Let's Take Bold Steps to End Gender Pay Inequity

Women must receive equal pay for equal work, but this is not a reality in our city. Seattle has the widest gender pay gap of any other municipality in the nation, and this gap widens further for women of color and transgender women. Paying women at comparable rates as men would reduce the poverty rate for our city, and would advance gender and racial equity. Raising the minimum wage was a crucial step towards ending the gender wage gap, but the work does not stop there.

The City of Seattle has taken initial steps to address this disparity when in 2013 they formed a Gender Equity & Pay Task Force. The taskforce focused on the gender pay gap with city employees and under the leadership of Council Member Jean Godden the city adopted a 4-week paid parental leave proposal. This was a step in the right direction. However, in a March 5th 2014 op-ed Marilyn Watkins and Patricia Hayden, the Co-Chairs of the city’s Gender Equity in Pay Taskforce declared that closing the gender pay gap should not end with city employees, and in fact further steps must be taken to assist women in the rest of the workforce.

Gender inequity is entrenched throughout our country in all facets of life, especially within the workforce, and Seattle is not exempt. Currently, women face more economic insecurity than men because of gender wage discrimination, lack of support and protection for parents, and inadequate supply of child care centers. All women deserve equitable access to opportunity, and we can only achieve this goal if we take bold action now.

The time for action specifically targeting the discrimination of women - especially women of color and transwomen - face in the workforce has been long overdue. My gender equity proposal, developed in partnership with Morgan Beach who is a Commissioner and Chair of the Economic & Educational Opportunities Committee on the Seattle Women's Commission, would strengthen the economic security of many women in our city. If adopted, this proposal would represent the most expansive and groundbreaking municipal proposal in the nation.

We must continue to close this gap by requiring pay transparency and prohibiting the employer’s use of a job applicant’s previous pay rate in determining future compensation. Pay transparency gives women the information necessary to better negotiate their salaries and know if they are paid less than their male counterparts. Also, many employers use an employee’s salary history to determine compensation, but, because there is an existing pay gap between men and women, this practice perpetuates the cycle of pay inequity. Compensation should be determined by previous experience (not previous wages), credentials, and the demands of the job. Enforcement of the $15 minimum wage schedule and our Sick & Safe Leave laws, as well as developing new policies targeting wage discrimination, will create a more equitably paid workforce.

One of the main contributing factors perpetuating the gender wage gap is that women without paid parental leave are more likely to leave the workforce or decline leadership positions to focus on child rearing. If at a later time they re-enter the workforce, they are significantly disadvantaged to their male counterparts. Requiring and providing paid parental leave is another step towards ending the gender wage gap.

Under my proposal, each parent will be entitled to twelve weeks of paid parental leave that follows the $15 minimum wage schedule, both for city employees and in the private sector. Paid parental leave must be considered the cost of doing business in Seattle. An increase in the Business & Occupation (B&O) tax for certain businesses will fund paid parental leave for employers. I am open to other funding sources, such as a millionaire’s tax, but ending gender inequity cannot depend on a gridlocked state legislature or a slow judicial process. No tax is popular. Considering the limited revenue sources available to the city right now, using the B&O tax is the least regressive option.

The willingness to take bold action and working with impacted communities to develop tangible solutions is necessary for elected officials to tackle the inequities present in our community. Seattleites demonstrated their desire to live in a more equitable city with their overwhelming support of the $15 minimum wage. We need to continue the fight for equity across all spectrums, and this gender wage equity proposal will move us closer to a more fair and just city.

 To read our full Gender Wage Equity proposal click here!