Here’s What the Council Should Ask about Gender Pay Equity

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The city council will get a briefing tomorrow on the latest report on gender pay equity, prepared by DCI Consulting Group earlier this year. The report concludes, in short, that there is no “pattern or practice of discriminatory compensation or employment practices by the City”—and that, in fact, city government is doing significantly better than the city as a whole. At the City, women make a little less than 90 cents for every male dollar; in the city, women earn an average of 73 cents for every dollar men earn. That’s an average salary of $81,059 for men, and $72,752 for men.

The report includes a lot of details (not surprising for an 836-page document), including how salaries break down by not just gender but department, part-time status, and ethnicity. It also examines what sort of jobs women tend to hold at the city (no surprises here—women are overrepresented in part-time jobs, overrepresented in the human services, human resources, and neighborhoods departments, and underrepresented in fire, police, IT, and City Light), how often they quit their jobs compared to men, and why women tend to be hired part-time far more often than men.

You can find all those details in the report itself, and in the presentation DCI will deliver to the council tomorrow, and I hope to dig through the numbers more closely later. For now, I’m going to highlight just a few that illuminate questions I think the council, and the city as a whole, should be asking about gender disparities that are happening on their watch. I’m not calling the city out for discrimination—thanks in part to a rigid “step” structure that requires specific pay for certain jobs, and in part to a fairly progressive city culture, the pay gap is far less terrible (to coin a phrase) at the City than citywide. But, as Mayor Ed Murray’s initial report on gender equity concluded back in 2014, “we can do better.” Here are some questions that might help the city map out how.

• Out of around 12,000 city employees, full- and part-time, 63 percent are men and 37 percent are women. What explanation is there, if any, for this overall hiring disparity?

• Of the ethnic/gender breakdowns considered in the report (e.g. white male, Hispanic female), six of the seven top-paid categories are men (the top-paid employees are, of course, white men), and six of the lowest-paid seven categories are women (the lowest-paid workers are Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women). While white women make 91.3 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries, black women, for example, make 77.3 percent as much as white men, and NHPI women make just 69.6 percent of what white men make. What is the city doing, specifically, to address the intersection of gender inequity and racial inequity in pay?

• Why does DCI’s presentation emphasize the median male-female pay ratio, which is 96.7 percent (women make a median of 96.7 cents on the male dollar), instead of the less-flattering average pay ratio of 89.8 percent?

• Why does the report dedicate so much attention to “similarly situated” employees—that is, male and female employees in the same jobs—when the larger problem appears to be that women are hugely underrepresented in certain jobs and overrepresented in others? Given that the city theoretically has to pay all employees in the same position equally (every Strategic Advisor II is in the same pay band, for example), is it noteworthy that men and women with the same jobs are paid about the same? (And why is this gap, again, represented by the median gap rather than the average?)

• Although the report isn’t designed to deal with the issue of education and job preparation in society as a whole, isn’t it a little glib to spend so much time emphasizing that women aren’t “underutilized” at the city when considered in the context of the number of qualified women “available” on the job market? The conclusion that, as the report puts it, “the City has done an excellent job of hiring women and minorities in comparison to their availability in the relevant job market,” begs the question in exactly the same way as hiring managers who explain their all-male staffs by saying, “But we just couldn’t find any qualified women,” or “It’s not our fault no women applied.”

Why doesn’t the DCI report at least touch on the fact that big institutions have a responsibility to increase the pool of trained applicants put at a disadvantage because society pushes them toward low-paid caregiving jobs, or into lousy schools, rather than simply throwing up its hands and saying, “The city just could’t find many qualified women and minorities, but let’s pat ourselves on the back because at least we didn’t hire even fewer than we could have!”

Instead you get congratulatory slides like this:<

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Availability as an excuse for low hiring numbers is a self-fulfilling prophecy

• Why did the report specifically remove the Police, Fire, and City Light departments from the citywide numbers, rather than isolating those three male-dominated departments and providing specific data for them? The DCI report includes a reassuring chart demonstrating that, if you just remove police, fire, and electricity, the city’s gender pay ratio basically disappears. In this completely theoretical world where those three giant departments, which represent nearly half the city’s total workforce (around 5,000 employees) don’t exist, the pay gap magically “narrows from 89.7% to 98.2%… even before controlling for experience, specialized skills, bargaining unit, market scarcity, or tenure.

The presentation continues triumphantly:

“After removing Police, Fire & City Light from Citywide data set: Percent of females in City workforce jumps from 37% to 46%,” and “Without Police, Fire, and City Light, avg. hourly male salary in City decreases by over $ per hour but avg. hourly female salary only decreases by 70 cents.

So in a completely imaginary world where nearly half the jobs at the city are wiped out, pay is pretty equitable and the gender hiring disparity is pretty small! In the real world, meanwhile, pay isn’t equitable and the gender disparity is significant. So why are we focusing on cherry-picked data that seems designed to make the city look good? And why aren’t the abysmal numbers for the police, fire, and City Light departments not being pulled out and emphasized? (Women, for example, hold just 3.6 percent of the police department’s “premium pay assignments,” such as canine, hostage negotiation, and SWAT duties, and three premium SPD assignments—SWAT, diver, and police academy instructor, which total about 75 positions—are held exclusively by men.<

The consultants present their report in tomorrow's 9:30 council briefings meeting in council chambers.

4 thoughts on “Here’s What the Council Should Ask about Gender Pay Equity”

  1. Without seeing who actually applied for a particular job and each persons resume to me its anecdotal. I have no context on why people were chosen for said jobs. The studies need to look at all that applied.

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