The city's soon-to-be Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nolan Atkinson.

The city's soon-to-be Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nolan Atkinson.

Why Jim Kenney thinks Philadelphia needs a diversity officer in City Hall

“This is not because the Nutter administration has ignored the diversity issue.”

Less than a year ago in Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh created what would become the city’s first Office of Diversity and he named the first Chief Diversity Officer. The goal of the office? Analyze Boston’s city workforce — which didn’t reflect the makeup of the city — and develop strategies to close gaps in race, ethnicity, gender and other areas.

When it comes to diversity in the city workforce, Philly and Boston have a whole lot in common. And Mayor-elect Jim Kenney has announced he’s making a move quite similar to Walsh: He named Nolan Atkinson Philadelphia’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a position that will report directly to the mayor and will take office in January when Kenney is sworn in.

“I think when you talk about diversity and inclusion, you talk about how you can bring people together,” Atkinson, currently a diversity officer at Duane Morris LLP, told The Philadelphia Tribune. “And you can do that through all levels of government in the city, so we be sure to maximize the best of our citizens so that we can be a world-class city.”

So why does Philadelphia need someone in City Hall — someone directly reporting to the mayor, no less — to focus entirely on diversity and inclusion in the city’s workforce?

First of all, it’s becoming more common. Boston added its diversity office last year, New York City has a diversity officer that’s housed in its Office of the Comptroller and Dallas has its own Office of Ethics and Diversity. Smaller cities across the country have implemented the role within local governments.

But in addition, Philadelphia — much like Boston — still faces significant diversity issues within city government, ranging from the racial makeup of certain workforces to the pay gap that exists in different races to policies that make it difficult for Philadelphia to specifically hire in a diverse and inclusive way.

“This is not because the Nutter administration has ignored the diversity issue… it’s clear that they have worked to make the city government look more like the city it represents,” Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said in an email to Billy Penn. “But some of the underlying issues that have caused this lack of diversity, like the Rule of Two and certain recruiting practices, require full-time attention.”

Hitt pointed to this piece by Philly.com’s The Next Mayor project which noted this about the city’s workforce diversity issues:

For the 4,000-plus city employees who earn $70,000 a year or more, 64 percent are white and 72 percent are male. For the 4,000 or so city employees who earn $35,000 a year or less, 67 percent are black and 55 percent are male. The average salary of a white worker ($60,107) is about $10,642 more than the average for a black employee, who earns $49,465.

In addition to those figures that represent the entire city workforce, Philly Mag reported earlier this year that, like many American cities, the police force doesn’t represent the racial makeup of the city and employs more white officers than officers of color.

One of the could-be roots of the city’s diversity-in-its-workforce problem that Hitt touched on is called the Rule of Two, a decades-old policy that was created to ensure city employees were hired based on merit. This policy requires that, like in Boston, applicants for most city jobs must take a civil service exam. But in Philly, a position must be filled by one of the top two scorers.

In addition to the Rule of Two, applicants can receive extra points for veteran status. But the policy on the whole can prove problematic, especially when it comes to filling positions and promotions higher up the food chain in city departments.

For example, if a higher percentage of the department is already made up of white males, it’s statistically more likely a white male will score higher on the civil service exam, simply because more white males are taking it. Then, managers are stymied by the Rule of Two and can’t just hand-pick minorities to balance out the pay disparity among different races.

“And that’s what Nolan Atkinson will be working on,” Hitt said, “to identify the roots of this lack of diversity in the city workforce and to find and implement solutions to address it.”

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