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This small-city Virginia government may have solved the pay gap

To the long-running national debate over pay equity, add this news: The city government in Alexandria, Virginia, pays women and men very nearly the same for similar jobs.

A first-ever study of pay equity by the Alexandria city government found that female city employees earned 94 cents for every $1 earned by their male peers.

Nationally, women earn only 80 cents for every $1 that men are paid, according to multiple federal sources and the American Association of University Women, which on Thursday released its latest report on pay equity, “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.”

Across the board in Virginia, in both the private and public sectors, women make 78 percent of what men are paid, the AAUW study says. Women in the District of Columbia and Maryland fare better: D.C. women make 86 percent of men’s pay, while Maryland womenpocket about 84 percent of what their male colleagues are paid for similar jobs.

Local, state and federal governments usually have a smaller pay gap than exists in private enterprise, said Catherine Hill, AAUW’s vice president of research. That’s because so many salaries are determined by formal job classifications and a pay schedule that has a clearly established merit pay system.

But gender pay equity experts were hard-pressed to identify another local government that has demonstrated its pay gap is as narrow as 6 percent.

With President Barack Obama and other top Democrats pushing hard for pay equity in recent years, some experts said, Alexandria should tout its record as a significant accomplishment.

Employers are discovering a “real value in being seen as a place that pays women and men fairly,” said Emily Martin, the general counsel and vice president for workplace justice for the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center.

She said that cities across the nation are conducting their own pay-gap studies, either for the local government workforce or the public and private sectors. Those include Seattle and Spokane, Washington; San Francisco; Albuquerque; Austin; Boston; New York City; and Washington.

Alexandria city officials said it helps that they have about an equal number of men and women in staff leadership positions. The city’s workforce is nearly evenly split by gender, with 1,449 men and 1,363 women. Their average age is 44, and they have worked for the city an average of nine or 10 years.

Their average salary is $69,158 for men and $65,013 for women. But when city officials discounted the 680 jobs held by a single person (such as city manager, human resources director or police chief), the pay gap reversed, with women earning 1 percent more than men.

City Manager Mark Jinks said Alexandria’s report was prompted by a request from its Commission on the Status of Women, as well as his own interest in the topic.

“Without detailed measurement and analysis of an issue, one cannot be assured that public policies in place are actually working,” Jinks said.

When broken down by job categories, the pay gap in Alexandria ranges from 2 to 10 percent. Officials and administrators – the top-paid category, with average salaries of about $122,000 – differ little; the 60 women, on average, make 1.78 percent more than the 63 men. In the category of “professionals” (jobs that require college degrees and may be supervisory), women make 7.3 percent less than their male counterparts -$80,229 a year, on average, compared with $86,576 for men.

Male technicians, such as code inspectors, information technologists and revenue analysts, all of whom have average salaries in the $50,000s, make 8.85 percent more than their female peers. Female administrative support workers, whose average salaries are in the low- to mid-$40,000s, earn 9.5 percent more than their male peers.

Alexandria did not break down the pay by race, although national statistics show that women of color experience more pronounced wage gaps than women in general. Monika Jones, chair of Alexandria’s Commission on the Status of Women, said her group wants more information about disparities involving people of color, and wants the city to find comparisons to other governments in the region.

Although some people explain the wage gap by saying that women opt for lower-paid fields, or take time off to start families, or fail to reach the same educational level as men, AAUW’s Hill said that studies that control for all those variables still show a 7 percent difference in male and female pay in the first years out of college. The gap grows over time.

Her group’s report said private employers increasingly are focusing on pay equity. In 2015, San Francisco-based Salesforce.com analyzed the salaries of its 16,000 employees and adjusted pay for 6 percent of them, leading to a 33 percent increase in the number of women who were promoted that year. More than 50 other private-sector companies have signed the White House’s Equal Pay Pledge, committing themselves to equal pay.

As for Alexandria, a city of 150,000 residents best known for its historic sites and intensely engaged civic activists, the local government plans to do periodic follow-up studies to track its progress.

“I was actually impressed at their level of transparency, which should be a model for public and private employers,” said Martin of the National Women’s Law Center. “It’s a way for the city to hold itself accountable.”

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