Echoing President Obama’s call this past weekend for corporations with more than 100 employees to reveal how much they pay men, women, and minorities–an effort to improve pay equity by requiring pay transparency and accountability–city council freshman Lorena Gonzalez says she hopes to pass legislation this year that would require the city to follow suit.
Gonzalez, who added “gender equity” to the title of what’s traditionally been known as the Public Safety Committee (it now goes by the somewhat sprawling name “Gender Equity, Safe Communities, and New Americans Committee), says last year’s report on gender and racial pay inequities at the city raised concerns for her about how large the pay gap is and how well the city is keeping track of it. I covered the report last year, and argued that its sanguine conclusions about pay equity at the city were unjustified, given the hoops its authors jumped through to segregate male-dominated departments like fire and police from the city as a whole, and to gloss over the reasons women might be more likely to “choose” part-time work in an environment that doesn’t offer many options after pregnancy.
Gonzalez says she believes that publishing city workers’ salaries–which are public information, but which can currently only be obtained through a public records request–will help start a needed conversation around why the city pays women less than men, and how to close the city’s 10-cent gender pay gap (and its two-to-one male-female gender imbalance).
“One thing that isn’t in the report, but that I think we should be moving toward, is pay data transparency for city employees,” Gonzalez says. “The state does this. They have a public access database where you can literally put in a person’s name and you can see what the person makes.” In contrast, unless an employee files an official request for her colleagues’ salaries, that information is “inaccessible to city employees.”
Gonzalez says she’d support requiring private companies to provide pay information “as I support it applying to ourselves as a city employer. [However,] we are not in a position to be able to impose these gender equity policies on private industry until we turn the mirror on ourselves and show leadership by doing the very things that we are saying we expect from our private employers.”
Gonzalez also addressed the fact that women tend to be vastly overrepresented in lower-paying part-time positions. The pay equity report expressed some credulity about why that might be (women, according to the report, may have simply chosen part-time work “for whatever reason”), but I think most working women have an idea: When you have a baby, many employers make it difficult to go back to working full-time, by failing to provide flexible schedules or accommodations for those caring for newborns and very young children.
Gonzalez says the city does offer flexible work schedules, but that there’s no uniform policy around how they work or who gets them. Instead, a woman’s ability to have a flexible schedule is up to the discretion of her manager. “So of course you can imagine that one supervisor’s policy or understanding around a flexible work schedule may be very different than a supervisor in an entirely different department or even within the same department,” Gonzalez says. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a woman in a lower-paying job, such as grounds maintenance, would be less able to get a flexible schedule after she gives birth than someone earning six figures on the 35th floor of the Municipal Tower.
“Providing some clarity and consistent expectations around how the flexible work schedule actually is intended to work is an important part to giving people, women in particular, the feeling that they will not be penalized for taking advantage of the flexible work schedule.”
According to records provided to me by the city, Seattle spent about $363,000 on the study and related analyses in 2015, plus another $205,000, total, for work related to gender equity by City of Seattle employees–the equivalent of two staffers working on gender equity.
Is the city doing enough to solve the problem? “No!” Gonzalez says. “If we were doing enough, we wouldn’t have a gender wage gap anymore. We can always do more, and frankly, even when we think we’ve done enough, we have to always remain vigilent. That’s part of what it means to be an advocate: The minute we become complacent with what we think is the answer and the solution to a problem is when the problem is going to evolve and become a problem again.”