At Glendale’s inaugural International Women’s Day Summit earlier this year, Councilwoman Paula Devine in her opening remarks urged the 120 attendees to take a look at a city-commissioned report on the status of women and girls from 2015-16.
“It’s full of surprises,” Devine said.
One unexpected statistic she pointed out in the report is that Glendale women working full time, year-round in 2014 earned $1.05 for every $1 of their male counterparts, with median incomes of $45,262 and $42,918, respectively.
In other words — bucking county, state and national data, which are reported to show that men make more money compared to women performing the same work — women in Glendale appeared to make more than men during that time frame.
The same year that Glendale women working full time made 105% of what men made, women working full time across California made 84% of what men working full time made, according to the same report.
Across the country, women earn about 80% of what men do, according to a study by the American Assn. of University Women, a nonprofit that promotes equity for women
“So, we’re doing quite well,” Devine told the audience at the summit held in March.
Devine wasn’t the only person to cite the Glendale statistic.
Sarojini Lall, district director for state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), also mentioned it during the summit, calling Glendale “a fabulous place to be a woman.”
The entire report was listed as one of the city’s Commission on the Status of Women’s most notable accomplishments between 2015 and 2018, according to the commission’s 2019-22 strategic plan.
In the plan, the reverse-gender-wage gap was described as one the report’s “most remarkable findings.” Referring to the finding during a City Council meeting this past February, Councilman Vartan Gharpetian said, “As a father of three daughters, I’m very proud of this.”
Caveats and considerations
However, there are some caveats to take into consideration when looking at the data, according to Eleanor Siebert, lead researcher for the report conducted by Mount St. Mary’s University and based on data culled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, or ACS. City staff also worked on the report.
First and foremost, “this is a snapshot of that particular point in time,” said Siebert, who co-presented the report to the Commission on the Status of Women in November 2015.
With the numbers based on the median incomes of fewer than 30,000 women, the numbers can get easily skewed, she added.
The instability of the data is easy to see year-over-year.
In 2013, one year before the ACS showed women made more than men, it showed the reverse, with full-time working women in Glendale taking home a median income of $41,185 compared to $50,812 for men.
The year before that, the survey showed the sexes were neck and neck, with full-time working women’s median income pegged at $46,127 and men’s at $47,427.
Then, in 2011, women’s median incomes were again higher than men’s, according to the survey.
Accounting for the amount of random sampling error in the survey’s results, known in statistics as the margin of error, it’s more accurate to say that women made as much as men in 2014, rather than more, Siebert said.
All those asterisks notwithstanding, Siebert said she thinks the finding is significant.
More recent earnings data collected through the census’ ACS suggest that the 2015-16 report wasn’t a fluke. Full-time working women in Glendale have continued to keep pace with their male colleagues, according to Siebert, who informally analyzed the last few years’ data during a phone interview.
In 2017, the most recent year for which the survey provides data, women working full time earned a median income of $53,230 a year, while men in the same category earned $56,744.
“That’s still parity,” Siebert said, pointing again to the several-thousand-dollar margin of error for both figures.
During the same time frame, women working in Pasadena full time made $51,429 annually, while their male counterparts made $61,539.
(However, like Glendale, 2014 census data showed median incomes of women working full time in Pasadena outpaced those of men.)
“Glendale is really well positioned, with a strong force of working women to lead the county in neutralizing some of these persistent economic gender gaps,” Siebert told Glendale’s Commission on the Status of Women when she co-presented the report in November 2015.
A perfect storm
Emerald Archer, another researcher at Mount St. Mary’s, who did not work on the 2015-16 report but is familiar with it, called Glendale’s situation a potential “perfect storm.”
Glendale women are highly educated, giving them the opportunity to work in higher-paid fields and overwhelmingly identify as white — all factors that tend to reduce the gender-wage gap, said Archer, who helped produce a recently released report on the status of women and girls for the state.
However, Archer said it’s impossible to prove causation between one or all of those factors and the data; it’s all educated guesswork to some degree.
In 2017, about 37% of Glendale women 25 or older held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to a little over 32% of women in Los Angeles County, according to ACS data.
Nearly 21% of women 25 or older in the county had not finished high school in 2017, compared to less than 14% in Glendale, survey data showed.
About half of all Glendale women working full time in 2014 were employed in high-paying sectors, including technology, arts and entertainment, media, health diagnosing and treatment, and management, according to Siebert.
Still, women during the same time frame made up the vast majority who were working in lower-paying sectors, such as service and office administration, Siebert said during the 2015 presentation.
Typically, “we actually see that education, while it can help, doesn’t solve the problem,” said Kate Nielson, a local and state policy director for the American Assn. of University Women.
According to Nielson, male-dominated professions tend to offer higher pay overall than female-dominated professions, but women working in male-dominated fields still tend to make less than their male counterparts.
A crucial explanation for the earnings data likely lies in Glendale’s demographic makeup, Archer said.
In 2017, about 65% of Glendale women identified as white, according to an analysis of ACS data. That’s up from 61% who identified as white in 2014, according to the Mount St. Mary’s report.
