Seattle City Council member Lorena Gonzalez has been making the issue of the purported gender wage gap a big deal; admirably so. In fact, she’s endorsed the idea that the City of Seattle post salaries of employees online to bring attention to this issue. She even told a local blogger that she would be okay with private companies being compelled to post their salary data online.
It may sound like a great idea until you think about it. I’ll use city-provided data to explain why.
Using raw employee data it’s clear: when it comes to legislative assistants, the biggest disparity for men out-earning women comes from her office! The lone male legislative assistant out-earns the lowest earning female legislative assistant by more than $25,000.
That’s a huge gender wage gap.
Clearly it’s the result of institutionalized sexism! I’m so glad I have access to this data and I’m going to use it to write a blog about how women aren’t getting paid the same as men!
Now, of course, there’s more to the data — like context; the kind of context that is almost always ignored when we talk about the purported gender wage gap.
You’ve heard the wholly inaccurate and dated claim that women make 77 cents on the dollar when compared to men. That is based on a whole lot of data without context. It’s comparing apples-to-oranges: all jobs, in all industries, where full-time and part-time work is compared. But activists use this data to show you how sexist the workplace is for women; if you elect them to office, they’ll fix it, of course.
Well, this kind of raw data is pretty useless.
Gonzalez is not a sexist nor is she unfair in how she pays her staff members; her male legislative assistant holds more responsibilities. In fact, he’s her chief of staff. He oversees day-to-day management of her office and the staff, including interns.
The other staff members? They’re incredibly important and do amazing work — just different work.
In fact, even though the City of Seattle calls them legislative assistants, they have different job duties and responsibilities. But that’s the data the city gives, and it’s this kind of incomplete data you get from the studies activists use to push the gender wage gap numbers they push. That’s the limited data you’d get if Gonzalez’s idea would go through.
You get salary, name and sometimes gender. You don’t get their resumes or job experience. Nor should you — we should have a right to privacy, even if you work in government. But this is woefully incomplete data so why do we keep using it to make sweeping statement about the state of sexism in the workplace?
Context is key. And not just context on job duties, because there can be a very valid reason why a man gets more than a woman in the same exact job title with the same exact duties. If the male worked the job for a year longer than the female worker, doesn’t it make sense he earns more? And what if they male asked for a 10 percent raise and the female only asked for 8 percent? Well, if the company has 20 percent to hand out, they’d happily save the 2 percent. It’s smart business. This is the kind of context that you don’t get when you’re told about how bad the gender wage gap supposedly is.
Here’s the truth: men and women should not always be paid the same, even if they’re doing the same work. In some cases, men should get more than women; other times, women should get more than men.
You should get paid what you’re worth to the company, and if you bring more experience than someone else, your gender shouldn’t preclude you from a higher salary — the same way it shouldn’t be used to automatically qualify you for a higher paycheck. It is not an employer’s job to make up for sexism outside of the workplace.
The problem is activists aren’t calling for equal access; they simply want equal results — they want the pay to be the same and the context doesn’t matter. But the pay shouldn’t be the same; the access to the tools you need to earn higher pay should be the same. That’s an incredibly worthwhile fight. But we’re not having it because we’re too busy using incomplete and misleading data to try, desperately, to score political points.
UPDATE: Councilmember Gonzalez issued this statement to the Jason Rantz Show when I asked her to explain the gender wage gap that exists in her office (a question I asked knowing context explained away the numbers):
Thank you for e-mailing me. I disagree, as you insinuate, that the difference in pay amongst my staff is caused by gender inequity. There is a difference between staff salaries because they each have different, specific roles in the office. While they are all titled as “legislative assistants” in our HR system, as each councilmember typically does, I have created different positions within the office based on the demands of my committee and needs of community. Orlando is the chief of staff, overseeing the day to day management of my office and directly supervising the other staff and future interns. He is also the main policy lead for my committee. Cori is the deputy chief of staff who is our junior policy lead and main communications staffer in the office. Brianna is the community relations liaison engaging with various communities and constituencies and also schedules my calendar. The three positions are entirely different in scope and responsibilities and are not, as you imply, the same position.