Wake County

If you’re a working woman in Wake, the man in the next cubicle likely makes more money

Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, left, does the necessary paperwork as Jessica Holmes officially declares herself a candidate at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh on Feb. 20, 2014. Holmes won election to the board.
Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, left, does the necessary paperwork as Jessica Holmes officially declares herself a candidate at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh on Feb. 20, 2014. Holmes won election to the board. cseward@newsobserver.com

The gender pay gap is wider in Wake County than in two comparable counties across the nation, according to a recent report.

Women in Wake earn up to 41 percent less than their male colleagues who have the same level of education, says the report completed by the county’s Task Force on Employment and Wage Issues for Women. The gap is larger than in Travis County, Texas, home to Austin, and Suffolk County, Mass., home to Boston.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners created the task force earlier this year to consider ways to narrow the wage gap. On Monday, the group presented its findings, including data from 25 organizations with a total of 25,000 employees.

Many companies would offer women better pay and time-off policies if they realized how the change could help retain talented employees, said Jackie Terry Hughes, who runs JTH Law in Raleigh and served on the task force.

“A large part of this is education,” she said. “I don’t think enough organizations and companies look under their hood (and say) ‘Could I be the problem?’ 

The task force said the county should create a “Wake Invests in Women” collaborative based at Wake Technical Community College to host workshops with local businesses about the benefits of offering flexible work schedules and to teach women how to negotiate with their employers for better pay.

It’s unclear how much the effort, which calls for the creation of a new government job, would cost the county.

Another suggestion is for the county to host an annual summit with Wake Tech and Meredith College, which helped conduct the study. The event could be an opportunity for organizations and advocates to share ideas for training female employees and improving their work conditions.

Wake paid $9,975 to Cincinnati-based Novak Consulting Group to help the task force gather data. The group compared Wake to Travis and Suffolk counties because they are also home to state capitals, major research universities and a similar mix of technology companies.

The survey given to businesses isn’t meant to be statistically accurate but to paint a picture of the county’s standing among peer cities, Terry Hughes said. She said some businesses declined to provide salary data because the task force didn’t plan to consider contextual information, like an employee’s level of training.

Results show that Wake has a wider wage gap in five levels of education: 41 percent for those who didn’t graduate high school; 27 percent for high school graduates; 25 percent for those with an associate’s degree or some college; and 39 percent for those with a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

By comparison, the wage gap in Suffolk County was 15 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree and 21 percent for those with a graduate degree.

The survey also found that Wake has wider wage gaps in nine out of 12 career fields, from the service industry to the legal community.

Women in Wake earn 53 percent less than their male colleagues in the legal community, compared to a 32 percent gap in Travis County and a 38 percent gap in Suffolk County.

Wake women fared better in some career fields: social services, technology and public safety.

For example, female engineering and technology workers in Wake earn about 24 percent less than their male colleagues. In Suffolk County, the gap is 31 percent.

Wake’s female police officers and firefighters earn about $33,329 a year, 18 percent less than their male colleagues. The gap is 42 percent in Travis County and 27 percent in Suffolk.

The Board of Commissioners plans to consider the task force’s recommendations in the coming weeks.

“I really believe this is going to work forward at an active pace,” board chairman Sig Hutchinson said.

Jessica Holmes, the only woman on the Board of Commissioners, said the county should work to narrow the wage gap because it helps families. She noted how the board already adopted rules aimed at helping felons and, separately, employees who need time off to care for their children.

“Now that we are aware of the wage gap inequity within our county, we should take that same leadership mentality and address it,” Holmes said. “Wage inequity is not only a women’s issue but it is a family and an economic issue that impacts all of us.”

The task force posted its report on the Wake County Commission for Women’s webpage, where it also compiled a list of local organizations that offer professional training for women.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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