Capitol Alert

Gender inequities persist on California Capitol payroll

Two days after actress Patricia Arquette made an impassioned call for women to be paid equally to men as she accepted an Academy Award last month in Hollywood, state legislators called a news conference in Sacramento to make the same demand.

“Equal pay for equal work is long overdue,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat who chairs the Legislature’s women’s caucus.

“The time is now. It isn’t just the right thing for California women, it is the right thing for our economy and our state.”

In the weeks since then, Democratic legislators have introduced several measures they say will help close the well-documented gap between men’s and women’s wages. Among all full-time workers in California, women make 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. The difference adds up to $37 billion in lost income annually across the state, advocates say, and leaves women poorer not only in their working years but also in retirement.

With lawmakers highlighting wage inequity in California workplaces, The Sacramento Bee analyzed the Legislature’s own payroll to see whether men and women are paid equally by the institution that sets policy for the rest of the state. The findings show that wage gaps for the roughly 2,100 employees of the Legislature are smaller than in society at large, but still persist:

▪ In the Assembly, women make 92 cents on the dollar compared to men. In the Senate, women make 94 cents on the dollar compared to men.

▪ In both houses, the five highest-paid employees are men. Among the 41 employees across both houses who make $150,000 or more, 61 percent of the positions are held by men.

▪ Within specific job categories, the average pay for men and women is rarely equal. In higher-paid categories – such as chief of staff or chief consultant – men, on average, make more than women with the same title.

▪ When women make more than men with the same job title, it tends to be in lower-paid job categories, such as executive secretary or committee assistant – positions that are dominated by female employees.

“If they’re going to talk the talk, it’s very smart for them to get their own house in order and walk the walk,” said Lisa Maatz, a vice president at the American Association of University Women, which studies gender pay gaps. She was one of several experts who reviewed The Bee’s analysis of legislative pay.

“In some respects they are doing fairly well,” Maatz said, pointing to the Legislature’s overall pay ratio.

And even though the Legislature’s highest-paid employees are men, a few women have taken prominent positions in the last year. The Senate made history in hiring Debbie Manning as its first female chief sergeant-at-arms, the top security post, which pays $171,480 a year. The Assembly promoted Debra Gravert to chief administrative officer after a man retired from the position last year; her annual salary is $178,104.

Gravert came to the Assembly as a secretary 29 years ago and steadily worked her way up from answering phones and typing bill analyses on carbon paper to running an institution with 80 elected officials and roughly 1,100 employees.

“It took me six months to accept this job because ... I did not want to sell my daughter short,” said Gravert, a single mother.

Only when her daughter, now in college, urged her to go for it did Gravert take the job.

“I think I did what a lot of women do here. We are natural caregivers so we are going to care for our families. We put them first and we sacrifice our job advancement and pay,” she said. “I have found that balance but I almost sacrificed this advancement and pay for my daughter.”

Gravert said gender inequities in the Assembly are closing, adding that there are more women in the principal consultant and committee chief consultant categories than there were five years ago.

“The numbers show that it’s getting better,” Gravert said.

Senate officials did not agree to an interview for this story. Instead, Claire Conlon, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Kevin de León, provided an emailed statement that said the Senate is “at the forefront of landmark policies on gender equity and closing the wage gap.”

“Our long-term objective has been and continues to be making this people’s institution a model of workplace fairness and equity – and we move closer to that goal every day,” the statement said.

Yet the Legislature’s concentration of women in support positions and men at the very top of the pay scale is problematic, experts said. And even within many job categories, they said, the California Legislature is perpetuating the same gender inequities that Jackson and other lawmakers are railing against.

For example, among the 55 people who hold the title of principal consultant in the Senate, men make an average of $102,596, while women make an average of $97,127 – a 5 percent gap. The gap is bigger – 13 percent – within the assistant consultant job category.

In the Assembly, women who hold the title of chief consultant make an average of $120,999 while men with that title make an average of $133,076 – a 9 percent gap. Women who hold the title of district coordinator make 10 percent less than men with the same title.

Salary studies across the country show that gender gaps come about in two ways. When looking at the entire workforce, the fields that attract more women are paid less than fields dominated by men. So in averaging salaries across fields, women come out making less. But even within the same profession, studies show, women make less than men.

