How Three U.S. Cities Have Focused On Closing The Gender Gap

By Lilly Rockwell Austin American-Statesman.

In April, the mayor of Boston launched an aggressive effort to do something about his city's gender pay gap, building on his predecessor's pledge to make Boston the first city to eliminate gender pay inequities.

The city plans to analyze the wages of male and female employees at more than 60 local companies, the Boston Globe reported, and publicly release the salary information. It also is teaming up with the American Association of University Women to start offering salary negotiation workshops for women in the Boston area.

Around the country, other officials are looking at ways to close the pay gap: California recently passed a bill prohibiting companies from retaliating against employees who inquire about co-workers' wages and requiring employers to provide equal pay for similar jobs that may have different titles, such as janitors and housekeepers who work for the same hotel.

In Phoenix, the City Council in April unanimously passed an equal pay ordinance that took aim at pay discrepancies with city contractors and vendors. The measure mostly replicated protections available under the federal Equal Pay Act, which makes it illegal for employers to pay men and women differently when performing equal work.

But it also extended the equal pay requirements to contractors and vendors doing business with the city, ensuring that information about compliance with pay equity is provided to the city. Employers who violate it could face a fine of $2,500 or up to six months in jail.

There are also plans to offer training in Phoenix for women on negotiating for raises.

"Equal pay is the law of the land, but there is still a pay gap," Phoenix City Council Member Kate Gallego told the American-Statesman. She said a study found that while the city was largely paying women equal pay for equal work, men still made more as a group than women. That's because Phoenix employs large numbers of men in public safety jobs, such as fire and police.

This is fairly typical of large cities. Of 15 major U.S. cities that provided data on their workforce to the American-Statesman, all but one had a workforce of more than 60 percent men.

The exception was San Francisco, which has had remarkable success recruiting women, with a workforce that is 58 percent women. (Unlike Austin, San Francisco has a combined city/county workforce.) Some of their success stems from getting a head start on the issue of gender inequality in the workplace.

For instance, as far back as 1999, the city's Department of Public Works produced a "gender analysis" report that recommended how to recruit and retain more women to improve diversity. And the city has institutionalized support in the form of a Department on the Status of Women, which addresses gender issues within the workforce and within the city at large.

Susan Gard, the chief of policy for San Francisco's human resources department, said much of the push came in recruiting women for jobs in the police and fire departments.

"We have 15 percent female firefighters, but we would like to improve that number," Gard said. That's about four times higher than the national average.

She said San Francisco also has apprenticeships programs "to help get more women into high-paying trades positions." Back in Phoenix, officials are also focusing on recruiting. They want to hire more women in public safety jobs by targeting female student-athletes at high schools and colleges, figuring their strength and agility will help them meet the physical requirements of such jobs.

"We are trying to change the paradigm," said Cindy Bezaury, an assistant director of human resources in Phoenix. "There are a lot of women who have a paradigm about 'I'm not physically (able) to do that.' If you look at our female firefighters, they are not weightlifters."

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