Addressing the Gender Wage Gap in Public Service

August 23, 2018

This Sunday, August 26, marks National Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that granted women the right to vote.

It’s a milestone to be celebrated, an opportunity to pay homage to the amazing suffragists who fought tirelessly for decades to secure that inalienable right for us all. (Check out this article from Bustle if you’re interested in some productive ways to show your gratitude.)  

There’s no denying how far we’ve come—and that is truly worth celebrating. But—given that our core mission here at The Dime is to educate and empower PERA members and Colorado public employees to prepare for and secure their retirement—we’d be remiss if we didn’t take this opportunity to address an area still lacking parity nearly 100 years later (and, incidentally, which also directly impacts one’s ability to save for the future): the gender pay gap.

Earlier this year The Hatch Institute, a nonprofit center for independent investigative journalism, analyzed payroll data from every state and most federal agencies. Unsurprisingly, they found that a pay imbalance between women and men exists in the public sector as well (albeit to a lesser degree than it does in the private sector).

According to the data, despite holding half of all government jobs, women in the public sector make 10% less than men. As with private companies, the pay imbalance was particularly stark in public service professions where men dominate (think: law enforcement, engineering, and technology), as these jobs offer higher salaries than those in education and healthcare, areas that tend to employ more women. For that reason, men also comprise 73% of civil service workers who earn $100,000 or more each year.

That this is the reality in 2018—98 years after women won the right to vote—is enough to make you want to bang your head against the wall (or rather, the glass ceiling). But all is not doom and gloom, dear readers; here’s why:

  • As part of its analysis, The Hatch Institute also put together this interactive tool that visualizes how pay equality differs from state to state. On a 50-point continuum in which Hawaii ranked #1 (most equal) and California ranked #50 (least equal), Colorado came in at #4, just after Maryland and Delaware. It’s unfortunate that this “Glass Ceiling Rank” exists in the first place, but promising to see that the Centennial State ranks near the top in terms of pay equality.
  • According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a lack of pay transparency in the private sector may reduce women’s bargaining power and further contribute to them making about 20% less than men, on average. In the public sector, on the other hand, salaries are publicly available information, and there typically exist job tier or grading systems to help facilitate a formalized approach to experience-based compensation. These inherent safeguards could, as a result, play a role in the gender wage gap being about half of what it is in the private sector. While the system certainly requires improvement, it’s reassuring that female public servants have some semblance of a foundation to build upon.
  • Legislation to combat pay disparity is being introduced slowly but surely. In 2016, California passed a bill that requires men and women to be paid the same for similar jobs—not just for exactly the same job at the same site, as the looser federal Equal Pay Act requires. In late 2015, the federal Office of Personnel Management enacted a policy stating that what a woman made before coming to the government should not serve as the basis for setting her pay as a new federal employee. Nine states and a number of cities have since followed suit, making it illegal for employers to inquire about a job candidate’s pay history.

So as you raise your glasses this Sunday to the bada** women of the suffrage movement, let their fight inspire you to ignite change of your own. And, take a moment to think about how your own “public service gene” might be a guiding force for your career path—while also providing a boost to your bottom line.