A Mighty Force

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A couple of weeks ago, the mayors (three of them) and I sat down to a quick lunch and a meeting of the minds, talking about the region’s disheartening gender wage gap.  We all deplore the fact that the Puget Sound region has the widest gender wage gap in the nation. In this region, women on average are paid 27 percent less than their male counterparts.

That percentage is not inconsiderable.  If women workers here were paid the same on average as men, they would be taking home around $16,000 more a year. Gender Mayor Meeting

At the table in the Norman B. Rice conference room were Mayor Claudia Balducci of Bellevue and Mayor Nancy Backus of Auburn. The two chief executives were joined by Mayor Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma, who, because she had a schedule conflict, managed to fully participate by conference call. Also present was Deanna Dawson of the Sound Cities Association and Liz Vivian of the Women’s Funding Alliance.  The mayors were joined by me, as chair of the Gender Equity Committee Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim,and by knowledgeable staffers.

Seattle has been working on the gender wage gap ever since 2013. At that time, a report released by the National Partnership for Women and Families revealed that this region has the widest gap in the nation. In response, the Seattle Women’s Commission urged then Mayor Mike McGinn to form a task force to find solutions to the Seattle city work force’s 10 percent wage gap. After meeting for eight months, the task force came up with a series of recommendations to narrow the municipal wage gap.

The recommendations were formally presented last spring to Mayor Ed Murray and to me as Gender Equity Committee chair. The mayor sent a resolution to my committee outlining initial steps to deal with inequities within the city. Those steps, approved by the Council, included hiring staffers to recruit women and minorities and to establish a training program to help employees train and qualify for higher paying jobs.

The mayors at the meeting had an opportunity to hear what Seattle has been doing, including plans to institute the city’s first paid parental leave program in 2015.  The goal is to make the city a more family friendly employer. At present, women who do not have unused vacation time are expected to return to work immediately following childbirth and this ends up affecting and increasing the wage gap in various ways.

But more than just listen, the mayors had a number of good suggestions to contribute to further the discussion. They said the wage gap problem needs to be addressed regionally, not just as a series of steps to solve city government inequities. It was clear that their voices are an important part of this conversation and a regional solution to the gender wage gap, in which Seattle would be a partner, is the best way to combat the problem.

The mayors’ suggestions dovetailed with remarks made by Liz Vivian of the Women’s Funding Alliance. Vivian is working to bring leaders from Boston to Seattle next year. Boston, which also has had a wide wage gap, developed an alternative strategy. The late Boston Mayor Thomas Menino went out into the private business community with a program called “100% Talent: The Boston Women’s Compact.” Boston businesses signed up to open their books and assess their wage gaps using strategies from among the 33 interventions identified by the Workforce Council and City of Boston.

During their luncheon, the regional mayors talked about next steps. They, too, hope to meet with the leaders of the Boston program, as well as work on regional strategies. They acknowledged that each city faces different challenges, some with larger workforces, others with mostly administrative personnel responsible for managing consultants.

Each of the mayors expressed keen interest exploring how to address the region’s wage gap.  Their joint resolve is a mighty force with which to reckon and I look forward to working with them more closely in the months to come.