Government & Politics

At long last, Kansas City is moving to study pay gap between men and women on staff

Photo illustration showing a gender gap and inequality in salary.
Photo illustration showing a gender gap and inequality in salary. Bigstock

More than a year after advocates first lobbied a City Council committee, Kansas City is expected to soon start a study of gender equity in its payroll.

Alice Kitchen and fellow members of the Women’s Equality Coalition first approached the city in late 2017 to urge that it stop collecting salary information when it considers job candidates, a hiring practice women’s advocates argue contributes to the persistent pay gap between men and women.

At the same time, they pushed the city to study its current workforce for gender inequities in pay. City staff, with the support of members of the Finance and Governance Committee, agreed to search for a vendor.

Nearly a year later, Kansas City spokesman Chris Hernandez said the city is close to selecting a vendor, but hasn’t signed a contract yet. Kitchen said the wait was “very frustrating.”

“I think we’ve been more than patient and it’s not acceptable,” she said.

The study Kansas City is undertaking, Hernandez said, would review “current job specifications, descriptions, classification and compensation structures, as well as a market analysis” to identify potential pay disparities among employees performing similar work.

“This is important so that we can make sure that our city is meeting our goals of treating everyone fairly and equally,” he said.

City staffers and council members were receptive when Kitchen and colleagues brought their proposals in late 2017.

Last April, Gary O’Bannon, head of the city’s human resources department, said the city’s best course would be to issue a request for proposals and get cost estimates from potential vendors, a process he said would take about six weeks. That RFP went out in July with responses due in August.

Hernandez said while the city is in the procurement process, it can’t divulge information about the potential vendors.

But he said in an email that one city department wanted more information, which expanded the scope of the RFP slightly.

Kitchen said she’s glad the study is moving forward.

“But I would have expected if you had a due date of August...that it’d be a couple months,” she said. “Everything else prior to that went on a timetable that was predictable that Gary O’Bannon outlined.”

At the time O’Bannon said the city wasn’t sure how much a study would cost and would find out more information from the RFP responses. The committee didn’t pass any legislation setting aside funds for the study.

But in its end-of-fiscal-year budget ordinance passed earlier this month, it allocated $75,000.

Councilman Scott Wagner, 1st District at-large, said the city had wrestled with how expansive the study should be and how it should be paid for.

At one time, he said, he thought the equity study would be lumped in with a compensation study the city needs to perform before it goes into negotiations with labor unions representing city employees. He said he’s looking for more information on that.

Wagner said he had been frustrated by the slow process but hoped it would speed up.

Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.