Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm is all too familiar with the conditions that have led women workers in Washington state to make 78 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.
As a young nightly TV news anchor in South Dakota, Mumm was tasked with writing scripts, producing shows and appearing in front of the camera. In spite of those tasks – above and beyond those of her male co-anchor – Mumm earned $10,000 less annually, she said.
“Unfortunately, that story is not unusual,” Mumm said Tuesday, as groups funding research on the earning potential and political participation of women released a comprehensive report for Washington. Among the major findings were the 78 percent figure illustrating a larger wage gap for Washington women than the national average (79.2 percent), a decline in female representation in the Washington Legislature and a larger number of Washington Hispanic women living at or below the poverty line than elsewhere in America.
Mumm and Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said city and county governments can be a leader in eliminating the wage gap by looking at their own hiring practices, as two of the largest employers in the area. O’Quinn, a Republican, is only the fourth woman to earn a county commission seat since 1879 and currently the only female member of the county’s executive leadership.
“While I think it’s important to have that voice there, I would love to not be sitting there alone,” O’Quinn said.
Mumm cited numbers gathered by city staff that show some departments employ men in up to 85 percent of their workforce, a finding that came as a surprise to some city officials. The city will be taking a more detailed look at its hiring processes in the coming months, Mumm said, and some of those conversations could be difficult.
“It’s going to be – maybe – a little bit uncomfortable,” she said.
Other speakers at the Thursday news conference, held at the Greater Spokane Incorporated offices downtown, included members of the business and higher education community. The report, released in conjunction by the Institute for Women’s Police Research in Washington, D.C., and the Women’s Funding Alliance in Seattle, ends with recommendations for both the private and public sector to erase the wage gap between men and women. Those actions include more work support opportunities like paid maternity leave for female workers, information sharing between private businesses on hiring practices and expanding programs that train young women for high-paying technical jobs and political positions.
Without action, the report suggests, it could take until 2071 for Washington women workers to be paid the same amount as men.
Alisha Benson, vice president of education and workforce at Greater Spokane Incorporated, said employers and the private sector can do more in addition to policy changes to promote high-paying jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math among young women.
“STEM education is both an economic development and a social justice opportunity,” she said.
The Washington State University campus in Pullman will hold a National Education for Women’s Leadership Summer Institute for the first time since 2010 next year, thanks to a $17,000 grant from the Women’s Funding Alliance, said Tuera Erwin, director of the Women’s Resource Center at the school. The program, ended because of lack of funding, brings young women throughout the state to Pullman to focus on opportunities in public service and meet with female officeholders.
“We plan to be a model,” Erwin said. “I think we can be a model, and I think we will be a model.”
The report released Thursday shows that women make up just 32.7 percent of elected officials in the Washington Legislature, down from a high of more than 40 percent in 1999 and 2000. Washington now ranks fifth nationwide in percentage of lawmakers who are women; it was first from 1993 to 2004.
The Women’s Funding Alliance will spend the next several months traveling to all parts of the state to share the information in the report and make contacts with business, political and education leaders to inform them of the recommendations, the organization’s Executive Director Liz Vivian said. Mumm said that information would be vital to making sure the message of gender equality in pay and political power reaches beyond Spokane to other communities.
“Women are not worth less in Spokane; women are not worth less in Washington state, and they are not worth less in America,” she said.