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Columbus Women’s Commission taking on issues of pay equity, evictions


When the Columbus Women’s Commission rolled out a pledge to deal with pay inequity between women and men, about 60 companies signed the document in November.

That has swelled to more than 90 companies, with more businesses considering it.

The commission, formed a little more than a year ago, has been taking small steps so far in tackling issues affecting women from the workplace to the homeless shelter. It started with the pay-equity pledge, and later this year it is to release recommendations to reduce evictions.

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“You can’t focus on everything at once,” said Shannon Ginther, the city’s first lady and the commission’s chairwoman.

Before the 18-member commission was seated last year, Ginther said she was working with others to figure out where it could help. They looked at data and found that women in Columbus are paid 78 cents for every $1 paid to men, worse than the national average. The poverty rate for female-headed households in Columbus is six times that of those led by men. And the 18,000 eviction filings in Franklin County Municipal Court last year made it one of the busiest in Ohio.

The commission looked at what other cities are doing. Columbus has the first women’s commission in Ohio, but other cities already have tread some of the same ground. Boston, for example, rolled out a pay-equity pledge in 2014.

The pledges are voluntary in both cities, but Columbus isn’t asking signers to provide payroll data. In Boston, the Women’s Workforce Council is working with a university to collect anonymous, aggregated data so it can track whether the disparity shrinks.

“We know that progress might be slow, but we want to make sure the folks we’re working with are truly engaging with the issue,” said MaryRose Mazzola, executive director of the Boston council. About 225 employers have signed Boston’s pledge.

Columbus decided to rely on the U.S. Census Bureau’s data instead to avoid some of the technical problems Boston has tackled to protect employer data, Ginther said.

“It’s intended to be a voluntary pledge,” she said. “It’s not about shaming anybody.”

The commission is hosting events for local employers to learn about policies related to pay disparity. For example, Ginther said, employers can remove salary-history questions from applications.

“It’s a good way for businesses to keep each other accountable,” said Sarah Perez, a lawyer with Perez & Morris, a Columbus business-law firm that signed the pledge. “It’s a good way to see which businesses are like-minded.”

The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio is doing research this year on pay equity in Columbus, said Sarah Pariser, its director of grants and programs.

“It starts with awareness and raising awareness around the issue of pay equity. This is a really critical first step,” she said.

Ginther said the commission now is focusing on policies it can push to stem evictions in the county. Landlords in Franklin County aren’t required to attend eviction hearings and can instead sign an affidavit to send attorneys.

The commission might push to change that rule, which would have to be voted on by judges.

It also is working with the Columbus City Council on policies on retaliatory evictions and is looking at eviction court in Cleveland for ideas to consolidate dockets between Franklin County’s environmental court and eviction court.

Forcing landlords to be present might provide more chances for them to talk with tenants and work out an alternative to eviction, Ginther said.

“We have a responsibility to (look at) what are the resources available to these individuals,” said Shelly Beiting, the commission’s executive director. “Is there a way to prevent so many people facing the eviction process?”


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