The people who work for Massachusetts cities and towns are overwhelmingly whiter and older than the communities or region that they serve, creating a looming diversity challenge as public employees retire, according to a study released this week by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) in Boston this week.
Using Census data from the American Community Survey and locally reported demographic information, MAPC analyzed municipal workforces by race, ethnicity and gender in more than 160 cities and towns across the Commonwealth. The resulting report, “Diversity Deficit: Municipal Employees in Greater Boston,” paints a dismal picture of the lack of diversity among our municipal workforce, and recommends steps we can all take to overcome and address this lack of representation.
“We all have a stake in making sure our public servants reflect the makeup of our communities and the entire region, whether that’s by race, ethnicity, age, or gender,” said Marc Draisen, Executive Director of MAPC, which helps cities and towns in Greater Boston plan for the future and collaborate on common challenges.
“A municipal workforce that doesn’t look much like the community it serves or the region as a whole may have a hard time understanding resident problems and needs,” he continued. “In an era when the racial and ethnic diversity of the region’s population is fast changing, and there’s growing attention to longstanding issues of injustice and discrimination, it is critical for any employer to have a representative and diverse workforce. This is especially true for cities and towns.”
According to the research, the municipal workforce skews older than the civilian workforce, with a wave of retirements projected to stress the system over the next decade. More than half of current city and town employees will be past traditional retirement age – 65 years old – by 2030, creating an even greater need for new workers to staff municipal functions like libraries, animal control, municipal department heads, DPW, school nurses, receptionists, emergency dispatchers, and more.
Additionally, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity plaguing the workforce of many cities and towns is already even more pronounced among younger workers, who may not see a home for themselves in civic jobs. This is compounded by the fact that the racial and ethnic gap among managers and department heads is particularly severe.
Representation of people of color among senior management in municipalities helps to shift workplace culture, and also provides hope of advancement to entry-level and mid-career staff of color, the study points out. If paired with equitable HR policies and practices, better representation among management-level municipal staff can positively impact policy decisions that affect the public, and foster more trust among government and marginalized communities. Jobs with fewer formal education requirements can also provide expanded opportunities to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, opening up access to the stable employment and living wages public-sector jobs can provide.
Some municipalities have made strong efforts at diversifying their workforce, while others lag behind. Overall:
•Workers born before 1970 make up 52% of all full-time local government workers, compared to 46% of the region’s overall labor force;
•People of color are under-represented among municipal employees, and this disparity is even worse among younger workers – an extremely concerning trend as more senior workers retire;
•Current municipal workers are much more likely to be male, except for predominantly female education occupations;
•And law enforcement in particular is made up of 78% white males, a group that constitutes just 35% of the population at large.
So how can Greater Boston’s residents and policy makers go about fixing this diversity deficit? The report suggests several changes to recruitment methods and hiring practices:
•Each municipality should collect and report data around municipal workforce demographics, on an annual basis, and according to consistent statewide data standards;
•Ensure candidates of color are interviewed for senior positions;
•Re-evaluate hiring based on residency for some jobs;
•Create employee affinity groups to improve retention through peer support;
•Withdraw police and fire departments from the state’s civil service program, replacing it instead with locally tailored criteria meant to mirror the community’s specific needs, including diversity;
•Develop internship, fellowship, and mentoring programs for young people of color, to help spur municipal hiring.
“If we are truly serious about addressing the lack of diversity in the municipal workforce, we must also begin to tackle deficiencies in how these work environments may be structured,” said Seleeke Flingai, Lead Researcher and Report author.
“Diversity recruitment efforts can only go so far if the workplace one enters is toxic or restricting for marginalized people. To see real, sustainable change, we must do the work of transforming our workplaces to become more equitable, anti-racist, anti-sexist institutions.”
To read the full report, visit metrocommon.mapc.org.