UC Researchers to Lead Cincinnati Gender Equality Study

Last month, Cincinnati became just the seventh American municipality to pass an ordinance recognizing the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which nearly 190 countries — the U.S. not among them —

have ratified


Although then-President Jimmy Carter’s administration signed on to the treaty in 1980, Congress has never ratified it. Communities like Cincinnati are providing increasing grassroots pressure for the U.S. to do so.

Cincinnati’s recent ordinance passage may be attributed in part to action by the non-governmental organization

Cities for CEDAW

, which lobbies America’s state, county and municipal governments to “make the global local” by acceding to the international women’s rights convention.

San Francisco became the first American city to do so, in 1989. Cincinnati is just the third municipality east of the Mississippi River to pass a CEDAW ordinance.

The effort to make Cincinnati a “CEDAW city” began in May 2015, with

passage of Resolution 43-2015

, which called for the Mayor and Council to, “express their support for Cities for Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and their support for the individual cities passing resolutions and ordinances to implement the principles of CEDAW.”

The 2015 resolution was proposed by Vice-Mayor David Mann and submitted by Councilmember Christopher Seelbach. This year’s passage of a formal, CEDAW-recognizing ordinance will back the city’s expression of support with concrete actions.

"Issues of gender equality and equity are extremely important to the vibrancy of Cincinnati,” Councilmember PG Sittenfeld responded via e-mail. “The City of Cincinnati has shown its willingness to lead on this area.”

University of Cincinnati professors Amy Lind and Anne Sisson Runyan co-lead gender equality study   

As part of its recognition of CEDAW, Cincinnati’s governing council provided funding for a citywide gender analysis of its various departments and of citizens’ access to its services, and gave itself 120 days to appoint a formal task force on gender equality. The University of Cincinnati was tapped to lead the initial study.

Amy Lind

, Mary Ellen Heintz Professor and head of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), and

Anne Sisson Runyan

, professor of political science and WGSS, are two co-leaders of the study, which will use both quantitative and qualitative analysis to examine gender equality in the Queen City.

The study will be structured to directly compare, “those people with the same kinds of educational backgrounds, those people with the same years on the job, etcetera, and then be able to set those factors aside and see how gender is statistically significant,” Runyan said.

“We’ll be able to use enough variables to determine if their salary, job titles, etcetera, are a result of gender discrimination,” she added, noting that disparities often aren’t obvious at first glance. Gender discrimination can be obscured in the act of role creation.

A management opportunity given to a male employee, for example, might come with a director’s title and attendant salary grade, while a similarly qualified female candidate might be offered the same responsibilities with a less prestigious title, like supervisor, and accordingly lower salary.

Other forms of gender discrimination in city government might include fewer advancement opportunities for women or gender non-normative individuals, or disproportional gender representation within a department (e.g., police and fire divisions in many municipalities are male-dominated, while health services typically shade toward higher ratios of female staffers).

The study will also examine whether the government conducts its business in discriminatory fashion. Such instances might include lower-than-expected ratios of women-owned or LGBTQ-owned businesses in a department’s supply chain, incomplete or obstructed access to community services for women and gender-queer individuals, or budget cut proposals which disproportionately target social safety-net programs that, typically, more women than men rely on.

“We anticipate that the study results may show we have work to do,” Mann wrote. “This council is prepared to roll up our sleeves and work until the goals of CEDAW are achieved."

He agreed that efforts to end gender disparity in the Tristate are ongoing imperatives. They have been, he said, throughout his 43-year career in public service.

“I don’t know that there were any female department directors,” in 1974, when he was first elected to city council, Mann remembered, “much less African-American female department directors.”

“There are now,” he acknowledged. “But maybe not as many as there should be. The studies of which I’m aware, generally, continue to confirm that we’re not there yet. This is a step in the process to get local conclusions. I wouldn’t be surprised to find we have a lot of work to do yet in Cincinnati.”

“The hope is that this is just a start,” Lind said, and that “it will lead to more substantive changes within government, but also in terms of how the government thinks about governance and planning more broadly.”

“The idea of gender analysis, [of] gender-responsive budgeting, is to weave into city and other organizations’ practices good governance with respect to gender equality,” Runyan added.

What Cincinnati is getting right

National policy aside, Cincinnati seems to have pulled ahead of the curve, at least vis-a-vis making efforts to examine gender equality.

Runyan pointed out that The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation has been conducting its targeted, topical

PULSE studies

on gender equality in Cincinnati since 2005. Those studies are conducted as a volunteer-based community research project, in which she and other UC professors participate. Former UC President Nancy Zimpher was one of its original co-chairs.

Sittenfeld noted that Council this term approved paid family leave, created of an Office of Economic Inclusion, and achieved a perfect rating for the city on the Human Rights Commission's 2017 Municipal Equality Index.

“We have made great strides to close gaps related to gender, and our commitment continues,” he wrote.

Mann, for his part, isn’t quite ready to declare victory. Although there have been some reductions in gender disparity in city government over the course of his career, the mere fact that there are now some women and some non-white department heads is “misleadingly comforting,” he said.

“Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves,” Mann cautioned. “We have to change attitudes. We have to evaluate directors and supervisors with respect to their attitudes and performance in achieving parity.”

“The money is set aside, there’s going to be a task force and it’s a collaborative effort with support from multiple sources,” he said. “The task force will include some suggestions in its work, then we’ll take a careful look at them.”

Building bridges with international communities

Lind noted that the survey team will report its findings to the United Nations and to international researchers, to foster better global understanding of the social mechanisms that create gender disparities at the local level.

“The international networks that are focused on this are very interested in cities like Cincinnati,” she said. ”We’ll be presenting our findings at the annual

Committees on the Status of Women

meetings in New York.”

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