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Boston’s city workforce became slightly more diverse over the past year

Boston City HallLane Turner/Globe Staff

Amid a history-making year at City Hall that saw the first woman and first person of color serve as Boston’s mayor, the city’s workforce became slightly more racially diverse in 2021, although white workers still constitute half of the municipality’s 19,000-plus employees, according to a Globe analysis.

The two snapshots of the city government’s labor force were taken from January 2021, when Martin J. Walsh was in the fifth-floor corner office, and January 2022, with Mayor Michelle Wu at the city’s helm. Together, they show that the percentages of both Asian and Black employees ticked upward slightly.

Last year, 4 percent of city workers identified as Asian; this year that number edged up slightly, to 5 percent. The percentage of Black employees also increased by 1 percentage point during the 12-month period, from 29 percent to 30 percent. The percentage of Hispanic employees stayed at 14 percent, and the gender breakdown of employees remained the same: 55 percent female and 45 percent male.

The percentage of white workers decreased slightly from 51 percent last year to 50 percent this year.

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Census numbers show that Black, Asian, and Latino residents make up a majority of Boston’s population.

The changes in the city’s workforce, though slight, suggest that Wu and her predecessor, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, had some modest success in making the city’s workforce better reflect Boston’s diversity, though advocates say more change is needed.

“Demographics matter,” said the Rev. Willie Bodrick, senior pastor at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, who described himself as encouraged by the marginal shift in the overall city’s workforce.

The city’s payroll should reflect the diversity of Boston, Bodrick said in a phone interview. But he also thought Wu should be given time to settle in — the new mayor was sworn-in in November — before expecting greater change.

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“It is a tell-tale sign that there is movement in the right direction, but there is so much more work to be done,” said Bodrick.

David Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College, said he was unsurprised that the makeup of the city’s workforce did not change much in a short amount of time.

“Even if you have people at the top who want to aggressively change what kinds of people get hired and promoted, it always takes a while for that to trickle down in any large bureaucracy,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins said while many may assume that Boston’s mayor “can change everything” there are limitations such as civil service rules that can make diversifying a workforce difficult.

“In reality, there’s a lot of restrictions both legal and practical and political on what you can do, and change tends to be gradual,” he said.

The growth in the number of female department heads has been significant in the past year. In January 2021, 40 percent of department heads were women. That number is now 51 percent. That cohort of managers became slightly more Hispanic — 8 percent to 12 percent — and a little less white — 60 percent to 59 percent. The percentages for Black and Asian department heads remained the same.

Compared to January of last year, the city has about 600 fewer employees, according to the data, with the workforce dropping from 19,668 to 19,060. The city released the demographic data in response to Globe public records requests.

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The January snapshot of the city workforce obtained by the Globe through the public records request differs slightly from the data offered via an online city dashboard. In a statement, a Wu spokesman said that the city’s online dashboard includes some categories that were not part of the spreadsheet shared with the Globe. “Specifically, the dashboard includes individuals coded as seasonal, including seasonal youth employment and some coaches, as well as substitutes and those on leave,” the spokesman said.

The Wu administration’s release of city employees’ racial, ethnic, and gender information was in contrast to her predecessor. Former mayor Walsh refused to release the data after he took office in 2014, despite pledging to build an administration that reflected Boston’s increasingly diverse population.

The Globe sued the Walsh administration, and ultimately Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames ordered the city to release the records. In a ruling in May 2016, Ames wrote that “the purpose of obtaining race and ethnicity data is to prevent discrimination and promote a diverse workforce by ensuring that the city provides equal access to opportunity to all individuals.”

The judge’s decision reversed a September 2014 ruling by Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office, which oversees the state’s public records law. That ruling — made in Galvin’s office by Supervisor of Records Shawn A. Williams — said listings of gender and race for individual employees represented personnel information exempt from the public records law. (Walsh later hired Williams to be the city’s director of public records, a role he maintained under Janey and continues to hold in the Wu administration).

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Before Walsh took office, the city had routinely released the data by request.

The snapshot of the workforce earlier this month came after a tumultuous year at City Hall that included three mayors in the span of nine months. Walsh’s departure last March to join President Biden’s Cabinet meant that Kim Janey, as City Council president, became acting mayor. In doing so, Janey achieved two historic firsts: Boston’s first Black mayor and its first female mayor.

Janey ran for a full term but was eliminated in September’s preliminary contest. Wu’s victory in the November general election made her the first woman and first person of color elected city executive.

Both Wu and Janey made equity in all aspects of city government a central theme of their campaigns.

According to the Globe analysis, not much has changed during the last year in the full-time makeup of the Boston Fire Department, which critics charge has a white- and male-dominated culture. The data reveal no significant shifts in the demographics, with 94 percent of BFD remaining male and 72 percent remaining white in the year-over-year comparison.

To diversify Boston Fire, a fire cadet program was created in recent months. Many city politicians have spoken of the need to reform civil service rules, which dictate the hiring for the city’s police and fire departments, in order to achieve greater diversity in local public safety agencies.

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The numbers tell a similar story for the Boston Police Department, which has effectively done without a permanent police commissioner for about a year. The majority of full-time department employees remain white, although the last year saw their proportion decrease slightly from 65 percent to 64 percent. Like last year, the department remains more than three-quarters male.

The nation’s oldest police force did see its proportion of Hispanic employees increase somewhat during 2021; 12 percent of its employees identified as such this January compared to 11 percent last year. The percentage of Black and Asian BPD employees remained the same, at 21 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

The future of Boston police is very much in flux, with a search process underway for a new commissioner. Among other critiques, the department has come under fire in recent years for failing to keep up with the shifting demographics of the city, its force growing whiter while the city population steadily grows less so. Walsh, in an effort to diversify BPD, pushed a proposal that would modify civil service rules to include a preference for Boston high school graduates. The home rule petition, however, did not receive the State House approval it needed to become a reality.

Boston Public Schools, too, saw little change in the demographics of its workforce. The chunk of its full-time workers who are female was unchanged at 72 percent. The district’s full-time labor force did become slightly less white, 47 percent last year compared to 45 percent this year, and slightly more Hispanic, 15 percent ticking up to 16 percent in recent months. The number of total employees dipped from 9,740 to 9,625.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him @Danny__McDonald. Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him @globeandrewryan.