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Change promised in Walsh hiring

Hiring lags in racial diversity, city official says fixes afoot

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Change promised in Walsh hiring
The latest class of BPD recruits graduated last month and was 74 percent white. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy Mayor’s Office)

Two years in, some struggle to point to what the creation of a diversity officer has done for the Walsh administration’s efforts to diversify city jobs. But Danielson Tavares, who took on the assignment in May 2016, says some of that is about to change.

While Walsh touted plans to increase diversity, former city councilor Charles Yancey, who made monitoring diversity in city hiring one focus area of his work, said little progress has been seen so far.

“This administration has had very disappointing misses in diversity,” he told the Banner. “They seem to be turning the clock backward rather than forward, particularly in the police and fire departments.”

Author: Photo: Courtesy Mayor’s OfficeDanielson Tavares is the city’s diversity officer, the second person to hold the position.

Marta Rivera, a coordinator at the Greater Boston Latino Network, noted that the mayor missed a chance to directly increase diversity when he handpicked his cabinet.

“We [Latinos] are not even close to being represented in city government,” Rivera told the Banner. “Boston is almost 20 percent Latino. His cabinet is not 20 percent Latino.”

The Greater Boston Latino Network’s 2014 report on the paucity of Latinos in city government positions spurred the creation of the diversity officer position.

Rivera said that while establishing that role is a positive step, the GBLN has not experienced greater transparency from the hiring office or communication about job openings

“In the short time we’ve had the diversity officer, what we’ve seen is that there hasn’t been much progress,” Rivera said. “We haven’t felt more connected or informed about positions opened. We haven’t felt like it’s improved, at least in terms of the transparency of the hiring office.”

A new GBLN report is due out in December, which Rivera expects will state that little progress has been achieved over the past two years, especially as it relates to hiring of Latinos and to their appointment to boards and commissions.

Walsh’s hires

Danielson Tavares, the city’s diversity officer, said the Walsh administration has made progress. Under Mayor Martin Walsh, 1,063 city employees have been hired, not counting hires by the school department and quasi-agencies such as the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Water and Sewer, he said.

Of these hires, 41 percent (436 people) are people of color: One hundred and sixty three are black, 79 Latino and 22 Asian, based on self-identification. Many people also choose not to declare their race, Tavares said, making the tallying process more difficult. The result: a city staff that includes four percent more people of color, Tavares told the Banner.

However, Tavares said no data is available on how many of these positions are part-time or youth positions nor is there information about wages, although he said all mentioned positions are paid. The jobs include union and non-union positions.

The city is working on creating consistent guidelines for how to count and classify its workforce, Tavares said.

Applicant outreach

The city has not done well enough publicizing open positions to candidates of color, so applicant pools remain relatively non-diverse, Tavares said. Among Tavares’ responsibilities is assisting departments with recruitment and recommending candidates. New plans call for representatives of different city departments to make neighborhood visits several times a week during which they will provide information on open positions and allow the resident to apply right then and there.

The city also will launch an online database where users can upload their resumes and sign up to be alerted for matching positions as they become available. Hiring managers will be able to browse the database as well, when looking for candidates, he said.

Tavares’s department — he and two staff members — work with community partners such as the NAACP and Urban League to encourage candidates to apply, he said. Neither of Tavares’ staff members is Latino.

The city’s Human Resources department currently is working to monitor applicant pools for diversity. The city will produce internal reports on this along with updating its diversity dashboard tool on a monthly basis to reflect progress, or lack thereof, in each department.

Such changes would be welcome: Thus far, the Walsh administration’s connections to Latino communities and organizations and its outreach to recruit applicants have been very limited, Rivera said.

Fire and Police

In May the fire department hired its own diversity officer; the Boston Police Department has considered doing the same. The departments are among the least diverse in the city — in part hampered by the prominent role the civil service exam and veteran preference play in hiring. These restrictions also affect diversity officers’ ability to effect change outside of increasing outreach to applicants of color.

Tavares said that Juan Sanchez, the fire department’s diversity officer, will attend community job-applicant sessions and currently is taking steps to increase outreach to minority veteran groups, inform children of the career path to the BFD and reduce financial barriers to taking the civil service exam.

The BPD drew attention recently when it seemed to bypass preferential status and civil service exam priorities in selecting its most recent class of recruits, now sworn in as officers. The BPD skipped over 300 applicant names to select 15 from the bottom of its prioritized list of candidates. The resulting recruit class was 74 percent white. The BPD has not answered Banner requests for information on how many of the 15 lowest-scoring recruits are related to BPD command staff or other city officials.

Rivera questioned how impactful fire and police diversity officers could be, given the hiring limitations, and suggested a more effective measure would be to alter policies and approaches. This includes changes to the civil service exam, skill sets sought and residency requirement policy. For instance, preferencing candidates with multiple languages would be a non-race based measure that could bring both diversity and useful skills, Rivera said. Language-based hiring preferences currently are allowable but infrequently utilized.

Residency debate

Currently, would-be police or fire officers must have lived in Boston for a year. City Councilor Michael Flaherty promoted a proposal to extend this to three years as a race-neutral measure likely to give residents a greater shot in a majority-minority city.

Yet, Rivera said, given that high housing costs have pushed many Latinos out to surrounding areas such as Chelsea and Fall River, Boston residency requirements could be a barrier to their hiring.

“We want people from the city to be hired,” she said. “However, Boston is incredibly expensive to live in. … If you’re going to attract Latinos to Boston, you have to give them well-paying jobs and be willing to look at these candidates [from the surrounding areas.]”

The balance, she said, may lie in ensuring applicants without Boston addresses are considered.

The BPD did not answer Banner questions about how many officers live in Boston.

Inside the diversity office

The diversity office’s budget covers office expenses and staffing, Tavares said. In addition to him are deputy diversity officer Freda Brasfield and attorney Derric Small, who conducts policy agenda research. A $65,000 position will be created for a community liaison to various groups and networks.

Tavares said he reports directly to the mayor on a biweekly basis on progress and challenges. In addition to diversity hiring efforts, Tavares’ responsibilities include facilitating city contracting for minority-owned businesses, ensuring respectful treatment of employees’ varied needs and facilitating older individual’s workforce reentry.