Kenney administration hired no high-level Hispanic staff and fewer Black executives last year, city controller analysis finds

The mayor’s office said he’s committed to diversity, but recognizes “more work remains to be done.”

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
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White employees are still overrepresented in the City of Philadelphia’s non-civil servant workforce, according to a new analysis from the Office of the Controller. The controller’s report found that for departments under mayoral supervision, hires of Hispanic people stagnated, and hires of Black staff were down.

Released last week, the report examines the racial and ethnic makeup of the city’s exempt employees over the most recent fiscal year, from June 2020 through June 2021.

People of color accounted for 46% of the exempt workforce during that time period, the controller’s report found, and 54% in mayoral departments. Philly’s overall population is 66% people of color.

What are “exempt employees”? It’s the city’s term for the 4,800 municipal jobs that don’t require the civil service exam — think department spokespeople and managing directors. For the portion of that workforce making over $90,000, the imbalance is greater. Called “executive” exempt employees in the report, this staff is 60% white overall, and 56% white in mayoral departments.

Hiring last year only strengthened that trend, the report shows. White people comprised 60% of executive hires in mayoral departments, compared to 40% in 2019. Asian workers comprised 20% of these hires, while Black people made up just 20%.

Meanwhile, not a single Hispanic hire was made in mayoral departments at the executive level last year. Hispanic and Latino communities now make up 15% of Philadelphia’s population, according to the most recent census, triple the proportion in 2000. Yet they make up just 7% of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, and only 5% of those staff with salaries of $90k or higher.

“Hispanic employees continue to be the most underrepresented group in the exempt workforce, both for mayoral departments and independent offices,” said the controller’s report.

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Office of the Controller

In January 2020, Kenney signed an executive order that mandated diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all city managers. His office also implemented a citywide Employment Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, which it said would critically look at each city department’s hiring practices.

Yet improvement has been slow in the mayor’s administration. The proportions of Black and Hispanic exempt employees have been relatively stagnant for the past three years, per the report, with the percentage of Black hires at the executive level dropping by more than half from 2019 to 2020.

Since he took office, [Mayor Kenney] has spoken about diversity and the importance of it.” Rhynhart told Billy Penn, explaining the motivation behind the annual reports she’s been putting out since taking office in 2018. “If there’s no data about who’s being hired at what salary level … then there’s no accountability.”

A lack of diversity in local government can lead to a lack of community trust, studies show, and can cause problems for agencies trying to retain non-white employees they already have working in their offices.

“With the departments under the mayor’s office, it was disappointing to see that African American representation declined and that Hispanic representation remains unchanged,” Rhynhart said. “That shows an issue that really needs to be examined, and a need for more rigor around the [hiring] process.”

The mayor declined to personally comment on the report, but his office pushed back on the idea that he’s not paying attention to the issue.

“The Kenney administration has been, and remains, committed to building a workforce that reflects the diversity of Philadelphia’s residents in both the breadth of positions across all functions and depth of positions across leadership levels,” said city spokesperson Kevin Lessard. “The administration has made progress in diversifying the overall exempt workforce and leadership positions but recognizes that the progress is uneven and more work remains to be done.”

Lessard pointed to a less than 1% increase in Hispanic representation at the executive level as proof of progress, not stagnation.

He also noted the controller’s report differs drastically from the mayor’s 2020 City of Philadelphia Workforce Diversity Profile, which draws data from a much smaller set of departments that directly report to the mayor. Parts of the controller’s report include data from the District Attorney’s Office and the First Judicial District, as well as other departments that do not report to the mayor.

Even the controller’s office has a Hispanic diversity problem. Per her own report, Rhynhart’s office has only one exempt Asian and one exempt Hispanic employee, along with 11 Black and 11 white staff members.

You can delve into the report in detail and see the percentages for each department using the controller’s interactive online explorer.

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Office of the Controller

Are the city’s existing hiring guidelines effective?

In 2017, Mayor Kenney released the Exempt Employee Hiring Guidelines, which outline the hiring process all mayoral departments should follow when filling positions outside the realm of the civil service exam.

The document stipulates that “the administration has an expectation that we will have a diverse candidate pool,” and provides tips on how to mitigate bias when reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates. All interview panels should have at least one person whose race or ethnicity is different from others on the panel, for example, and all hiring committees should talk through decisions and avoid vague language to mitigate explicit and unconscious bias.

However, the guidelines define bias as “partiality, preconceived notion, and predisposition,” but not inherently negative. And there’s confusion around whether hiring managers have to follow these guidelines, or whether it’s a choice.

While the introduction states that “this process is required for all hiring of exempt employees,” Controller Rhnyhart maintains the guidelines have always been presented as a “best practice” for city leaders. Still, she suggested, it’s better than nothing.

“Historically, these exempt positions were often filled … without a job description or a proper search,” said Rhynhart. “So if you think about the position the city is coming from in the past, it’s actually a major improvement.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean the guidelines are as effective as they could be. Of offices with particularly low diversity among new hires in the latest City Controller report — including the Department of Public Health, the Law Department, and the Managing Director’s Office — all except the First Judicial District said they had followed the Exempt Employee Hiring Guidelines. Yet of the 332 hires they onboarded, 55% were white.

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Office of the Controller

“This [lack of diversity] warrants a more detailed examination of the hiring process for exempt employees,” the controller’s report said. “This examination should seek to identify the root causes leading to the continued lack of diversity among new exempt hires and result in the implementation of necessary changes to ensure the city can attract and hire diverse candidates for its exempt workforce.”

The mayor recognizes there’s work to be done in this realm, according to Lessard, his communications director — and promised it would receive more attention and effort.

“The Kenney administration will continue efforts to increase diverse recruitment and hiring, and implement new strategies to ensure equitable processes,” Lessard told Billy Penn. “Going forward, attention will be more focused on diverse recruitment efforts, particularly with respect to Black employees and Hispanic employees.”

He said the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, led by Nefertiri Sickout, would continue to track all city departments’ progress on a quarterly basis.

Rhynhart recommended that Kenney re-examine the hiring guidelines. “Improvement needs to be made hire by hire,” the controller said. She suggested conversations with each of the departments and commissioners reviewing what happened with each new staff member. “Did they have diversity on each hiring panel? Do they need assistance finding candidates? ”

The controller’s report did find growth in diversity among the exempt workforce at the District Attorney’s Office, which went from 29% people of color in 2018 to 36% in 2020. It attributed this to new hiring practices that emphasize diversity. Nearly half of the DA’s exempt hires in 2020 were non-white.

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