Kansas City Mayor Sly James is outnumbered.
Nine of the mayor’s 13 staff members are female. Don’t think that doesn’t make a difference. The ratio just might begin to impact the male-dominated atmosphere under which city governments tend to function. It already has in one small but significant way. Within the past year, City Hall gained an area where women who are breast-feeding can pump. The federally required upgrade was due to the diligence of a new mother in James’ close circle.
On Thursday, James will unveil ongoing work toward “women’s empowerment,” at 9:30 a.m. at theCentral Exchange
He’s stepping into a well-worn field of debate. Endless studies and initiatives have sought the same goal, too often only superficially. It’s a difficult job to begin unraveling institutionalized discrimination. Historic practices, unconscious and conscious attitudes, the personal choices of individuals both male and female along with a massive range of less easily labeled factors collude against change.
Nearly 30 percent of the city’s 4,377 employees are female, not including the Police Department. Women hold 23 percent of positions at the department director level or above. Kansas City has elected a female mayor, Kay Barnes. But we’ve never hired a female city manager, which would be an important milestone, given our form of government. (One woman served briefly as acting city manager.)
This effort got one thing right from the start. They asked.
Surveys (including one offered anonymously) and focus groups asked city employees how well the city incorporates women as employees, on boards and commissions, by policy and through its day-to-day business. Hundreds of employees participated in the five-month process. Past and present female members of boards and commissions were also asked for guidance.
Child care repeatedly was mentioned. So the city will study child care options for employees. It will also develop citywide policies on flexible work schedules, including working from home, and will promote cross-training and collaboration within departments. The city is also reviewing its process of working with minority- and women-owned businesses, with an eye toward eliminating unnecessary barriers.
The mayor’s office is linked with the Central Exchange, the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the UMKC Women’s Center in its efforts.