September 2013 Bar Bulletin
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September 2013 Bar Bulletin

The Wage-Gap Problem: Putting More than Just Change in Our Pockets

By Lisa Gouldy and Janet Chung


We've all heard about the wage gap; in fact, people often seem inured to the figures, or think that in progressive Seattle we must be immune. But this spring, on the eve of the federal Equal Pay Act's 50th anniversary in June, a new study disclosed that women in the Seattle metro area are paid less than their male counterparts by a wider margin than are women in any of the other 49 largest metropolitan areas in the country.

The Gender Wage Gap

As noted in Christina Schuck's article, women in Seattle, on average, are paid only 73 cents for every dollar earned by male workers, a disparity that is a full 4 cents greater than the wage gap statewide and nationally of 77 cents.1 In other words, a Seattle woman working full time will, on average, be paid $16,346 less per year than a Seattle man working the same hours. That is more than chump change. If a single person were paid that difference alone, she would not qualify as low-income under the federal poverty guidelines.

The inequality revealed by this study surprised many, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn commissioned a study of the wages the City of Seattle, as King County's seventh-largest employer,2 pays to its male and female workers. The results of that study, just released in July, revealed that wage inequality extends to the very core of the city — the City pays its female workers, on average, 9.5 percent less than its male employees.3 Strikingly, the study also revealed that the demographic for City employees is two-thirds male and one-third female, while the gender breakdown in the City's population as a whole is 50-50.4 In response to these studies, Mayor McGinn convened a Gender Pay Task Force to develop "creative solutions to this complex problem."

Identifying solutions will first require a deeper understanding of the employment practices that underlie and contribute to wage inequity. Only then can solutions be devised to close the wage gap, both for City workers and for the rest of Seattle's workers. These practices include the following:

Less Pay for the Same Job

According to a recent study of U.S. census data, employers pay male employees more than female employees in all but one of the 265 major occupational categories.5 This pay disparity has its roots not only in biased hiring decisions,6 but also in biased performance evaluations and promotion decisions.

For instance, in a recent study that will likely hit close to home for many lawyers, male supervising attorneys at a Wall Street law firm were found to have reviewed female associates more favorably than males in narrative evaluations, but to have scored them lower numerically when the numbers were all that were counted for promotion decisions.7

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