May 6, 11:19 AM click here to comment > 11
Making excuses for the gender pay gap doesn’t help women who face discrimination
The Seattle Times recently published a point/counterpoint opinion piece on the gender wage gap, with Bruce Ramsey arguing that the dramatic differences between men and women’s compensation can be explained away by women supposedly choosing to pursue lower-paying jobs. This argument has been made and debunked time and time again. Though Lynne Varner did an excellent job responding, there are some basic factual inaccuracies in Bruce’s piece that I wanted to point out.
Let’s start with the basics. Though this problem exists nationwide, Seattle was recently found to be the worst offender of any major city in the U.S. This is shocking. We must do better. Women in Seattle make 73 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and the wage gap gets even worse when you include race as a factor. African American women are paid 64 cents and Latina women are paid just 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
This cannot be conveniently explained away by arguing that men choose high-paying jobs like tech, construction and engineering while women choose health care and other “pink collar” jobs. First of all, those choices are not made in a vacuum. Women are socialized from childhood to believe they are better suited for jobs in traditionally “female friendly” industries. One of the biggest barriers to women entering the tech industry is lack of role models (not to mention institutionalized sexism and frequently unfriendly workplaces). This is a self-perpetuating problem – without older women to look up to in the sciences and tech fields, young women fall out of the science and tech career pipeline at much higher rates than men, who often benefit from mentorship, peer connections and other advantages that women don’t have. Workplace policies in companies that employ primarily men are often not written to accommodate women’s needs. And the fact that many women choose to “lean out” of their careers when they begin families isn’t simply a matter of personal choice either – when women are making 73 cents on the dollar, why wouldn’t they choose to stay home with the kids and rely on their male partner’s salary? All of these “choices” are informed and influenced by the reality of institutionalized sexism.
Leaving “personal choice” aside, even women who follow a man’s playbook and pursue leadership positions in high-paid industries are still paid less than their male counterparts. This gap persists even when you control for education, experience, ambition and choice to start a family. This study from non-profit advocacy group Catalyst surveyed only men and women who graduated from an MBA program and were recruited by top firms across industries. They found that even when they only looked at men and women with similar levels of experience, education and ambition, women were still being paid nearly $5,000 less in their first job out of their MBA program. These findings were consistent even when examining only men and women who did not have children. So when Bruce Ramsey says “the “gap” everyone talks about is not between men and women with the same jobs” he’s just factually incorrect.
Seattle has a problem with gender inequality in pay. Let’s not make excuses and blame women for their “personal choices.” That isn’t going to help the 141,949 households in the Seattle metro area that are headed by women, 23 percent of which are living below the poverty line. For these families, the wage gap isn’t just a matter of fairness – it’s a matter of survival.
If we’re willing to be honest with ourselves and take a hard look at this problem, we can do better. My first step will be to make sure our own house is in order. I have directed Dave Stewart, Director of the Personnel Department of the City of Seattle, to take a hard look at our numbers and make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure equitable pay for every City of Seattle employee. We’re also working on a proposal to address this issue more broadly. Check out my blog for more news on this issue coming soon.
Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn