Lightfoot orders audit to narrow gender, racial pay gap among city workers

Executive order mandates a pay equity audit every two years to identify gender, racial differences in city employee compensation and steps to remedy disparities.

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An equal-pay rally outside the Thompson Center in 2019.

An equal-pay rally was held outside the Thompson Center in 2019.

Sun-Times files

Much has been written and said about the pandemic-driven “she-cession” that widened the pay gap between men and women and had a disproportionate impact on women of color.

On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot moved to do something about it in a way that is unlikely to be undone by her male successor.

She signed an executive order requiring the city to conduct a “comprehensive pay equity audit” every two years to identify “gender and racial” differences in employee compensation in its workforce of 32,000.

Three city departments — Human Resources, Budget and Management and Assets and Information Services — would be required to compare job titles, bargaining units, sex, race and ethnicity, come clean about the findings and take specific actions to remedy “gender or racial disparities.”

At a City Hall news conference — her first since she lost her reelection bid — Lightfoot also announced the entire city workforce will be required to undergo a day-and-a-half of training on “gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace.”

The classes Lightfoot hailed as the “largest and most comprehensive training offered by any municipal government in the country” will be conducted in partnership with Futures Without Violence.

Executive orders signed by one mayor can be rescinded by another. But it would be politically difficult for the man who replaces only the second woman ever to serve as the city’s chief executive to undo Lightfoot’s order.

“I envision a city where young women — regardless of their race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic status — can reach any career aspiration that they dream of. I want my daughter’s generation to be free of the barriers that have held too many of us back,” Lightfoot said.

Tuesday is “Equal Pay Day.” That’s the date that demonstrates how long women must work past the end of a given year to make up the gap in their annual pay, compared to what an average white male earned the previous year.

“Women continue to make just 77 cents for every dollar that a white male makes. The data is even worse for Black women, earning 64-cents on the dollar, and Latino women, earning just 54 cents on the dollar,” Lightfoot said. Indigenous women make even less — just 51 cents for every dollar earned by men, the mayor added.

“We have work to do. But we are making big, bold steps to make sure that that happens,” said Lightfoot.

Cherita Ellens, president and CEO of Women Employed, put the pay gap in careerlong terms to dramatize the financial impact.

“Without meaningful intervention, women overall will lose approximately $400,000 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white, non-Hispanic men. For Latinas, this career loss amounts to $1.2 million over 40 years. And for Black women, the losses are over $900,000,” Ellens said.

Six years after sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein triggered a “Me, Too” avalanche of allegations against men in various fields, Ellens said there have been “significant changes” in a climate that had allowed sexual harassment in the workplace to fester. But she said the wage gap has not gotten smaller.

“Because the rate of change has pretty much stalled, it should really serve as a reminder that we must all take action to interrupt this systemic issue that’s causing harm — to our economy, to our communities and to our households,” she said.

“Conducting and publicizing pay equity audits is one of the best ways to close internal pay gaps. By training all employees on gender-based violence and prevention, the city is building a culture of prevention, safety and support for survivors.”

Lightfoot will leave office in mid-May with a record of accomplishment when it comes to women in the workplace — even after a single term.

That includes 12 weeks of paid parental leave for city employees, increasing Chicago’s minimum wage for all employees, including domestic workers; and a fair scheduling ordinance, giving workers advance notice of their work days and hours, with compensation for last-minute changes.

Lightfoot said she has worked long and hard to avoid “pigeon-holing women into lower-wage jobs that don’t give them sufficient income to be able to take care of their families.”

But there is unfinished business, she said.

“We’ve got to make sure that there are more women in the trades. Those are the highest-paying jobs. They’ve got great benefits. But that has not been a traditional path, of course, for women,” the mayor said.

“We can’t wag our finger at them and say, ‘You need to do better.’ We’ve got to work in partnership with them to develop pathways so that women have access to the training and the apprenticeships to be able to take on those jobs,” said the mayor.

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