide.
In the parks department, for example, women earn on average $28.56 per hour and men earn $27.62, a difference of about 3 percent.
But at Seattle City Light, women on average earn $36.56 per hour and men earn $41.13, a difference of 11 percent.
Steinbrueck said an analysis of city salaries by his campaign staff found other striking disparities. The highest executive classification in the city included 17 men but only one woman, he said.
His staff also calculated that men in executive-level city jobs make on average $6,340 more per year than their women counterparts.
“We can’t wait another year for the mayor’s study,” Steinbrueck said. “There are specific things we can do immediately.”
He pledged to make 50 percent of his new hires women if he is elected.
Harrell said most employers don’t want to discriminate against women in pay, but do so subconsciously. And he gave the mayor credit for hiring many female department heads.
“Let’s look at this as a citywide condition. Employers will want greater pay equity because it makes for a better work force,” said Harrell, whose wife is a Microsoft executive. “Don’t think we haven’t talked about this at our house.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org