“The political environment is no different than the corporate environment, the legal environment or the university environment. The higher you go up in an organization, the more men you are going to find at higher rates of pay,” said Martha West, a retired UC Davis law school professor with expertise in employment discrimination.

“This portrait of the Legislature is the same.”

The email hack at Sony last year showed that female movie stars make less than men. A recent study of Silicon Valley workers showed a big gender gap at tech companies there. Last year, as President Barack Obama made equal pay for women a focus of his political stance, an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute found the median salary for female White House staff members was 12 percent lower than that of men – leaving White House press secretary Jay Carney to defend the gap as “better than the national average.”

While pay gaps persist across industries, they are typically smaller in the public sector than the private, said Ariane Hegewisch, who studies the issue for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. The reason? Public employee salary data are public, making it easier for employees to see how they stack up to their colleagues, Hegewisch said, and many government workers are unionized, which also tends to make pay more equal within categories.

“There is greater transparency and focus on equal opportunity,” she said.

Legislators who have pushed for equal pay bills said they were not surprised to find a gender gap on the Capitol payroll.

“I’m actually pleased for the benefit of the house that it’s a lesser disparity than we see in the overall workplaces,” Jackson said. “But that being said, the goal is to have women being paid equal. ... Women should be paid at the same level as men with the same experience and responsibilities. As I move my legislation forward, I will expect that there is no area of society that is left untouched by this.”

Two senators who sit on the Senate’s Rules Committee – a panel responsible for overseeing internal operations of the house – said they’ve asked officials to do a salary analysis by gender so that the institution can create more equality.

“We have to take responsibility for closing the gap here, too,” said state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.

Her Republican colleague on the committee, state Sen. Jean Fuller of Bakersfield, said the Senate’s hiring procedure may contribute to the problem because it determines pay for new hires based on their wages in their last job.

“If there is pay inequity on the outside, you’re going to bring it in,” Fuller said.

Many of the Legislature’s operations remain a relic of the past, said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

“We have to recognize that we are an institution … whose rules and guidelines, whether formal or informal, were really sculpted decades and decades ago by a different group of people, largely white older men,” she said.

“So much of what we do that is thought of as tradition really perpetuates … not allowing women and people of color to experience the success they should. You almost have to challenge the institution itself.”

Bee staff writer Jim Miller contributed to this report.

Proposed legislation

Several bills in the state Legislature aim to create more parity in wages for men and women. A sampling:

Senate Bill 358

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara

Would prohibit employers from making rules that forbid workers from asking about their colleagues’ wages.

Assembly Bill 1017

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose

Would prohibit employers from seeking job candidates’ salary histories; require companies to disclose an advertised position’s minimum pay; and establish penalties for state vendors that do not have equal-pay practices.

Assembly Bill 1354

Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa

Would require state contractors to submit to the state a summary of their compensation data based on sex and race.

Highest-paid Assembly staffers

8 men, 2 women

Employee name

Office name


Annual pay

Greg Campbell

Speaker Toni Atkins

Chief of staff, speaker


Christopher Woods

Democratic Caucus

Chief consultant


Richard Simpson

Democratic Caucus

Chief consultant


Arnold Milton Sowell

Democratic Caucus

Chief consultant


Christian Griffith

Asm. Shirley Weber

Chief consultant-budget


Fredericka McGee

Democratic Caucus

Speaker’s legal counsel


Edward Wilson

Chief Clerk

Chief clerk


Debra Gravert


Chief admin officer


John Casey

Speaker Toni Atkins

Chief consultant


James Richardson

Republican Caucus

Chief of staff


Highest-paid Senate staffers

7 men, 4 women

Employee name

Office name


Annual pay

Daniel Alvarez

Secretary Senate/Desk

Sec. of the Senate


Philip Cornett

President Pro Tempore

Chief assistant


Geoff Long

President Pro Tempore

Special assistant


Daniel Reeves

President Pro Tempore

Chief assistant


Kernan Lipper

President Pro Tempore

Exec. staff director


Debbie Manning


Chief sergeant-at-arms


Diane Griffiths

Sen. Robert Hertzberg

Executive staff director


Juanita Oropeza

Human Resources

Deputy secretary


Arthur Terzakis

Governmental organization

Exec. staff director


Cary Rudman

Legislative ethics comm.

Exec. staff director


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