Friday, May 17, 2024

Cambridge City Hall, seen in November 2020. Municipal diversity hiring is the topic of a report released Tuesday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge city government leaders have good intentions but mixed performance when it comes to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive city workforce, a long-waited consultant’s report says. The city posted the report, expected some seven months ago, on its website Tuesday.

The city “has made a clear commitment” to diversity, equity and inclusion, the report by consultant Working Ideal said, citing initiatives such as establishing a department of equity and inclusion, expanding the office of affirmative action and commissioning the consultant’s work. Yet there are fewer women and people of color in full-time city jobs than in the workforce as a whole; fewer Asian and Latino employees than their proportion of the city population; and diversity varies widely among individual departments, the report said.

Black and Asian job seekers are more likely to be hired for part-time than for full-time jobs. Men account for two-thirds of full-time positions – and some departments, such as fire and police, are overwhelmingly white and male, the report said, though it praised the police department’s effort to recruit Cambridge residents and people of color by establishing a cadet program.

Besides police, the report singled out the Department of Human Service Programs for its focus on diversity. The department, which provides child care and other youth programs, has the highest percentage of people of color among city departments. The report said the department’s “recruitment, hiring and promotion efforts are enhanced by its racial equity and justice initiative,” which includes using diverse panels to screen applicants and sometimes recruiting “through direct personal networking with people of color.”

The public library, which also came in for praise, “reported diversity, equity and inclusion hiring goals in its strategic plan and as an important department goal. The library also reported efforts to coordinate with the Office of Equity and Inclusion in making a leadership hire, although that ultimately did not occur,” the report said.

“In contrast, other departments did not provide any information about how diversity, equity and inclusion fit into their hiring efforts at all, or any efforts at coordination with other relevant departments,” it said.

Signs of resistance

Responses to a survey by the consultant indicated that “some managers perceive a tension between diversity and employee quality,” the report said. Examples included comments from managers such as that they “don’t think about [diversity, equity and inclusion] as I treat ‘everyone’ equal”; “Everyone is treated the same do not to advocate for anyone person or group in particular”; and “The best qualified candidate should be hired.”

“These responses suggest a need for additional training to help managers better understand what diversity, equity and inclusion is and how these values align with their roles as managers,” the report said.

It also said union contracts, state preferences for some jobs and civil service rules impeded the city from improving the diversity of the workforce, though there might be ways to work around these obstacles. In particular, for the fire department, “despite the best hopes and good faith efforts of the fire chief and staff, there is no prospect of a diverse firefighter workforce in the most generous foreseeable future absent action by the Massachusetts Legislature to amend long-standing civil service laws,” the report said.

Detailed plan in the works

The report praised the city for creating a Pay Equity Dashboard and Demographics Dashboard on the city website that allows the public to see racial, ethnic and gender disparities in the city and schools workforce. When city spokesman Lee Gianetti was asked about the use of the dashboards in 2019, he repeated a disclaimer on the site saying factors such as worker education, experience, job tenure and specific job requirements could explain some or all the disparities. Gianetti said then that a report from Working Ideal would come in October 2020; the company was hired in 2019.

The consultant recommends that the city establish “a unified hiring and promotion policy” that includes diversity, equity and inclusion; create diverse screening panels to assess applicants for all jobs where there is screening, not just administrative and professional positions; examine whether some job requirements could be based on assets, not credentials; allow on-the-job training instead of requiring experience; and allow departments with strong performance in diversity to help other departments fill vacancies. Other recommendations included designating a “talent officer [to] develop talent throughout the organization,” including recruitment and professional development; hiring a full-time diversity, equity and inclusion analyst; and providing up to two full-time positions to help individual departments recruit, hire and promote employees.

Working Ideal will help the city develop a detailed work plan to carry out the recommendations and assess progress, it said.

Lawsuits from women

The city has paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits by three women alleging discrimination. In the most widely publicized, Malvina Monteiro won $8.3 million in 2011 after then city manager Robert W. Healy repeatedly appealed court decisions that went against the city.

More recently, Department of Public Works building project coordinator Michelle Maher is suing the city in Middlesex Superior Court, claiming that she did the work of a manager but was paid the salary of a secretary. The city has denied the allegations in its answer to Maher’s March 5, 2020, complaint.