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Teachers, officers, firefighters, and other municipal workers don’t reflect Greater Boston’s diversity, new study shows

“With a diverse workforce, you have the opportunity to engage with people from different cultures and backgrounds.” -- Yvonne M. Spicer, mayor of Framingham
“With a diverse workforce, you have the opportunity to engage with people from different cultures and backgrounds.” -- Yvonne M. Spicer, mayor of FraminghamPat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

They do the day-to-day work of local government, but the region’s teachers, police officers, firefighters, public health nurses, and other municipal employees do not reflect the diversity of the Greater Boston area, a new report found.

At a time of nationwide protests against racial inequities, the study by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that the municipal workforce in Metro Boston is both whiter and older than the region’s civilian workforce and population.

White people make up 85 percent of municipal employees in the 164-community area studied, compared with 74 percent of the civilian workforce. Particularly under-represented are Latinx employees, who hold 5 percent of municipal jobs, and Asians, who hold 2 percent. Fifty-two percent of the public employees are over 50, compared with 46 percent of civilian employees.

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In addition, outside of school and library employment — where they predominate — women hold just 41 percent of municipal jobs, 2 percent below their share of civilian jobs.

Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said the research “portrays how across the board cities and towns need to figure out a better path to diversifying their workforces.

“These findings prove what most of us who work in municipal government can see just by using our eyes. But it does it in such a stark manner that it gives us a clear means of expressing the urgency of action to others in our local governments,” he added.

Rebecca Davis, deputy executive director of the MAPC, said the study is timely given the national protests. “A lot of cities and towns are taking this moment to really do some deep reflection on how their systems might contribute to racial inequities,” she said.

“Racial and gender diversity in the municipal workforce is crucial because people should see themselves reflected in their government but also in its policies and programs,” said Jessie Partridge Guerrero, research manager for the MAPC.

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A notably severe example of racial and gender imbalance cited in the report is that 78 percent of police department employees and 84 percent of fire department employees are white males.

The pronounced aging of the municipal workforce is also a significant concern, Guerrero said, citing the “knowledge gap” cities and towns face with nearly half their employees set to hit retirement age by 2030.

Because only a handful of cities and towns keep comprehensive statistics on the subject, the MAPC does not provide individual community data on workforce demographics, but instead a regional picture largely derived from US Census data.

“Our approach in recent years has been to do a broad outreach for positions. ... However, we continue to strive to do better.” -- Dottie Fulginiti, chair of the Easton Select Board.
“Our approach in recent years has been to do a broad outreach for positions. ... However, we continue to strive to do better.” -- Dottie Fulginiti, chair of the Easton Select Board.Kristina Yakavonis

The report offers several bright spots, including that the share of Black people holding municipal jobs — at 6 percent — about equals their share in the civilian workforce. MAPC officials cautioned, though, that there may be wide disparities in hiring among communities.

The report also saluted several communities for their efforts, noting for instance that Chelsea, whose population is 66 percent Latinx, worked to ensure new hires are often people of color, and that candidates of color are interviewed for senior positions.

Roy Avellaneda, president of the Chelsea City Council, believes the city’s workforce is diverse, but that more needs to be done.

Recently, Chelsea declared racism a local public health emergency, and the city intends to hire a diversity officer to promote inclusiveness in hiring and contracting.

“Because city government is a customer relations kind of entity, to best serve residents it makes absolute common sense that it should reflect the community itself,” said Avellaneda, who in 2001 became the first LatinX to be elected at large to the Chelsea City Council.

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Framingham Mayor Yvonne M. Spicer said the fact that she is the first Black woman to serve as a popularly elected mayor in Massachusetts — and only the second popularly elected Black mayor overall following former Newton mayor Setti Warren — “indicates the lack of people in government representing diverse backgrounds.”

When she took office in 2018, Spicer said she asked her human resources director for data on Framingham’s workforce demographics, and learned that in a city with 30 percent people of color, 91 percent of its non-school employees were white.

“I made it clear to her that we’ve got to do better,” she said.

Since then, the city has taken such steps as posting all job openings in multiple languages. More recently, Spicer has begun requiring managers to report to her on their efforts to seek diverse candidates in their hires. The city also plans to hire an equity and inclusion officer.

Spicer, who believes municipal workforces also need to be inclusive of people with different sexual orientations and linguistic backgrounds and those with disabilities, said the entire community benefits from such diversity.

“With a diverse workforce, you have the opportunity to engage with people from different cultures and backgrounds,” she said.

The MAPC study recommends communities collect and publish demographic data and then implement plans to increase their workforce diversity. It also cites job tenure protections, certain collective bargaining agreements, and civil service rules — such as residency requirements and veterans’ preferences — as possible obstacles to diversity that communities and the state should evaluate.

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In Arlington, Chapdelaine said he believes the civil service system does hinder diverse hiring, citing as other obstacles the challenge of creating a “welcoming and inclusive culture” and historic zoning policies that limit diversity in local housing.

Arlington’s own efforts to address the issue, he said, include hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator and arranging for department managers to be trained on the “importance of racial equity and diversity” in the workplace. The town is also now “blind screening,” or blocking out applicant names in initial resume reviews to prevent bias.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said it is not surprising that diversity in municipal workplaces is lacking since that is the case in the private sector. But Rivera said his own city — which is 75 percent to 80 percent people of color — has shown the problem is not unsolvable.

Since he took office in 2014, Rivera said the diversity of the city’s non-school workforce has risen nearly 20 percent, to 55.5 percent. Most notably, of 70 police officers hired in those years, 59 have been people of color. The department is now 51 percent people of color.

Rivera said one way for a community to advance its diversity goals is by hiring people of color as senior managers. Of his 25 department heads, 18 are people of color and nine are women.

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“If the people in charge are diverse, they in turn hire folks who are diverse,” he said.

Rivera also observed that municipalities often create job descriptions with inflated qualifications, limiting the applicant pool. A better approach, he said, is to seek “qualified people that can do the job — you just don’t have unicorns.”

In Easton, Select Board chairwoman Dottie Fulginiti said, “Our approach in recent years has been to do a broad outreach for positions. We are always seeking to include a diverse range of candidates. However, we continue to strive to do better.” She said her board also has been making a concerted effort to recruit volunteers from diverse backgrounds for town boards.

Fulginiti believes one way to make municipal workforces more diverse is to have local colleges and universities encourage more students to prepare for those jobs.

“If you let students know that municipal government offers great jobs with a lot of good benefits, maybe younger people would consider that as a career path,” she said.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.

“Because city government is a customer relations kind of entity, to best serve residents it makes absolute common sense that it should reflect the community itself." -- Roy Avellaneda, president of the Chelsea City Council
“Because city government is a customer relations kind of entity, to best serve residents it makes absolute common sense that it should reflect the community itself." -- Roy Avellaneda, president of the Chelsea City CouncilPat Greenhouse/Globe Staff