Female employees at the City of Seattle are paid less than their male colleagues, according to a report being released by the city analyzing its wage structure. The report, obtained exclusively by The Stranger, reveals that on average, the City of Seattle pays its female employees 9.5 percent less than male employees. Women are also earning less for the same type of work: "Some job groupings show a marked difference in wages between genders," the report concedes. "Men in the Officials and Administrator category earn significantly more than females in the Fire, Police, Personnel, and Intergovernmental Relations departments."

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  • Callan Berry
However, the report concludes that this wage gap cannot be solely attributed to equal work for unequal pay. Other factors, including age and the city's apparent propensity to hire more men than women in general, and to hire men over women for higher paying positions, also plays a role. The report notes that these factors need "further analysis."

Commissioned in response to an April report from the National Partnership for Women and Families—which surprised our progressive city by announcing that Seattle’s gender pay gap is the widest of the 50 largest US metropolitan areas—this study analyzed city government’s 871 job classes looking for patterns in wage disparities between genders.

“Several departments have larger wage gaps between genders than others,” states the report, which was authored by city personnel director David L. Stewart. You can read a PDF of the report right here; it’s dense but informative*.

For example: The gap between what men and women are paid at City Light and the Department of Planning and Development is wider than average, at 11 percent in both departments (at City Light women earn $36.56 per hour, on average, while men earn $41.13 per hour). The city's largest department, the Seattle Police Department, has the highest wage gap, with women earning 21 percent less than their male colleagues.

There are also some departments, like the parks department, where women are paid more than men on average, but, the report notes, in these departments, “the overall departmental wages are generally lower.”

The study is especially significant given that the city is the fourth-largest employer in Seattle, with around 11,000 employees (this study excludes library employees, whose board sets their pay, and temporary positions). One of the most notable discoveries is that only a third of the city’s employees are female. “The demographic profile for employees of the City of Seattle is 2/3 male and 1/3 female with more men in classes of employment that have typically higher wages.”

And that’s where the pay disparity really appears to stem from: not as much from equal work for unequal pay, but this larger pattern of men landing higher-paid positions and the higher-paid departments being more male-dominated. The report doesn't speculate on why this might be happening, and no one at the city seems to have an explanation just yet.

But in response to the report's findings, Mayor McGinn's office has announced a Gender Equity in Pay/Gender Justice Initiative to figure out the root of these wage disparities and address them. The initiative will include a task force co-chaired by the director of the city’s Office for Civil Rights, Julie Nelson, and a YWCA director, Patricia Hayden. Says Mayor Mike McGinn’s spokesman Robert Cruickshank, “It’s no surprise that the same gender pay inequities we see in society appear in City government. We’re going to work with the Gender Pay Task Force... to develop short-term and long-term strategies to address them.” That task force is expected to develop a Gender Justice Initiative by January modeled on the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative.

Says the task force’s new co-chair, Julie Nelson, “The reality is we have biases that are built into our system, and they’re going to continue unless we do the work to eliminate them.” Right now, that work starts with combing through all this new data on pay equity so they can clearly identify what exactly, future policy changes need to address. “The devil’s in the details,” she says.


*The trillion appendices, also in PDF files, are here, here, here, here, here, and here, if you wonk that hard.