California Forum

How long will women have to wait for pay equity?

A woman taking a job today with the state of California might close out her career before the state achieves gender pay equity.

California’s Department of Human Resources estimates that male and female state workers won’t earn the same average pay until 2044 or 2089, based on trend lines from the past 10 and 25 years of wage data. NASA plans to have humans orbiting Mars before then.

And CalHR’s estimates are optimistic.

California leaders need to do more to push for pay equity. These six proposals can help reach that goal before humans orbit Mars.

Using CalHR’s data, the respected Institute for Women’s Policy Research ran additional scenarios that pushed projected dates for pay equity out even further. Like into the next century.

Projections can vary, depending on the year used as a starting point and how much the data jumps around. California’s data poses a challenge for statisticians, as it looks like it was plotted with a pogo stick.

While the gender pay gap for state workers shows a modest decrease from 25.8 percent in 1989 to 20.5 percent in 2014, the smallest gap was way back in 2003, a 19.8 percent difference in men’s and women’s average full-time earnings.

The point of the IWPR re-analysis was not to launch a mind-numbing, methodological debate – CalHR’s projections are sound, as are IWPR’s – but to underscore how far into the future pay equity might be for state employees.

California leaders need to do more, way more, to push for pay equity. These six proposals can help reach that goal, perhaps before humans orbit Mars:

Social justice: CalHR treats pay equity as one of the many issues that can be negotiated with its 21 bargaining units. Comparable pay for women? Bathroom breaks? Both are on the bargaining table, and there’s no guarantee that pay equity will be addressed.

Instead, the administration needs to elevate gender pay equity as a social justice issue – and take primary responsibility, as Minnesota does, to regularly assess and address gender pay gaps.

Research home: CalHR is required to produce an annual research report on the state worker gender pay gap. The department also negotiates compensation packages for these same state workers, which creates competing priorities, if not a conflict of interest.

Another state agency – with technical expertise and independence – should conduct the gender gap research, possibly the State Personnel Board (SPB), State Auditor, or Legislative Analyst.

Advisory committee: The state’s gender gap report is currently an in-house effort, produced by CalHR researchers. Wherever the research is based, adding an expert advisory committee makes sense, as advisers can pose research questions and troubleshoot findings. California’s Pay Equity Task Force, based at the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, fits the bill.

Benchmarks: Salary surveys for many of the state’s public safety workers are “benchmarked” against similar positions in urban areas, where cost-of-living is high. That puts pressure to raise compensation for workers in these male-dominated fields. California needs to make sure salary surveys are conducted the same way for all state jobs, to get rid of the bias in benchmarking.

Gender audits: Some state agency – CalHR, SPB or the state auditor – should have the authority and funds to conduct audits of departments having few women. They need to look at organizational culture and how it’s affecting recruitment practices, retention and retirement rates, and promotion patterns.

What bureaucratic practices are opening – or closing – doors to women? Ideally, the Legislature would hold public hearings to review these audits.

Leadership: Gender pay equity in state civil service needs more attention from legislators and labor leaders. In a promising start, lawmakers held two hearings this year on wage inequality and implicit bias and another on gender pay in state civil service.

But to impact employee paychecks, this leadership will need to be insistent and incessant, holding regular oversight hearings and being willing to hold up budgets for underperforming departments.

Members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus: It’s time to play hard ball for pay equity.

The California Labor Federation also needs to step up. Known as an effective advocate for family-friendly and wage-boosting bills, pay equity for state workers hasn’t been a recent priority. The Fed’s clout could be critical to forge consensus among the state’s 21 bargaining units.

How long will it take female state workers to make the same annual earnings as male workers? It depends on California’s leaders doing more to push for pay equity.

Kate Karpilow is the former executive director of the California Center for Research on Women & Families. She can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @katekarpilow.