W hen it comes to equitable wages, Charlottesville is right to turn its gaze inward.

Deputy City Manager Mike Murphy notes that city leaders have been looking at equity issues in the community at large. It only makes sense for the government also to look at its own record in that regard.

While he was interim city manager, Mr. Murphy convened an advisory committee to take that look. City Council this week approved a continuation of the effort.

Already, the committee has produced some data.

In terms of base numbers, the city does well in the realm of racial equity. About 71% of its 935 full-time employees are white, 23% are black and 6% are another or of mixed race. That’s in line with the city’s general population of 69.7% white and 18.7% black.

But there’s a difference in earning power for some. Black employees make an average of $21.30 per hour, while white employees earn $25.60 on average.

The wage difference between the genders is insignificant: Women in full-time jobs make an average hourly wage of $24.52, while men are paid $24.48.

The gap between black and white workers in part-time jobs is slightly narrower, $15.72, compared to $17.29.

In another move tied to wage fairness, the city already has boosted its base pay to $15 an hour in an effort to provide what is called a “living wage,” considered the minimum necessary to support a family.

According to livingwage.mit.edu, that figure in Charlottesville is $14.84 for a household with two working adults caring for one child.

What to do with this information, and how to achieve improvement, is still being discussed.

The advisory committee proposes creating a team, composed of a councilor, community members and city staff, to generate an equity-progressive culture change within city government. But it acknowledges it doesn’t know yet even how to measure such change. Figuring out benchmarks would be part of its job.

The committee also recommends an equity office, which would include a community engagement coordinator and a data analyst — presumably to crunch those benchmark numbers once the committee can identify them. The office also would support the work of the equity team.

The aspirational aspects of these proposals contrast mightily with the practical ones.

Change of any sort can be difficult. Generating culture change is not impossible, but it often requires inspiring, even charismatic, leadership.

Members of the organization, the “culture,” generally need an emotional buy-in before they can be persuaded to change. Talented, trusted leaders can create that sense of inspiration and motivation.

As an article in the Harvard Business Review puts it, “changing … culture requires a movement, not a mandate.” Top-down directives will not succeed in the long term.

It’s far too soon to say what approach Charlottesville will take. The equity team might embody the very sense of contagious optimism and enthusiasm that the HBR authors say is necessary for successful culture change, and be able to use that enthusiasm to inspire change from the grass roots up. Benchmarks and statistics might remain mere support material, never becoming the raison d’etre or primary driving force for change.

In sum, people respond more positively to inspired leadership than to data-centric mandates. We hope Charlottesville will be able to employ this sort of inspirational model, rather than creating a new bureaucracy, to achieve its goals.

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