Please mind the (wage) gap

Women first started entering the workforce in large numbers during World War II, with the need for workers and the rise of the “Rosie the Riveter” image, and the number of women in the workplace has grown since then.

At first, women had to fight against stereotypes and the belief that women should be in the home, but now as views of working women have changed, they face a wage gap instead. Women are at a disadvantage from the minute they start working, even today.

In Washington, women are paid about 80 cents for every $1.00 that men are paid, according to the Women’s Funding Alliance.

This would mean that a women working a full-time, year-round job would earn approximately $41,000 while a man with a full-time, year-round job would earn approximately $53,000.

“If employed women in Washington were paid the same as comparable men, their poverty rate would be reduced by more than half and poverty among employed single mothers would also drop by more than half,” the Washington factsheet from the Status of Women in the States report said.

According to the WFA, at the current rate of change, the wage gap in Washington will not close until 2070.

While this may seem a thing of the past or not a local issue, the suit by three women of Microsoft for discrimination in pay and promotion in 2015 shows otherwise.

King County, while housing large companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing, still has a large wage gap, at 78.6 cents to the $1.00 that men earn, according to the WFA. Many employers still believe, albeit unconsciously, that women are less capable than men, especially in technology, engineering, and science, which would explain the huge gap in King County despite its big industries in those fields.

“In particular, King County boasts a higher percentage of women in the workforce than Washington state or the nation, but has a wider gender wage gap than either the state or country as a whole. If King County was a state, its wage gap would be worse than 41 other states,” the WFA’s 100% Talent website said.

A women working in a computer, engineering or science occupation in Washington would earn $65,000 a year to the $91,000 that a man would earn in those fields each year, according to the WFA’s 2015 report, The Status of Women in Washington. Women are doing the same job as men in those fields, but are still being paid less. Even in more female-dominated fields such as the service industry, women are still paid less than men, making $27,000 a year compared to the $36,000 that men make a year.

Women of color face an even bigger gap in Washington.

According to 2016 data from the Status of Women in the States Washington factsheet, a Black woman would earn 61.7 percent, a Hispanic woman would earn 46.8 percent, an Asian woman would earn 77 percent and a Native American woman would earn 62.9 percent of a white man’s earnings.

One reason women face a wage gap is because of assumptions about motherhood. Employers often assume that a woman will be less committed, flexible, and focused because of her responsibilities at home. They believe that women will not be willing to work long hours and will ask for more time off to take care of their children. Men, on the other hand, are more focused on their career and believed to be more committed, resulting in higher pay.

This issue needs to be addressed and workplaces should be willing to work with women who have children and focus more on quality of work rather than number of hours and flexibility. Employers need to examine their assumptions about the commitment of women. Some workplaces provide childcare or have created child-friendly spaces to help working mothers. The U.S. is the only wealthy country that does not give women legal entitlement to maternity leave, and that needs to change.

Many organizations are working to bring wage equality for women nationally and locally. The Women’s Funding Alliance has worked to raise awareness and empower women in Washington. For one of their initiatives, “100% Talent,” they partner with local companies to create equitable practices and close the wage gap. Several of King County’s largest companies, including Microsoft, Amazon and T-Mobile, have agreed to partner with the WFA. The wage gap has been closed by 3 cents through this initiative, according to the WFA’s website.

Legislation was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 21, effective June 7, which addressed workplace practices in regard to gender pay equality. It will ensure that women can approach their employers about this issue without fear of being fired, be compensated for less pay, and have equal opportunity for promotion.

Instead of being held back by our assumptions about women in the workplace, we need to realize the impact that the wage gap has on these women’s families and take action. Because of this wage gap, women are disadvantaged from their first day on the job.

Countless women have proven they can do the same jobs as men and are equally capable. They should be paid the same as men, not be held back by the beliefs of the people who decide their salaries. We need to examine our own beliefs and help others see the need to change their perspective on this issue.

Progress is being made due to people speaking out and working together, but we need more people to join the fight for wage equality. As citizens of the United States and residents of Washington, we can work to educate others about this issue and push for change.


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Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
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