Bill Lucia

(Washington State Standard) The gender wage gap for women in Washington was one of the worst in the nation in recent years.

That’s according to an analysis released this month by the nonprofit National Partnership for Women and Families. The figures show median pay for women in Washington for 2022 was $18,400 less than what men earned that year. Looking nationwide, the figures show this wage shortfall for Washington women was second only to Utah, where the gap was $20,649.

In California, women earned $11,685 less, in Oregon $12,245, and in Idaho, $14,905, according to the analysis, which relied on U.S. Census Bureau data.

The pay difference between women and men in Washington was even wider when accounting for race and ethnicity. For example, Black women typically earned $28,405 less than white, non-Hispanic men. Latina women were paid $35,402 less.

“It’s really shocking how bad it is here,” said Grace Yoo, executive director of the Washington State Women’s Commission and Gov. Jay Inslee’s lead cabinet director on women’s policy.

Yoo offered a theory for what’s going on: Some of Washington’s biggest industries and some of the state’s best-paying jobs, involve career fields where women tend to be underrepresented – such as tech, aerospace, and the construction trades.

There’s a term for this: “occupational segregation.”

“That is specifically the phenomenon of under-representation of women in high-paying jobs and occupations,” said Yoo. “And their overrepresentation in jobs with lower wages and lower quality benefits, like education, the care sector, etc.”

Yoo cautioned, however, that this is just a hypothesis and that the commission doesn’t have a study it can point to that fully explains Washington’s gender wage gap.

The Women’s Commission is ramping up a campaign called Activate 3.8, a reference to the roughly 3.8 million women and girls across the state. The idea is to bring together government, business, labor, and academia to work on reversing occupational segregation and gender pay disparities in Washington.

“We have to account for the full career cycle of women,” Yoo said. She explained that this ranges from making sure girls are exposed to career opportunities in areas like tech and science when they’re in middle school, to ensuring adequate child care is available for families during prime earning years, to getting more women into the corporate executive ranks.

“Really accounting for the full career cycle of education and investment in girls all the way to making sure women are represented in the C suite,” Yoo said.

She noted that her agency has a staff of only four people and that it’ll take work by the private sector and others to improve pay equity in Washington. “We can’t do this within government alone,” Yoo said.

“We’re at a point where the gender wage gap in our state has only gotten worse over the years,” she added. “What we’re doing now has to change. We’ve got to try something new.”