OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s governor pays his male employees about 25 percent more than his female staffers, according to an analysis of recent state salary data.
Records show Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, meanwhile, is also paying his staff an average salary of $11,840 more than his predecessor, Mary Fallin, was paying her employees at the same point during their gubernatorial terms.
As of Oct. 1, the 27 employees working for Stitt’s administration were paid an average salary of about $59,000 a year. This is according to data released to CNHI Oklahoma in response to open records requests seeking pay for the Stitt and Fallin administrations.
The pay for Fallin’s 28 staffers averaged about $47,000.
Experts say Stitt’s decision to increase compensation isn’t particularly surprising from a governor promising to run Oklahoma government like a business and trying to recruit the best and brightest. They note, though, that his hiring decisions have created a workplace where men typically make more at one of the most high-profile state agencies.
“Stitt may not be paying males and females doing the same exact job different salaries, but he does seem to be hiring more men for higher paid and ranking jobs,” said Christine Pappas, professor and chair of Department of Politics, Law and Society at East Central University in Ada. She reviewed the salary data.
‘There is no gender pay inequality'
The average pay for male staff tops $66,000 a year, according to salary records. On average, women earn about $53,000.
“Stitt’s choices for top jobs are almost exclusively male,” Pappas said in an email. “When men are clustered at the top, and women are clustered at the bottom, you will see stark disparities in pay.”
By contrast, former Republican Gov. Mary Fallin paid her female staffers about 3.5 percent more than her male ones at the same point in her administration, Pappas said.
“Our office has been very thoughtful about this, and there is no gender pay inequality within divisions,” said Stitt spokeswoman Baylee Lakey in an email.
She said Stitt’s top two paid employees — Senior Adviser Donelle Harder and Chief of Staff Michael Junk — both report directly to the governor and are paid equally to reflect that. They both receive salaries of $140,600 year.
Female employees on Stitt’s policy team actually make more than their male counterparts. The women in total make $7,774 a month while the men make $7,312, Lakey said.
In the legal department, the top two attorneys, who are both men, make a combined $201,200. The other two employees in the department, who are both female legal aids, make a combined $112,600, Lakey said.
She said the office boosted overall staff salary averages in an effort to attract top-tier talent to help deliver an ambitious agenda, stronger agency accountability and better communications and engagement with the public.
Lakey said Stitt also has placed a new emphasis on compensating his cabinet members. That includes paying Carter Kimble $120,600 a year for his work, according to the data.
Leveling the field
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said there are plenty of female attorneys Stitt could have hired to work in his legal division. A lack of gender diversity in the legal department most certainly leads to a pay disparity.
Virgin said she continues to be concerned about the lack of women represented in Stitt’s administration and cabinet.
“I guess it’s not completely surprising that there would be a pay gap that is generally reflective of what we see in the private sector as well,” she said. “(That) is disappointing because we have the ability to even that out in the public sector.”
The fact that a disparity is reflected in Stitt’s office is “very disappointing,” Virgin said.
Virgin said Stitt’s current female employees are undoubtedly valued, but there have been no intentional efforts to level the playing field for women in his administration.
The lawmaker said it’s also interesting that the disparity was flipped during Fallin’s first months in office.
“It seemed that Gov. Fallin was very intentional in making sure that women not only had places at the table, but were valued monetarily as well,” she said.
‘Not always a simple equation'
Former Oklahoma Democratic Gov. Brad Henry said a lot of factors go into hiring. He said his chief of staff typically sets salaries.
Salary was based on previous position pay, the individual, experience, education and current market rates, he said.
“Some people are different than others,” he said. “Some people just really want to work in the governor’s office and will work for almost nothing, and other people you need their skills and you need to pay them more.”
He doesn’t recall any problems involving pay disparity during his eight years in office, but said the issue is not always simple. There are many factors to consider.
“I’m certainly not defending the practice, but it’s sometimes not a simple equation I suppose,” Henry said. “I think it’s a good goal to strive for. There shouldn’t be a gender gap. But in the current governor’s defense, it’s not always a simple equation.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.