City of Houston:
Unequal opportunity employer
Women are underpaid and under-employed in city government.
BY JANICE BLUE
Eleanor Tinsley is taking action on affirmative action. Some have apparently
advised the new city councilwoman to
take on a safer issue, "like flooding," but
Tinsley told her research assistant, Goldie
Waghalter, "I may be a one-term council
member but I want my two years to have
an impact. I don't want to be around here
for 10 years and do nothing."
In early March, two months into her
first term in City Hall, the former HISD
school board president took an unprecedented step for a member of city council.
She called a press conference and unveiled some hard statistics. Tinsley's
"Study on Women in City Government,"
commissioned by her and researched by
Waghalter, showed that women are underutilized and earn lower salaries on the
average than men city employees. The
average bi-weekly salary for all male
employees is $430, or $11,180 per year.
The average bi-weekly salary for female
employees is $341, or $8,886 per year.
These figures do not include firefighters
and police officers.
Her report targeted four city departments that had no women in key positions—aviation, real estate, city planning
and traffic and transportation. The latter
department only has women employed as
Tinsley emphasized that she was not
accusing the city of discrimination but
rather pointing out that "the city is not
taking advantage of the wealth of skill
women have to offer. That is the city's
and the taxpayers' loss."
The result, she says, is that "a lot of
women are leaving and a lot of women
who've been with the city for years are
simply frustrated. They're at a dead end.
They're the ones you hear about who
train supervisor after supervisor and get
No discrimination cases have been
judged against the city. "We're hoping we
can do things that will avoid having an
expensive case for the city," she said.
The city adopted an affirmative action
plan back in 1974, but the disparity continues in almost every job classification.
As of January 1980, Tinsley pointed out:
#Administrators represent four percent
of city employees: 74 percent male and
26 percent female.
# 12 percent of city employees are in
the professional category: 48 percent
male and 52 percent female.
0 Technical workers make up 13 percent:
71 percent male and 29 percent female.
% Protective Services (excluding police
and fire) employ 3 percent: 77 percent
male and 23 percent female.
# Para-professionals comprise one percent: eleven percent are male and 89
#18 percent of the city's labor force is
in clerical-related positions: seven percent
male and 93 percent female.
# Service and maintenance workers
make up 36 percent: 90 percent male and
10 percent female.
One of Tinsley's great concerns is for
the women clustered in the lowest jobs in
Eleanor Tinsley (r) and Goldie Waghalter published a "Study on Women in City Government1
the city. Ninety-three percent of the clerical workers are women. Tinsley pointed
out that clerical workers are the lowest
paid of all city employees. Even here,
"men are apt to earn more than women,"
said Tinsley of the seven-percent-male
clerical work force. Clerical salaries fall
below service and maintenance workers.
Using the bi-weekly average earnings of
employees hired since January 1, 1977,
Tinsley noted that women clericals made
$341, whereas men in service and maintenance jobs average $430 and women
workers there averaged $370. (See table
Her recommendations for upgrading
the status of women in city employment
include plans to re-evaluate the career
counseling program, set centralized training programs, and to strengthen the
affirmative action enforcement powers.
The Affirmative Action Division has
been "a department with no teeth. There
are no penalties for non-compliance. Tins-
ley says and empathizes with the frustration of its new director, Erie Calloway,
who was appointed during McConn's first
term of office. "Erie came into a department that had not made any reports since
1975. She's trying to standardize the
record keeping. She's asked department
heads to come and be briefed and they
just send representatives (to the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee meetings). She's had trouble getting goals and
The Affirmative Action Division of the
Mayor's office requested all city departments to prepare their goals and timetables for the period July 1, 1979 through
June 30, 1980 by last August 20. It was
only after the Tinsley—Waghalter inquiries
around the first of the year that the delinquent departments started working on
their projections of hiring goals for
women and minorities. All but one turned
in the reports in March, seven months late.
Heading the list of the late filers was
the civil service department. Ironically,
its director, Al James, held Calloway's job
as chief of affirmative action before
moving over to "the real power job," as
one member of the Affirmative Action
Advisory Commission calls this civil service post.
Tinsley issued a press release in late
March naming the departments who filed
their goals and timetables seven months
late. In addition to civil service, they were
the civic center, the city secretary's office
and the civil defense and health departments. The treasury department never
turned one in. "It would appear that
(these departments) are not taking affirmative action seriously," says Tinsley,
warning, "We have to take care of
our own house or else Washington might
come in and do it for us."
"Erie told us that with Eleanor's interest in this area, it has made her job a lot
easier. People are starting to take her seriously because what we're saying is that
affirmative action is a serious issue," says
Waghalter, a UH graduate student in political science.
Tinsley, determined that this study on
women in city government will not end
up in a file like those documented by the
now-defunct Office of the Women's Advocate, under Poppy Northcutt and later,
Nikki Van Hightower.
Van Hightower says she is pleased
Tinsley has made affirmative action a priority. "Eleanor obviously cares. She is the
first person who has done anything about
it (affirmative action) that really even has
any possibility of making any changes.
Neither Poppy nor I did. She's an elected
official. She votes on the budget. She has
bargaining power. We had none."
Tinsley intends to use her clout at the
city budget hearings. "I can start asking
every department head, 'What was your
goal for 1979? Where are you in it?' and
they have to answer, because I'll be
voting on their budget," she says. "I'll
have the figures. I'll know what they've
One of the people who will have some
hard explaining to do is Del Marvel, director of the traffic and transportation
department. The only women in his
department are the eight clerical workers.
Marvel was "with the highway department for 30 years" and came over to the
city post two years ago as a McConn appointee. "First, we have to have them
that are willing, that want to apply. As
far as any reluctance to hire women (on
our part). No, if they want to tackle it,
He says he doesn't do any recruiting
but any time he has a vacancy he follows
what is his interpretation of city policy
and that is "to put that vacancy to, what
do you call it, civil service, yes, Al James,
to civil service. We have rules that we can
pick the top three applicants that come
in, but to my knowledge, I have never
seen three. If we get a response it's only
one, and with the employment the way it
is here in Houston, we grab whoever
qualifies." „ i