That’s the word Kathryn Zetzer, a senior program officer with the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, uses again and again when discussing the recently released findings of a status report on Women’s Economic Opportunity in Pierce County.
What the status report revealed — income disparity for women, at every education level, and an under-representation of women in leadership positions — was not altogether shocking, given the attention that the gender pay and achievement gaps have received on a national level.
But for Zetzer, who conducted the research on which the report relies, the real impact was in the way the report hit close to home. That’s one of the reasons she’ll be helping to spearhead a Greater Tacoma Community Foundation Fund for Women and Girls initiative, headlined by what’s being called the Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference this July at the Hotel Murano.
This is not about other people. This is specifically about us. ... And I think that’s why I find it startling.
Kathryn Zetzer, a senior program officer with the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation
“I think if I’m personally reflecting, I think it’s easy to say, ‘Well, that’s not in my neighborhood. That’s not where I live. That’s not my lived experience.’ So to see that the data does support that there’s a large discrepancy, for me that was startling as a woman in the Pacific Northwest,” Zetzer said.
“This is not about other people. This is specifically about us,” she continued. “And I think that’s why I find it startling.”
So where do things stand in Pierce County?
$54,000 The median annual earnings for white men in Pierce County
$43,000 The median annual earnings for white women in Pierce County
According to Megan Sukys, vice president of communications for the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, the report showed “a clear disparity in the amount of money women bring home” after factoring in income for full-time, year-round work and education levels. The report drew on sources including state Employment Security Department data and the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey.
Some of the highlights (or lowlights):
▪ In 2014, women held 52 percent of Pierce County jobs, but in 2016, women’s incomes were 22 percent lower than men’s. That’s 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
“That’s a pretty large discrepancy, especially when we start talking about women trying to make choices for themselves and for their family,” Zetzer said. She believes that “having a livable wage” is key to women overcoming barriers and “moving their lives forward.”
On that note:
▪ From 2011 to 2013, the median annual earnings for white men in Pierce County was $54,000, while the median earnings for white women was $43,000.
▪ During the same time period, the annual median earnings for black men was $44,000, while black woman earned, on average, $33,000 a year. Asian/Pacific Island men earned $49,000 annually, compared with $35,000 annually for women.
The report also found a significant and troubling wage discrepancy in the incomes of men and women that was not erased by educational achievement.
▪ Between 2011 and 2013, women with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned an average of $55,806 annually while men with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned $73,055; at the same time, a woman with some college or an associate’s degree earned $41,000 annually, while men who had achieved only a high school diploma or equivalent earned $45,659 annually.
$55,806 Annual earnings by women with a bachelor’s degree or higher in Pierce County between 2011 and 2013
$73,055 Annual earnings by men with a bachelor’s degree or higher in Pierce County between 2011 and 2013
▪ Finally, according to the report, in 2017 the “average composition of leadership teams for the top five public companies in Pierce County is 34 percent female, while the average for private institutions is just under 41 percent female.”
“I think when we’re talking about women and their progression throughout their career, it’s not only about how much they’re making, but also about the influence that women are having in their communities,” Zetzer offered. “When women are removed from leadership positions, or not included in leadership positions, they’re not having the greatest level of influence in a space that we would expect.”
Taken in total, Zetzer is right, these findings are startling. To put it mildly.
But the real challenge — one she seems keenly aware of — is what becomes of the information. After all, sobering statistics like these are nothing new, but finding concrete steps to addressing the gender wage and achievement gap has been painfully slow in coming.
“When I speak with women now, they talk about the issue being really large and overwhelming,” Zetzer told me.
“And I think that if we come together as a community, we can identify specific levers of change that can have a great impact, not only for us and for our family, but for our children and grandchildren, making a deep investment in Pierce County moving forward, so that we make it count.”