How San Francisco Fares in Gender Pay

A new report repurposed old data to recapture attention on gender pay gaps, city by city.

That women make less than men is such a well-known inequality, it’s been normalized as a punchline. A Pew Research Center analysis of median earning showed that women earned 83 percent of what men did in 2015. The most recent data on the issue has been around since 2015, but Seattle data storytelling company LiveStories has repurposed it into shiny graphics specific to Seattle, Los Angeles, and, as of last week, San Francisco.

“The data has been there for some time,” says Adnan Mahmud, founder and CEO of LiveStories. “Just because it’s there doesn’t mean that people are able to understand or use it.”

LiveStories has the same approach to data on other topics — like under-reported hate crimes and the opioid crisis — but breaks down gender pay by industry with the recent San Francisco report.

Based on data from the American Community Survey, the report accounts for median income during two five-year periods. The two most notable industries in the report, healthcare and legal, have drifted oceans apart.

Female healthcare support workers have made more mostly due to the decreased median earnings of their male counterparts. From 2006 to 2010, men in the field earned a median of $27,125. That dropped to $21,929 from 2011 to 2015.

Female healthcare support earnings hovered around 87 percent of male earnings during the two periods, while it jumped to 122 percent by 2015.

The ratio for legal workers, on the other hand, went from 84 percent in the 2006 to 2010 period down to 68 percent during 2011 to 2015. Sales careers in San Francisco were also affected, with incomes decreasing from 66 percent to 60 percent.

Female employees in arts, media, and entertainment went from earning 72 percent of male employees’ wages from 2006 to 2010 — but rose to 79 percent during 2011 to 2015.

The fluctuations could be due to a variety of factors, such as women trickling out of one sector and into another, or being affected by their parenting duties.

“We find that women are penalized more than men when they have children,” says Emily Murase, director of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women. “I think men have more options in terms of the jobs that are perhaps more flexible.”

But Murase says she is encouraged to see the strides made in the law enforcement sector.

From 2006 to 2010, female San Franciscans in law enforcement made a whopping 50 percent of what their male counterparts did, compared to the 78 percent they made nationwide. During 2011 to 2015, it jumped to 77 percent.

“That’s been an area where women have been under-represented,” Murase says of law enforcement.

Other sectors in the report include architecture and engineering; building and maintenance; business and financial operations; community and social service; computer and mathematical; construction; education; office and administrative support; sales; and transportation.

“It would be really helpful to know by position how this breaks down,” Murase says. “We do know that women occupy more of the lower-paying jobs.”

But a key factor not included in the report is race. The Department on the Status of Women pulled data from American Community Survey showing the gap for women of color to be much larger nationally. White women make about 76 percent of what white men do locally, compared to 77 percent nationally. Asian women, on the other hand, make 54 percent of what San Francisco white men do, compared to 88 percent nationally.

In addition, Black women make 64 percent of men’s earnings nationally and 44 percent in San Francisco, while Latinas make 54 percent nationally and 45 percent locally.

Mahmud says they have data on occupation and want to fill out the details later. But by releasing the overview reports, they felt they could inspire discussion for each city to evaluate local forces at play.

To the surprise of the LiveStories team, Seattle had the biggest wage gap among the five cities they looked at. They also found that the wage gap increased for women with higher education levels.

“We didn’t think we would be the worst of the lot,” Mahmud says.

Luckily for San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a law in June banning prospective employers from asking about applicants’ pay history, which Murase says eliminates cyclical gaps.

San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission also has an equal-pay advisory board to fulfill the goals of the 2014 Equal Pay Ordinance. The legislation requires contractors and subcontractors of the city to submit a report on employee compensation.

While Murase says the department would love to see institutional change from the employers, they can at least continue to train women to negotiate their pay.

“If you start out fresh out of college and you don’t negotiate like other male counterparts are, your pay gap is going to start on your first day of work,” she says.

Murase also points to Gap and Salesforce as examples of companies that have taken the initiative to evaluate their own pay schedules and flag any gender pay gaps.

“We like to lift up those companies that are taking those steps proactively,” Murase says. “At the current rate of change, the pay gap takes a really long time to overcome.”

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