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Jobs Unfair

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While people doing the same jobs in the city of Pittsburgh are generally compensated the same across race and gender lines, the top-earning positions are mostly held by white men. That explains the serious gap in pay between women and minorities and white men, a month-old study finds.

At a June 25 post-agenda session on the study, members of Pittsburgh City Council and the Women and Girls Foundation (WGF) picked the brains of Jeffrey Ling, the study's prime author. They sought reasons for the pay gaps and ways to address them.

"The city of Pittsburgh is fairly consistent in regards to how it pays -- pay is fairly stagnant within the city of Pittsburgh and as a result, there are not large differences," Ling said. "The major exception would be among the higher-paying jobs. There is a shortage of women. Minorities have fared slightly better. We did not find a systematic decision where the city set out to compensate one group less than another."

Pay-rate comparisons between employees with the same job titles are pretty similar. But the median pay overall for white women in the city is $36,695. For white men, it's $52,402. For black women, it's $33,455 and for black men, the median pay rate is $41,713.

"White males make up more than 70 percent of the employees in the $40,000 a year jobs and above. ... Conversely, the largest pay-range values for females are less than $40,000," the report states.

"You basically have half your workforce ghettoized in low-paying jobs," said Heather Arnet, executive director of the WGF, which cosponsored the study.

"That's a strong word," said council President Doug Shields.

Ling agreed, but added that "If you had a larger percentage of women in higher-paying jobs, the gap would close."

"You have an insufficient number of women in jobs making more than $40,000," Ling said. "Unless you change the culture, not a lot is going to change." He said the study, which used voluntary focus groups and surveys of city workers over several months, found that many workers perceived a system of promotion based on political and personal alliances.

The study brought to light another problem: Personnel records, Ling found, were inadequate. For instance, when Councilor Ricky Burgess asked about minority-outreach programs and how effective they were in diversifying the workforce, Ling said records simply didn't exist. There were no numbers, for instance, on how many minority hires had their genesis in job fairs held in minority neighborhoods or through youth-outreach efforts.

"There are a whole lot of places where the city of Pittsburgh doesn't collect data on par with what would be present in other 21st-century cities," Ling said. "The system is being held together with twine and Band-Aids. I think you've got a lot of well-meaning dedicated staff with their shoes out" -- trying to drive metaphorical nails through boards without hammers. To that end, the report is recommending annual human-resource refresher courses which, he said, will cost time and effort but not necessarily dollars.

"A study like this makes some pretty scary remarks," said Shields. "We should lose some sleep over this. It's a pretty damning statement. You can't go from clear, expressed gaps and not worry about when am I going to get an EEOC complaint? How much money are we exposed to from liabilities?"

"Our intent with this study was about quantifying a gap -- we knew there would be one," said Arnet. "It was about talking about the next steps for the future: How do we foster a culture of inclusion?"

Arnet said that time alone won't solve the problem. Awareness of where weak spots exist will allow policy makers to set benchmarks for hiring and promotion of women and minorities. She said it would take "corrective leadership" on the part of council: direct and deliberate efforts to address the gaps. "You can do it," she told council. "You can transform your culture. This study is a call to action."

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