The Diversity Deficit: MAPC Releases New Research on Greater Boston Municipal Employee Diversity

The Diversity Deficit

MAPC Releases New Research on Greater Boston Municipal Employee Diversity 

July 24, 2014. Natick, MA.
Town of Natick Department of Public Works, Fire Station and Police Station.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
© 2014 Marilyn Humphries
paramedics and firefighters
American women worker in heavy Industry maintenance engineer happy working wearing safety uniform and helmet using tablet computer to checking machine in factory.

The people who work in Greater Boston cities and towns are overwhelmingly whiter and older than the communities or region they serve, according to new research released by MAPC today 

Clerks, police officers, librarians, firefighters, teachers, municipal maintenance workers: residents interact with these representatives of their communities on a daily basis. ButThe Diversity Deficit: Municipal Employees in Metro Boston” shows that these representatives don’t always reflect the gender and racial/ethnic diversity of our region.  

“A municipal workforce that doesn’t look much like the community it serves or the region as a whole may have a hard time understanding resident problems and needs,” said MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen in a statement. “In an era when the racial and ethnic diversity of the region’s population is fast changing, and there’s growing attention to longstanding issues of injustice and discrimination, it is critical for any employer to have a representative and diverse workforce. This is especially true for cities and towns.  

If accompanied by equitable policies and practices, diversifying could result in policies that build a sense of trust in government among marginalized communities. Diversity alone is not enough, but it is crucial to building equitable, representative, and responsive institutions. 

The research brief used Census data from the American Community Survey and locally-reported demographic information to assess the age, gender, and race/ethnicity demographics of municipal employees in 164 cities and towns.  

About 124,000 people living in these Metro Boston municipalities reported that they work full-time for a city or town government. Researchers divided those workers into seven groups:  

Metro Boston Municipal Workforce Breakdown, by Occupation Group

The demographics of educational, training, and library (ETL) workers are very different from other occupational groups. In the analysis, MAPC sometimes analyzed the demographics of these employees separately from other groups.  

Impending retirements 

Municipal Workforce, Metro Boston, by Generation

The analysis shows that, as of 2016, 52% of local government workers were Baby Boomers (born before 1970)—58% when ETL workers are excluded. To compare, about 46% of the civilian labor force was born before 1970.  

Younger workers, in comparison, are underrepresented. Only about 25% were born after 1980, compared to about 32% in the civilian workforce.  

Nearly half of current city and town employees will be over traditional retirement age by 2030. As these older municipal workers approach retirement age, local governments have a critical opportunity to recruit, hire, and retain a diverse younger cohort of workers to better reflect the growing diversity of the region. 

Diversity of municipal workforce lags behind region

Municipal Workforce in Metro Boston, by Race/Ethnicity

In addition to being older than the civilian workforce, municipal employees are whiter: 85% of city and town workers are white, compared to 74% of civilian workers. Black workers are equally represented in the civilian and municipal workforces: making up about 6% of total workers in each group. 

Meanwhile, workers from the two fastest-growing racial/ethnic groups, Asian and Latinx, are substantially underrepresented: Latinx workers comprise 9% of the civilian labor force, but only 5% of the municipal workforce. Asian workers make up 8% of the civilian labor force, but only 2% of the municipal workforce.  

These disparities are concerning because, as it stands, municipal governments are currently benefitting less from the diverse perspectives of Latinx and Asian workers (the two fastest-growing racial and ethnic groups) than they could, and fewer of those workers are finding the opportunity for secure employment with good benefits that are generally available in city and town government.  

These racial and ethnic representation gaps are greater for early- and mid-career workers than for older workers, suggesting that extra effort should be directed to attracting and retaining diverse young candidates for municipal employment. 

Gender diversity

In city and town government, female workers make up the majority of the workforce (55%). However, this number is skewed by education, training, and library workers – 76% of them identify as women. For other occupational groups, females account for about 41% of workers, about 2% less than their share in the civilian labor force.   

July 24, 2014. Natick, MA.
Town of Natick Department of Public Works, Fire Station and Police Station.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
© 2014 Marilyn Humphries

Disparities are larger in law enforcement 

A combination of racial and gender disparities in law enforcement results in a workforce very unlike the population it serves. Only 11% of officers are female, and while white males make up less than 35% of the region’s residents, they are 78% of the region’s municipal law enforcers. Firefighters are also disproportionally white and male: only 3% of firefighters identify as female, and white men make up 84% of the region’s firefighters.  

Percentage Breakdown of Police Officers in Metro Boston Region, by Race/Ethnicity and Sex
Percentage Breakdown of Police Officers in Metro Boston Region, by Race/Ethnicity and Sex
Percentage Breakdown of Firefighters in Metro Boston Region, by Race/Ethnicity and Sex
Percentage Breakdown of Firefighters in Metro Boston Region, by Race/Ethnicity and Sex

Fixing the Deficit

So how can Greater Boston’s residents and policy makers go about fixing this diversity deficit? The report suggests several changes to recruitment methods and hiring practices:  

  • Each municipality should collect and report data around municipal workforce demographics, on an annual basis, and according to consistent statewide data standards; 
  • Ensure candidates of color are interviewed for senior positions; 
  • Re-evaluate hiring based on residency for some jobs; 
  • Create employee affinity groups to improve retention through peer support; 
  • Withdraw police and fire departments from the state’s civil service program, replacing it instead with locally tailored criteria meant to mirror the community’s specific needs, including diversity; 
  • Develop internship, fellowship, and mentoring programs for young people of color, to help spur municipal hiring. 

Diversity Alone Isn't Enough

Although our recommendations above focus only on making municipal government more representative, more is needed to create truly equitable policies and institutions.  

Diversity can’t be an end goal in and of itself, but increasing diversity could help create more equitable policies, greater community trust, and a welcoming work environment for all municipal employees.   

“If we are truly serious about addressing the lack of diversity in the municipal workforce, we must also begin to tackle deficiencies in how these work environments may be structured,” said Seleeke Flingai, lead researcher and report author.   

“Diversity recruitment efforts can only go so far if the workplace one enters is toxic or restricting for marginalized people. To see real, sustainable change, we must do the work of transforming our workplaces to become more equitable, anti-racist, anti-sexist institutions.”