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October 25, 2021

Philly must find ways to improve diversity among city workers, controller's report says

The Kenney administration says progress has been made, but it's been uneven

Government Diversity
City Hall Diversity Kate Frese/For PhillyVoice

Racial and ethnic minorities made up just 45.8% of the city's exempt employees in fiscal year 2020, according to a report released by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. By contrast, they make up 65.6% of the Philadelphia population.

An annual report examining the diversity of the city's exempt employees raises a concern over the lack of diverse representation in new hires, according to City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. 

The report, released last week by Rhynhart's office, found racial and ethnic minorities made up just 45.8% of the city's exempt employees in fiscal year 2020. By contrast, they make up 65.6% of the city's population. 

"Overall, the city's exempt workforce is still not diverse enough," Rhynhart said. "The workforce should mirror Philadelphia's population because every decision made by the government has an impact on the lives of our residents," Rhynhart said.

The city employs about 4,800 exempt employees – workers who are not hired through the civil service system. They include workers at all job levels, including senior leadership roles. Many of them work for departments under Mayor Jim Kenney's authority, but others work for independent offices such as the District Attorney's Office or First Judicial District. 

The report found there has been "only a slight improvement" in diversity in recent years among the departments under Kenney's authority, with white representation decreasing from 48.2% in 2018 to 46.4% in 2020, a difference that was driven solely by an increase in Asian hires. Black workers saw a minor decrease, from 37% to 36.2%. Hispanic representation remained unchanged. 

The report paid particular attention to employees earning at least $90,000 per year. Diversity among these positions improved from 41.6% in 2018 to 43.8% in 2020. But it had risen to 44.6% in 2019. 

Kenney's administration put in place new hiring guidelines in 2017, aiming to promote diverse hiring practices throughout the city. The guidelines are not mandatory, but city offices are expected to follow them whenever possible to ensure diversity. 

Rhynhart urged the administration to explore the reasons the hiring guidelines have not resulted in more diverse hires. 

"The trends in new hires our office identified raises questions about whether the city's diverse hiring guidelines are working as intended," Rhynhart said. 

Five departments, including three under Kenney's authority, collectively hired 332 employees in 2020 – 60% of all new exempt hires. Of them, 55.1% were white. 

These departments also included the District Attorney's Office and the First Judicial District. The District Attorney's Office has voluntarily adopted Kenney's hiring guidelines. The First Judicial District recently created its own unit to maintain diverse hiring practices. 

"The administration has made progress in diversifying the overall exempt workforce and leadership positions but recognize that the progress is uneven and more work remains to be done," said Kevin Lessard, acting Communications Director for Kenney's Office. 

Lessard noted that Rhynhart's report included a data set larger than the workforce diversity report released earlier this year by the Mayor's Office. That report, which focused specifically on departments under Kenney's authority, noted that people of color made up 53.96% of exempt employees in 2020, up from 50.29% in 2016. The biggest gains were among Asian and Hispanic employees. 

The Kenney administration "will continue efforts to increase diverse recruitment and hiring, and implement new strategies to ensure equitable processes," Lessard added. As the Mayor's Office meets with each department on a quarterly basis, Lessard said more direct focus will be put on addressing disparities in hiring Black and Hispanic employees. 

About 80% of the city's exempt workforce is employed by six departments, including the District Attorney's Office, which improved its diverse hires from 34% in 2018 to 49.1% in 2020, the controller's report found. 

The others include the Office of Innovation and Technology, Managing Director's Office and Law Department, which are all under Kenney's authority, and the First Judicial District and City Council.