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City of Seattle

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.

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Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from Wally McDoogle
Time May 7, 2013 at 12:34 pm

You say all of this, then direct Dave Stewart to take a hard look at the numbers.

How many women -to-men are on your own staff?
What is the salary breakdown?
If it is not parity, please explain why. Then we can move on with this discussion.

Comment from Angie
Time May 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm


Comment from Dave
Time May 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Like Wally, I like to see the Mayor break down the numbers for his own staff and Seattle City workers in general (especially IT workers)l before trying shame all other employers in the City first before even knowing if the Mayor’s own house is in order or not as he’s preaching. With all the already know deficiencies in the City, I’m glad the Mayor took some of his valuable time to respond to a Newspaper Editorial about something only tangentially related to his duties as Mayor.

Comment from Stephanie
Time May 7, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Perhaps next time, someone other than the Mayor should take the time to write a blog about this issue. Being that no one obligated the Mayor to respond to the Seattle Times piece, this shows that the Mayor feels vested in this issue. He has officially recognized it, and is now going to be held accountable for future action or inaction on it.

Comment from CJ Wold
Time May 7, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Mayor Mike, I think the people have spoken! Let’s see how you break down at the intersections of race and gender.

CJ Wold

Comment from Vicki Kennedy
Time May 8, 2013 at 9:52 am

1963 Equall Pay Law. My boys are 50 so that shows how long it has been with very little progress. Currently I cant get a job that I qualify for because HR has a rule that I have a diploma. After 47 years I cant find my diploma so I am on hold with no resolution. However, some of this could have been resolved if the 1978 Arthur Young Study that City Light implemented had been resolved with more answers. The result of that study was that was that the various Admin positions were deleted because they said that some of the positions could be retitled and then the employee could ideally get higher pay. However, since the positions werent in the system that didnt happen since there is a long process to create those positions. Some that finally did get created were later discontinued. Thus we single family mothers still had difficulty getting higher paid to support our families. After 30 years I am still waiting to get even a job I am qualified for.

Comment from TSM
Time May 8, 2013 at 10:08 am

This study is biased & inaccurate just look at the group that produced it. We already have laws to protect against discrimination. The city needs to hire the best candidate regardless of race, color, creed, or gender. Why is this city so driven to social engineering? It doesn’t work.

Comment from TSM
Time May 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

This study is biased & inaccurate just look at the group that published it & their methodology. There are already multiple laws in place to deal with discrimination. The city needs to hire the most qualified candidates available regardless of gender. Why is Seattle so drawn to social engineering? It doesn’t work.

Comment from Dawn
Time May 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Thank you for getting it, Mike! In the early 2000s, I had a temp job at a local tech company making $21.50/hour. I’d been doing this job for about 2 years when a new man joined our team, at $25/hour. I asked for a raise after I found out about the difference and was raised to $22.62/hour. And I was the experienced worker!

Comment from Stephanie
Time May 8, 2013 at 8:16 pm

@Dawn’s comment:

I can imagine that a manager’s response would be 1) wages should not be discussed, and 2) you do not know your co-worker’s previous experience or circumstances surrounding his hire.

If the manager is not willing to justify it, what is the next step for calling out what seems like an unjust pay scale? At my company, it would be a toll free number for the company to launch an investigation.

Comment from Eric
Time August 2, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Stop the lies! As Mark Twain said, there are three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. Dr. Warren Farrell wrote an exceptionally researched book, Why Men Earn More, which outlines 26 reasons why men make more. Bottom line: men tend to sacrifice quality of life for money, while women tend to sacrifice money for quality of life. But honestly, think of common sense. If men made more why would you ever hire a man? Logic: the Achilles Heel of leftist pandering.