fb-pixel Skip to main content

Walsh gets mixed results on diversity

Diversity was a theme in Martin J. Walsh’s campaign for Boston mayor, but diversity in the municipal workforce has increased marginally under his tenure.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has increased diversity at City Hall, but as he gears up for reelection the mayor remains short of his promise to build a municipal workforce that fully reflects Boston’s population, according to a Globe analysis of payroll demographics.

The data also show that the overwhelmingly white payroll of the powerful Boston Planning & Development Agency (formerly the Boston Redevelopment Authority) has become less diverse during Walsh’s tenure, when 65 percent of new hires have been white.

Diversity in the city and its government played a defining role in Walsh’s 2013 campaign, when support in predominantly black, Latino, and Asian neighborhoods propelled him to a narrow victory. People of color have constituted a majority of the city’s population for nearly two decades, but the demographic shift has not been reflected in government.


The Walsh administration, after less than three years in office, says it has worked hard to diversify the city workforce, and pointed to what it described as an unprecedented emphasis on outreach and recruitment. City Hall has launched a new recruiting system and job fairs in Mattapan, Roxbury, Grove Hall, and other neighborhoods that are home, predominantly, to people of color.

“The mayor has delivered on his promise on a lot of things when it comes to diversity,” said Danielson Tavares, chief diversity officer. “We have a workforce of about 14,000. Obviously, that’s not going to change overnight, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Critics, though, say Walsh’s administration could do more.

“Mayor Walsh promised that the diversity in city hiring would match the diversity of the city. To date, one has to conclude that he has been largely unsuccessful,” said Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition, a civic rights organization. “His efforts for diversity should be applauded, but it is in no way good enough given the high expectations he raised with voters.”


The city’s roughly 14,000 full-time, permanent employees — including teachers, police, and firefighters — were 38 percent black, Latino, or Asian in March 2013, when Thomas M. Menino announced he would not seek a sixth term as mayor. Since Walsh took office, the city’s payroll has shifted slightly and is now 39 percent people of color.

That still leaves the demographics at City Hall out of sync with Boston’s population, which is 53 percent people of color, according to the most recent data from the US census.

In statements before and after his election, Walsh vowed to increase diversity in city government.

“Even before being sworn in as mayor, I made some very ambitious and serious promises about increasing diversity across our workforce and ensuring that city government reflects the people we represent,” Walsh said in 2014.

The Globe analyzed the city payroll and quasipublic agencies under the mayor’s control — the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, Boston Housing Authority, Boston Public Health Commission, and Boston Planning & Development Agency.

The data, which took months to acquire through several public records requests, represent a snapshot of the workforce from mid-May through July. Under Walsh, new hires at City Hall and the four related agencies have been 54 percent white and 54 percent female.

The administration authored what it said was the city’s first report examining diversity in municipal government and created the first Office of Diversity, which is in the process of adding a third staff member to bolster its efforts.

The administration noted that hiring has been more diverse — although a slim majority of new employees were still white — when civil service positions such as police and firefighters are excluded.


Civil service exams and mandated preference for military veterans can make it harder, city officials said, to increase diversity. Since Walsh took office, 90 percent of new firefighters and 75 percent of new police have been white.

Diversity advocates such as the NAACP’s Michael Curry rejected the city’s explanation for the police and fire departments, however, saying city leaders “don’t get a pass on any agency or department because effort needs to go into diversifying all our city departments.”

“The city’s government does not fully reflect the city of Boston,” said Curry, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch. “Departments and agencies like the Boston police, Boston Fire Department, and the BRA are desperately in need of a racial makeover.”

City officials acknowledged the challenge of attracting applicants and building employment pipelines into neighborhoods and ethnic groups that have not traditionally looked to City Hall for career opportunities.

“There is pressure coming from the mayor to make sure we get these numbers up,” Tavares said.

As part of the push, the city created an employee demographics “dashboard” on it is website that, according to a May press release, would display “regularly updated statistics on the makeup of city staff.”

But the dashboard had been idle since its debut four months ago until the Globe inquired about the inactivity in mid-September.

A spokeswoman said it had not changed because the human resources department was upgrading its software, and the dashboard would now be updated monthly.


At first glance, the dashboard shows a payroll that is nearly half people of color. But more than one-third of the workers in that display are temporary or part-time employees and students, who are overwhelmingly people of color.

The Web interface allows users to filter the data to show only full-time, permanent employees, which yields a dramatically different picture. The proportion of white employees jumps to 61 percent.

When Walsh took office, he fulfilled a campaign pledge to install a more diverse cabinet, and people of color constitute at least half of his cabinet. But Walsh’s small inner circle of senior staff — who wield the most power and meet most mornings — is predominantly white.

Administration officials said that attendance at senior staff meetings can vary and include a diverse cast of officials.

At the city’s four related agencies, the Globe found that the Housing Authority and Public Health Commission have remained diverse under Walsh. The Water and Sewer Commission payroll has become slightly more diverse and is now 36 percent people of color, up from 32 percent in 2013.

But the Planning & Development Agency has gone in the opposite direction. Payroll records from June showed 32 percent of workers were people of color, and 43 percent were women. That was lower than in 2013, when people of color constituted 34 percent of the workforce and women were at 46 percent.

To show it was working to improve diversity at the development agency, the Walsh administration cited data showing that from the start of the administration through mid-September, 35 percent of new hires were people of color, and 47 percent were women.

In a statement, the administration noted that women fill many of the agency’s leadership roles, including chief of staff, director of planning, and general counsel.


For the first time, two women sit on the authority’s board, one of whom is Latina.

“Over the past several years the [former] BRA has made progress toward diversifying its workforce,” the statement said. “The BRA will continue to work to recruit diverse candidate pools during the hiring process for job openings and use the resources of the city’s chief of diversity.”

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com .