The Gender Gap at the City’s Largest Departments Hasn’t Improved. If Anything, It’s Wider than Ever

The latest annual analysis of racial and gender equity in city employment concludes, unsurprisingly, that the city still has a long way to go before achieving racial and gender pay equity and equal representation in employment, as measured by the number of women and people of color who are in top-tier, and top-paying, positions at the city. Meanwhile, a detailed look at the numbers reveals that one of the biggest problems identified in a workplace equity report three years ago—the lack of women employees at all levels in the three largest city departments (police, fire, and City Light)—has gotten slightly worse even as racial equity has begun to improve.

Using baseline race and gender numbers from King County as a whole (on the grounds that the city’s workforce lives all over the county), the report found that people of color, particularly Latinx people, are underrepresented at the top pay and supervisory levels across all city departments, and that women are underrepresented “at all but the bottom levels of supervisory authority and wages”—not surprising, given that women remain underrepresented in City employment overall. (The chart above shows exactly how each group identified is under- or overrepresented at the top and bottom quarters of the pay scale. A more detailed breakdown is available in the report itself.) The report did not break down pay by titles or pay bands beyond the quartile level or by department, so there’s no way to know, based on the report, what sort of pay gaps exist in each individual department, or whether the pay gap between white men and everybody else widens, for example, among city employees with salaries at the very top of the pay scale.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015.

 

“By gender, the City of Seattle workforce is very imbalanced: overall, just 38.6 percent of City employees are female as compared to 50.1 percent in the county population,” according to the report. “Given this overall imbalance, it is not surprising that women are underrepresented at many levels of the workforce relative to the general population. Among supervisors, women are underrepresented in all but the bottom level (first quartile). In the top level, they make up 35.4 percent of supervisors. Across the pay scale, women are again underrepresented in all but the bottom level. In the top level of wage earners, they make up 33.8 percent of employees.” The situation is, of course, even worse for women of color, who “are most underrepresented at the top levels of City employment. This group makes up 19.0 percent of the county population but just 11.3 percent of the top level of supervisors and just 10.0 percent of the top level of wage earners.”

The report notes that in the five largest city departments (Police, Seattle City Light, Parks, Seattle Public Utilities, and Fire) women make up just 30.7 percent of the workforce. “Removing the top five departments, the remainder of the City reaches near gender parity (that is, while many of the smaller departments also have significant gender imbalances, these collectively offset each other),” the report concludes.

This language is remarkably similar to language in a more detailed workforce equity report released in 2015, which found that “after removing [Police, Fire, and City Light] from the citywide analysis, the City found that the percentage of females in the rest of the City workforce jumps from 37% to 46% and the unadjusted pay gap narrows from 89.7 to 98.2 %.”

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But of course, eliminating the very largest departments in the city, which account for nearly four in ten city workers, doesn’t actually cause the percentage of female employees at the city to “jump,” nor does it narrow the pay gap. It does, however, highlight where the biggest problem lies: In traditionally male-dominated departments that remain male-dominated despite a longstanding awareness of the problem and what to do about it: Recruit and hire more women.

This year’s report includes another sleight of hand which, intentionally or not, has the effect of downplaying the lack of women in the largest city departments. This year, the city added two departments to the list of the largest city departments in the 2015 report—parks and SPU, which, when their workforces are combined and averaged, actually have a higher percentage of women employees (39.6 percent) than the city as a whole. Taking these two more (relatively) gender-balanced departments back out of the equation and looking only at the three departments the city identified as particularly inequitable three years ago, it’s clear that the gender imbalance at City Light, Fire, and Police hasn’t improved—in fact, it’s gotten worse.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015. The Seattle Police Department has gone from 29.0 percent female to 28.1 percent; City Light has gone from 32.1 percent female to 30.3 percent; and the Seattle Fire Department (already the least gender-equitable department of the three) has declined from 13.1 percent female to 12.3 percent.

When large departments make a concerted effort to recruit and hire a specific demographic group, it works, as evidenced by the data in this year’s report about the Seattle Police Department’s efforts to hire more people of color. Since 2014, which was the baseline for the 2015 report, only 22 percent of SPD’s hires were people of color; thanks to concerted effort and recruiting changes implemented by the department, that has risen steadily to 45 percent in 2018.

According to the report:

The city also identified several strategies in the past that could have helped attract and retain women as well as men of color, but did not pursue them, according to the report. These include flexible scheduling; step wage increases for part-time workers, who are more likely to be women; and seniority rules that don’t penalize people for accepting promotions. We know, from the city’s efforts to make race and social justice an integral part of hiring and recruitment decisions, that it takes targeted effort over a sustained period to address historical race and social justice inequities—and that it pays off. Why not invest a similar amount of time and effort into closing the city’s gaping gender gap?

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