By Erika Sommer
Red cocktails, red apparel and fiery red perspectives dominated Sole Repair Shop in Capitol Hill on Tuesday night.
The red themed event to showcase strong women in the community consisted of a panel of women answering questions about gender equality in the workplace and why social action is needed.
The panel had women from different backgrounds who all had experienced wage and gender discrimination in their place of work.
According to the City of Seattle’s Workforce Pay Equity and Utilization Report, Seattle was ranked one of the worst out of the major metropolitan cities in the country for gender equity, with women making 73 cents to a man’s dollar.
Panelist Tamika Moss, who is an HR professional and IDF Fellow, discussed her experiences with being told her salary was non-negotiable, while her male co-worker didn’t stop at “no” and went ahead and was able to negotiate a higher wage.
Moss discussed how many women can feel intimidated by the negotiation process and that they could lose the opportunity all together.
“I think one of the challenges that we have as women is being confident enough to take the initiative and do what women do. [Women] are not afraid, they are fearless,” Moss said.
Moss emphasized the need for women to be aware of the perception and stereotype people place on them and to be more assertive in the careers they hold. She said sometimes the barrier is the perceptions from the people in the office and it is a woman’s job to overcome those false notions.
Another panelist was Maggie Humphreys – an associate at PRR (communications, marketing and community building consultancy in Seattle). Humphreys discussed her time working with the Economic Opportunity Institute where she helped develop the Equal Pay Opportunity Act that was introduced in the legislature this year. In the reporting they did on the need for the bill, they uncovered that women lose out on $10,000 every year in the pay gap.
“The gap is a lot more complicated than what women see on their paycheck. It trickles down into access of opportunity, access to capital…it trickles down into the role that women take on in their families for better or for worse as caregivers,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys also discussed the need for paycheck transparency and the lack of ability to discuss what other coworker’s yearly earnings are due to many organizations disclosure laws.
Humphreys believes that policies like paycheck transparency and having strong protections for workers so they can share salary information and be open about it are critically important.
“It goes back to how you can’t address what you don’t know, and you especially can’t advocate for yourself when you are not allowed within an organization’s rules to know it,” Humphreys said.
Beach agreed that this is one of the most important steps to be taken. She said this will prove that employers know that they have a wage gap and it is important to hold them accountable to address the gap. She expressed the need to institute a policy that allows people to share their wages without being penalized or fired.
The third panelist was Christina Pedersen – a mother, restaurant manager and community activist. She discussed the need for paid parental leave.
Pedersen had an emergency caesarian section while giving birth, and although she wasn’t able to walk for weeks after the surgery, her husband had to go back to work after a week of paid leave. If a women has a C-section and her husband has to go back to work after a week, how do you take care of a baby if you can’t stand?
“These policies aren’t just numbers on a page they aren’t just dollars and statistics, but they are people and they are human beings and I would like to see more conversation,” Pedersen said.
Moss agreed on this measure and the others discussed on the panel, stating that one thing women can do to advocate for change is tell their stories and tell how wage inequality impacts their life. She said people don’t believe it until they hear the stories and know that it is not just numbers on a page, but there is a story behind it.
A theme of the panel was that in order to close the gender equity gap, it isn’t just a policy change, but a cultural one as well. It is a change in the mindsets people hold about females.
“Seattle did a really incredible thing with the minimum wage increase and it was really courageous on that issue and I think that it is time as women and as voters of this community to ask for them to be courageous on gender and on women’s economic equality,” Humphreys said.