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City council updates Phoenix’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance to match the federal Equal Pay Act – but some say that’s not enough.

Since 2013, members of the PropelHer program at Central Phoenix tech company WebPT have gathered monthly to discuss everything from salary negotiations and interview tactics to gender bias and career goals. “We started the group as a way to encourage the women of WebPT to take a page from Sheryl Sandberg and ‘lean in.’ The group has since evolved, though, to focus on empowerment both personally and professionally, and our members include both men and women – because none of us can reach our full potential without each other,” says WebPT founder and COO Heidi Jannenga.

Despite the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats success among WebPT’s 250 employees, programs like PropelHer are an exception around Phoenix, where equal pay for equal work has some catching up to do. In Maricopa County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women enjoy a smaller wage gap than the U.S. average – 84 percent of their male counterparts, contrasted with 78.8 percent nationally.

On March 24, Phoenix City Council incorporated language from the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 into the city’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance. The EPA, and now the city’s code, requires equal pay for men and women performing jobs requiring equal skill, effort and responsibilities (excepting commissions- or production-based pay and seniority systems).  

While no council members argued wage parity wasn’t desirable, some questioned the city’s tack and the potential legal repercussions of the ordinance. One council member called for studies of the city’s hiring practices.

On the surface, the Equal Pay Act trumps municipal laws and, in theory, protects against gender discrimination. So why fold in duplicative language? “We’ve had the [federal] law for decades and it hasn’t closed the wage gap,” says Councilwoman Kate Gallego (District 8), who headed the group that recommended the changes. “The city’s language amplifies what’s in the federal statute, so people can be aware of it and comply with it.”

Councilman Sal DiCiccio (District 6) suggested that before the City began trumpeting the importance of equal wages, it conduct an in-depth study not only into wage parity, but also into gender representation: “Before you start looking at your neighbor and telling them what they should or shouldn’t do, you should look at yourself first. The city is the largest employer in Phoenix, and we can have a much larger impact with our hiring practices.”  

The city follows a step-and-seniority system with a strictly adhered-to pay scale, but DiCiccio points to unequal representation in public safety employees – women comprise only 4.7 percent and 12.8 percent of the workforce in the fire and police departments.

Cindy Bezaury, acting human resources director, says the city is collecting and analyzing such data: “We are in the process now of reviewing the demographics by gender for all classifications in the city. This will give us a bigger-picture approach to marketing opportunities as openings arise during recruitment and promotional processes.” Time will tell if these efforts lead to more equal gender representation among public safety workers.

The city’s influence over private-sector wages may be more immediate. Companies operating at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport must affirm they pay equal wages to earn city contracts. HMSHost, which employs more than 700 servers at PHX’s Barrio Café and Modern Burger restaurants, among others, already has such wage parity policies, and has no concerns about meeting the new requirements, according to Coleman Lauterbach, vice president of compensation.

Gallego concedes the new anti-discrimination language may also lead to an uptick in criminal complaints. “Any time we have a conversation about this, we get a lot more inquiries. Our legal department is ready to work with folks when the legal solution is the right one,” she says.

City Council tasked the Phoenix Women’s Commission with creating workshops to complement the ordinance update. Chairwoman Jodi Liggett says the commission will spend the summer evaluating programs to partner with, like those at the YMCA, and identifying partners to help finance the programs.

“We’re still in the early implementation phases. It’s a long-term process,” Gallego says. “What we know is that when women win, Phoenix wins.”

Bridging Gaps
Median earnings of women working full-time compared with men’s earnings:

Smallest disparities:
Washington, D.C.: 91%
New York: 86%
Maryland: 85%
Arizona, California, Florida: 84%

Largest disparities:
Louisiana: 66%
West Virginia, Wyoming: 69%
North Dakota, Utah: 70%

source: American Association of University Women, 2013 data

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