Compared with other Front Range cities, the city of Colorado Springs lags significantly when it comes to employing women.
Just 30 percent of the city's workers are female. That compares to 43 percent in the city of Boulder, 40 percent in the city of Fort Collins, and 39 percent in the city and county of Denver, according to Independent research.
"I'm not surprised," says Colorado Springs City Manager Lorne Kramer, although the specific comparisons are new to him.
Kramer says he has long known that women are proportionally more underrepresented in Colorado Springs government than any single minority. And the trend spans most city departments up into the elite management jobs, where key decisions are made.
There's been little quantifiable progress in the two years Kramer has worked to shrink the gap. Still, the male-dominated culture identified in 2004 by a women's "barriers and hurdles" committee has started to understand that attracting and retaining women employees is an ongoing concern, Kramer says.
Lots of secretaries
Made up of several high-ranking female employees, the committee concluded that a male bias permeated the city's workplaces.
"Currently, many women in our organization experience lack of respect," the committee wrote to Kramer on Aug. 12, 2004, noting an "overall lack of concern or awareness that we have a problem."
"I think that's honest," says Kramer, looking back. "It was the kind of feedback I was looking for."
Among its recommendations, the committee concluded the city should re-emphasize core values, such as respect and teamwork; that it should include women in departmental decision-making; and that women should help decide who to hire.
Those recommendations, and others, such as a formal mentor program, were implemented, says Kramer.
For example, he says, "It is now policy that at least one woman be on hiring panels."
To keep tabs on progress, the city also requires department managers to regularly review statistics, including male-to-female ratios, although no hiring quotas are in place.
"We recommended no numeric goals, but our progress is quantifiable quarter to quarter, year to year," says public communications director Sue Skiffington-Blumberg, a member of the committee.
While the city's female labor force is overrepresented in jobs like secretarial work, women are vastly underrepresented in many departments.
Kramer points to slight gains of women in managerial positions as progress. But the overall percentage of female city workers has stood stagnant at 30 percent. In 2004, 772 of the city's 2,559 employees were women. Currently, 764 of the city's 2,514 employees are women.
Taken to court
Little headway has been made in bringing more women to the police and fire departments, which are overwhelmingly male. Fourteen percent of Colorado Springs' police officers are women, and 5 percent of firefighters are women.
While Denver has slightly smaller percentages of women police and firefighters than Colorado Springs, percentages in Boulder and Fort Collins are significantly higher.
Twenty-five percent of Boulder's police force is female, as is 10 percent of its fire department. In Fort Collins, those percentages are 17 and 10, respectively.
Kramer, a former Colorado Springs police chief, says recruiting and retaining women and minority police and fire officers is a priority.
"We've dedicated a little more money in terms of recruitment and advertising," he says.
But those efforts haven't prevented allegations of gender unfairness.
A lawsuit filed against the city two months ago by Karyn S. Palgut alleges discrimination in the fire trainee process. In 2004, at 40 years old, Palgut was one of two female firefighter trainees in a class of 18. The suit states that she faced "more rigorous testing standards than others in her class because of her sex."
The city denies the allegations, according to documents in federal court.
Violet Heath, the city's human resources manager, says city workers, particularly men, have made strides in reversing the bias identified by the barriers and hurdles committee two years ago. She expects that over time, the percentage of female city workers will rise.
"We always say we're on a journey, and we're in this for the long haul," she says. "This isn't going to happen overnight."