City makes progress on diversity of workforce: report

The Office of the City Controller released its annual report last month reviewing the diversity of Philadelphia’s exempt workforce in 2021, which shows that new hires have become consistent with the demographics of the city for the first time since the report’s inception.

In creating its data points, the review calculated departmental diversity for the over 4,700 exempt employees that make up the city’s workforce, taking into consideration new hires and hires that made salaries of $90,000 or greater. In creating a picture of the interdepartmental representation, Census data was used to compare departmental diversity to the city’s demographic breakdown.

“For the first time in the four years since the Controller’s Office has been conducting this diversity review, new hires are consistent with citywide demographics. This progress is significant and a positive step in the right direction toward a workforce that mirrors Philadelphia’s population,” said acting City Controller Christy Brady.

According to Census data, the city of Philadelphia’s population is 67% diverse, with the breakdown showing that 38.6% of this figure are Black or African American, 15.9% are Hispanic, 7.5% are Asian and 5% are classified as Other.

In comparison, only 47.3% of the city’s overall exempt workforce in 2021 was considered diverse.

However, there was a 1.5% increase in the overall diverse population of the city’s exempt workforce when compared to the 45.8% figure in 2020, which falls in line with the trend that has seen the city increase its diverse representation incrementally each fiscal year since the review started.

According to Jolene Nieves Byzon, the communications director for the City Controller’s office, there are a variety of reasons why it is important for the demographics of the city’s workforce to match the overall makeup of the city itself.

“Studies show that it is a good thing when the city government’s workforce is representative of the people they serve. It inspires trust, it can build better relationships. You're more likely to have better service,” said Byzon.

Larger strides were made in the representation of new hires, which saw 63.3% of all new hires in 2021 considered diverse, which is an increase of 9.6% when compared to 2020’s 53.7% figure. According to the Controller’s office, this statistic shows that diversity in new hires “improved significantly” in 2021.

“This jump is a big increase and it's by far … the biggest increase in any year that we've reviewed this,” Byzon said.

This improvement brought the workforce much closer to being in line with the city's 67% diversity figure, which Byzon says is a major marker the city is striving to reach.

Another area that saw an improvement in diversity was in the city’s executive new hires, a category that includes positions with salaries totaling at least $90,000. Diverse representation in the executive new hires increased from 47.4% in 2020 to 58.7% in 2021, bringing the group much closer to the demographics of the citywide population.

Overall, the size of the city’s exempt workforce decreased in 2021 compared to 2020, with 181 fewer new hires and 109 fewer overall exempt employees. The review attributes this decline to “hiring freezes and increased attrition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Byzon said that although the decrease in new hires and the overall population of exempt workers may have skewed the percentages slightly this year, she still views the increases in diversity as “a big positive” that nonetheless still shows room for improvement moving forward.

“In previous years, the increases have been incremental but small, and this is a much more positive step. There were fewer new hires this year. That is something that you should kind of have in your mind when you're looking at this data. There are fewer exempt employees this year overall. Those are due to hiring freezes and attrition. It just is sort of how the process works this year. That may play a role in the numbers. … So it's a step in the right direction, but more work could be done there,” Byzon said.

From The Philadelphia Tribune
Photo: Brittani Burns