Twenty-seven years is too long to wait for the state to close a persistent wage gap in its workforce, lawmakers told a group of state department leaders on Wednesday.
That’s how long state officials estimate it will take to eliminate the 20.5 percent disparity between the average earnings of men and women who are employed by the state.
“Frankly, that’s appalling. That’s a couple generations of women who don’t have an opportunity to work in these positions,” said Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.
She spoke at a government oversight hearing that was centered on an October report from the Department of Human Resources that showed women in the state’s workforce earn about 79.5 cents on the dollar compared to men, a gender wage gap that is larger than average pay disparities in the private sector.
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The report surprised lawmakers who in 2015 passed an equal pay law that was aimed at ensuring women earn as much as men for “substantially similar” work.
“This disparity (in state pay) was just really shocking to me, and I wanted to make sure the state was being a leader and not contributing to the pay gap,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.
The wage gap identified in the Human Resources report does not compare specific jobs. Rather, it reflects the average salaries of all female employees compared to the average earnings of the state’s male workers.
Men make up a larger portion of the state’s higher-paying occupations, such as law enforcement, fire, corrections and engineers. Women have gravitated to lower-paying fields in social services and government analysis.
“We don’t have a gender-based salary structure,” said state Human Resources Director Richard Gillihan. “We don’t pay a female correctional officer differently than we pay a male correctional officer. What we have is under representation of women in higher-paying classifications, particularly in law enforcement.”
Kathleen Webb, an assistant secretary of the Government Operations Agency, told the panel that 61 percent of the state’s male employees earn more than $70,000 a year, whereas 39 percent of the state’s female employees earn that salary or more.
“California state government – while having made significant improvements – still has a gender pay gap of 20.5 percent. GovOps shares your concern that this is too high and we are working on a variety of fronts to lower this number,” she said.
The solutions the state is developing center on nurturing leaders, advertising positions to a diverse pool of applicants, re-evaluating career development programs and promoting perquisites that give employees flexible schedules for family needs.
Two lawmakers who spoke at the hearing said they are proposing bills to shrink the wage gap. Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, is carrying one that would bar employers from asking job candidates about past salaries. Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, has a bill that would build on the 2015 equal pay law by adding language to protect public sector workers.
Several union leaders and state workers lauded the state’s recruiting efforts, but asked lawmakers to lift up women who are already working in government jobs. The state Senate late last year, for instance, gave 10 percent raises to 71 female employees to close a wage gap among its workers.
“Growing up I had the belief that higher education would result in a higher salary, but that is not the case because I chose a female-dominated career,” said Vanessa Perez, an adoption services specialist. “I hope this gap in pay can be attained now and I hope this is something my 4-year-old daughter does not have to fight for when she enters the workforce.”