Meanwhile, only 26% of women in Los Angeles County identified as white in 2017, according the Report on the Status of Women in Los Angeles County for that year.
“White women, because of some of their privileges, make significantly more than women of color, when you compare them,” Archer said.
“The fact that it is skewed more white certainly would help [lessen the gap],” agreed state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who has championed legislation to address the gender-wage gap.
“White women do much better when it comes to comparison with men,” she added.
While white women typically make 88 cents for every dollar men make, “women of color are way down the ladder,” Jackson said.
“White women, because of some of their privileges, make significantly more than women of color, when you compare them.”
However, the concept of whiteness gets murky in Glendale, where city officials say approximately 37% to 40% of the population is Armenian American but overwhelmingly identify as white on the U.S. Census.
It’s not just a Glendale problem: the census does not include a category for people of Middle Eastern, North African or Southwest Asian descent.
In past census surveys, for a variety of often complex reasons, 80% of individuals of those origins have identified as white, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
According to Siebert, it would be difficult to look at female workers who identify as Armenian without conducting a focused study on that particular population. Even if that study is conducted, it would likely produce unreliable data because of the small sample size, Siebert added.
Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian speculated that women with roots in Armenia, particularly Soviet Armenia, might be culturally predisposed to seek success.
“[People from those communities] are motivated to receive an education and achieve a higher position. And that might just be a vestige of the Soviet Union,” said Najarian, adding that it was just a guess.
The policy piece
In terms of policy, Najarian said the City Council has kept a pretty hands-off approach.
“We don’t necessarily get involved with the private sector, and say we expect you to provide equal wages,” Najarian said.
Christine Powers, the city’s liaison for the Commission on the Status of Women, agreed that, “I don’t think we can attribute this finding on any policy that the city may have implemented.”
In her address at the March summit, Councilwoman Devine said it is important to craft policy to promote gender equality. She pointed at how a federal law passed in 1972 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs, known as Title IX, ended up bolstering female athletes across the country.
Devine, currently the only female City Council member, said she initially ran for a seat in 2014 to set an example for young women in the community.
It was to show, “you know, you can do this,” Devine said. “[Women] can take roles in leadership … and in policy-making and city government.”
Glendale’s City Manager Yasmin Beers, who was appointed last February, is the first woman to occupy the position, Devine pointed out.
“We don’t necessarily get involved with the private sector, and say we expect you to provide equal wages.”
Jackson has been busy championing legislation targeting the gender-wage gap. In January, she introduced a pay-data reporting bill that would require California employers with more than 100 employees to submit an annual report that looks at wages by gender, race, ethnicity and job to the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Currently, the bill is pending in the state Senate’s appropriations committee.
“It’s an opportunity for companies to look in the mirror and allow for self-evaluation and correction if we’re finding this huge [pay disparity],” Jackson said of Senate Bill 171.
If the law passes and companies don’t self-correct, the state could enforce equal pay between the sexes, in part due to another bill she authored and became law in 2016. It requires men and women be paid the same for substantially similar work.
Meanwhile, in the private sector
Last year, California became the first state to require publicly traded companies to have at least one woman on their boards of directors by 2018 when legislation co-sponsored by Jackson and state Sen. Toni Akins became law.
Packaging company Avery Dennison, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Glendale, has two women on its 15-person leadership team. Beginning in 2013, the company began focusing on increasing gender diversity, with a goal of having women occupy 40% of its leadership positions by 2018, up from 28% at the time, according to company spokesman Rob Six.
Falling slightly short of its goal, women today occupy 37% of the company’s leadership positions, Six said, adding that the company is still working to bolster that number.
When it comes to filling leadership positions that require a science or engineering degree, “We’ve fallen short because that seems to be a place that’s harder to attract female recruits,” Six said.
The big picture
Glendale’s earnings data represents an anomaly, not the norm, as nearly all researchers and policy experts interviewed for this story pointed out. In all of the country’s largest metropolitan cities, men make more than women, Nielson said. Los Angeles has one of the smallest gaps, relative to other large cities, with women making about 91 cents to every dollar made by men, she said.
Looking at the gender-wage gap from a broader standpoint, Nielson said, “If we control for everything we can think of” — including college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, grade-point average, type of undergraduate institution, age, geographical region and marital status — “there’s still a 7% pay disparity the first year out of college.”
Nielson added, “We have to assume that’s discrimination.”
Currently, Nielson is working to help update the federal Equal Pay Act, originally passed in 1963, to codify practices that are thought to lessen pay disparity between men and women, such as prohibiting employers from asking for prospective employees’ salary history.
Nielson hailed much of California’s legislation aimed at eliminating the gender-wage gap as “a stake in the ground, and showed other states how to follow,” singling out Jackson’s work.
A follow-up to Glendale’s 2015-16 women’s status report is on the horizon, according to Powers. Once the 2020 U.S. Census is conducted and “we get back some good data,” the Commission on the Status of Women will consider partnering with Mount St. Mary’s for an updated report, Powers said during a presentation of the commission’s new strategic plan in February.