One of many roundtables at the Denver Gender Equity Summit, where groups discussed approaches to issues and voted electronically on them.EXPAND
One of many roundtables at the Denver Gender Equity Summit, where groups discussed approaches to issues and voted electronically on them.
Andrew Repp

Denver Gender Equity Summit Tackles Wage Gap, Housing Issues

At the first-ever Denver Gender Equity Summit, on Wednesday, May 31, organizers took a fresh approach to gender issues like the wage gap in Denver, where women make 81 cents for every dollar made by men.

The summit drew more than 400 business and nonprofit leaders and government officials to a CU-Denver auditorium, using a "21st century town hall" format, in which hundreds of attendees electronically voted on ways to find solutions to gender issues in the workplace for city government and policymakers.

Top issues at the conference included the wage gap between men and women, homelessness, work-family balance and affordable housing — the last of which is a "top priority for the city of Denver," said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who spoke at the summit and whose office co-hosted the event.

Topics discussed at the conference included "quality affordable child care, education, housing, transportation, health care and food services," "transparency regarding hiring practices, pay structures and rates" and "multiple options for paid leave (i.e., care for family/children/elders, sabbatical) for all employees, regardless of gender and family structure." Recommendations that came out of those discussions will be given to mayors across Colorado, eleven of whom attended the summit.

"We're going to do a followup with all of the elected leaders around here and through Colorado — so [the summit] has statewide impacts, which is profound," says Betsy McKinney, founder of It's Time Network, which co-sponsored the event with the Denver Women's Commission. McKinney will help assemble the policy recommendations into a "Mayors Guide" to gender issues that may be used by the Denver Women's Commission and other groups in Denver.

"The recommendations that came out of that daylong conversation provide a broad diversity of employers with some concrete suggestions that could be implemented to accelerate progress for women and girls, which of course translates into progress for us all," Hancock said in a statement after the summit.

In his speech at the event, Hancock cited recent successes like closing the wage gap for city employees while affirming his commitment to tackling women's issues.

McKinney recognizes that government can't solve all of these problems alone, and also focused on making connections with summit attendees. "All of the work that is being done at the governmental level is critical, but if you don't have people in the government who are friendly, those commissions can...be de-funded and made ineffective," she says. "So we as women — and men — have to take this issue together into our own hands, in our own cities, to build long-term infrastructure."

Men were relatively scarce at the conference, but McKinney affirms that the turnout was a success.

"If you have more than a quarter of men in the room, then you have broken the ceiling in getting men to come," she explains. "Gender equity is not about women; it is about all of us working together. We have a man at almost every table, and that is a huge accomplishment."

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