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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 4 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 14
City of Seattle to consider sexual orientation/gender identity when addressing pay inequity
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City of Seattle to consider sexual orientation/gender identity when addressing pay inequity

by Doug Hamilton - SGN Contributing Writer

Is it only gender discrimination that leads to decreased pay for women, or are there other cultural forces at work? Nudged a year ago by a report showing women in the Seattle metro area earn just 73 cents for every dollar earned by a male - the worst pay gap in the nation - then Mayor McGinn formed the Gender Equity in Pay Task Force to study why these regional and city-wide wage disparities persist. This week, as a result of that study, the Seattle City Council issued a pending resolution calling for changes within, and Mayor Murray held a press conference announcing the City's plans to address our gender pay gap, calling it 'an issue of fundamental equity that we can fix.'

According to the study by the Gender Equity for Pay Task, women in America earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The pay gap also reflects the experience of Transgender women across the country. A recent Rice University and New York University report showed Transgender women lost on average $3.16 an hour after transitioning from male to female.

The study also found, '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. Examining race, sexual orientation and gender identity is critical if we are to have a full understanding of inequity.'

While the pay gap at the City of Seattle is significantly smaller than the national average, the city's effort to look inwardly at the remaining injustice is significant. The City pays over 10,000 employees, and manages a 2014 budget proposed at $4.4 billion dollars. Astonishingly, two-thirds of the City's workforce is male. The City has set aside $1.4 million for the purpose of addressing gender equity.

One of the first things Mayor Murray did when made aware of the task force's work, was to request that information gathered recognized not just male and female, but also Transgender workers. This is the first time Seattle City government now includes gender identity and sexual orientation as factors that may be associated with lower pay. 'This might be an example of where it helps to have a Mayor, Councilmembers and a Director of Human Resources who are from the community,' Seattle Councilmember Sally Clark said.

City of Seattle Councilmember Jean Godden concurred that including LGBT in the stats is an historic first, 'I believe this is the first time the City of Seattle has looked to be more inclusive in their gender demographic analysis. In the work on gender wage equity, we must begin by including employees of all gender identities and sexual orientations to get a clearer picture of where we are and how to ensure equitable opportunities for each person employed by the City.'

The process for the City to collect LGBT workforce demographic information is already underway. 'The Personnel Department is in the hiring process for a position that will be charged with multiple aspects of the gender wage equity initiative, including the collection of this demographic information. As soon as this post is filled, I hope to meet with that individual to get an understanding of the timeline within which this work might be completed. In the meantime, as the Mayor mentioned yesterday, Councilmembers will be calling department heads before their respective committees to provide an initial picture of the gender wage parity in departments they supervise,' said Councilmember Godden.

The study submitted to the City of Seattle found the city government's internal culture at a crossroads. 'Preliminary data supports that women and men do not share equal experiences within the City's work force. We believe we can rectify this, and that women, people of color and LGBT employees can achieve parity. Much of the data tells us that the wage gap is not caused by identifiable discrimination, but rather by institutional norms and practices that keep our departments and job categories largely segregated by gender and/or race. This is a significant obstacle, difficult to overcome, but one that the City of Seattle can eliminate. This report outlines the first steps that the City can take toward achieving gender parity

Godden acknowledged that overcoming cultural and institutional biases would be one of the most challenging aspects, and identified the city's retention and promotion system based on seniority as a root cause of the wage inequities. She was dismayed to learn of the City's historic, lop-sided employment practices, and was surprised it currently has no parental leave for new mothers or fathers.

'The gender wage gap is both a systemic and a discrimination issue. Leadership training and education opportunities with business partners will be fundamental to our gender wage gap efforts. As was apparent yesterday with King County (Councilmember Rod Dembowski) and State (Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles) representation at the gender wage equity press event, there is regional energy on this issue. Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim is charged with the regional business initiative on gender wage parity and I look forward to working with her on this,' Godden said.

Councilmember Clark added, 'Changing the sex and identity dynamics around who applies to become a police officer, firefighter or administrative assistant or childcare worker, and how we compensate different jobs? Those things take longer.'

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