Seattle Culture

Editor’s Note: Persistence and Progress

Women share their perspective on equity and equality

By Rob Smith May 22, 2024

Photo of Rob Smith, executive editor for Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

During a recent appearance on entrepreneur Rachel Horgan’s new podcast, The Weekly, she jokingly told me something that caught me completely off-guard.

“I want to thank you as a straight white man for being my diversity hire,” she said, adding that previous guests had almost exclusively been women. The lighthearted moment showcased this region’s profound commitment to gender equality and a sincere regard for the dignity and rights of women.

Yet, despite that deep sense of fairness and respect ingrained in Seattle’s culture, we’re far from perfect. New research from the nonprofit National Partnership for Women and Families found that women across the state made $18,400 less in median wages than men in 2022. Only Utah had a larger discrepancy, at $20,649.

The study found that women in Washington state earned only 70 cents for every dollar made by a man.

For this issue, Seattle magazine sought input from 12 highly successful women on topics such as gender equality, pay equity, and overcoming discrimination. They also shared their perspectives on changes needed to empower them and other women to reach their full potential. Their essays are insightful and illuminating.

This all comes down to fairness, justice, economic stability, social progress, and family well-being.

Male-dominated industries that shape the state economy such as technology and aerospace certainly contribute to the gap, but they aren’t the sole factor. There are several reasons — think gender bias, barriers to entry, and unequal access to opportunity, to name just a few. Addressing these and other underlying issues requires deep systemic change.

“This persistent, pervasive wage gap is driven in part by gender and racial discrimination, workplace harassment, job segregation, and a lack of workplace policies that support family caregiving, which is still most often performed by women,” the study notes. “On average, women employed in the United States lose a combined total of more than $1.6 trillion every year due to the wage gap. Families, businesses, and the economy suffer as a result.”

The real-world stakes are significant. The study notes that eliminating the wage gap in Washington state would allow a woman to pay for 11 months of rent; 15 months of health insurance premiums; more than a year of childcare; and pay off an average amount of student loan debt in less than two years.

Another study by small-business finance company Lendio found that women own 42% of employer businesses in the state, the highest percentage in the nation. Even then, women-owned businesses across the country last year received just 32.6% of loan approvals and only 28% of all dollars offered in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s two most popular loan programs. Fewer than 5% of federal contract dollars flowed to women-owned small businesses.

The news isn’t all bleak. The state Legislature this year updated the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act to address income disparities, employer disparities, and retaliation practices for protected classes based on age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, and immigration status. The act hadn’t been modified in 81 years. For that matter, the Federal Equal Pay Act hasn’t been updated since it was adopted in 1963.

This all comes down to fairness, justice, economic stability, social progress, and family well-being. And it should matter to men as much as women.

About the Editor's Note Column

Rob Smith is the editor of Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine. Following a brief stint in politics after graduating from the University of Oregon, he began freelance writing when a friend landed a job at a small newspaper. A few months later he was offered a full-time position and, as Mark Twain said, "I had no other options," so Rob became a journalist. He likes getting paid to be nosy.

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