City leaders in St. Paul want to diversify the city's workforce but are having trouble recruiting women and people of color — and getting those they hire to stay.
It's a problem that employers face across many sectors and industries, and one that has become more critical in St. Paul as the city prepares to lose hundreds of employees to retirement within the next few years.
Mayor Melvin Carter made history when he became the capital city's first black mayor this year, and his staff members are mostly women and people of color. But the overall workforce in City Hall doesn't reflect St. Paul's increasingly diverse population.
"Building a city workforce that reflects the diversity of our city has to be a priority," Carter said. "Our ability to hire, retain [and] promote people who know every corner of this city intimately will improve our ability to provide the highest quality public services for all of us."
In the first quarter of 2018, more than 73 percent of city employees were white and more than 69 percent were male, according to data that Chief Equity Officer Toni Newborn and Human Resources Director Andrea Turner presented to the City Council this week. About 59 percent of city residents are white and less than half are men, the data show.
Women and people of color aren't hired by the city as often as men and white people, they aren't promoted as often and they're more likely to leave, the data show. Of 380 people the city hired in 2017, 132 were people of color and 128 were women. Of employees promoted that year, about a third were women or people of color. And while the city's overall turnover rate is less than 8 percent, it's about 8 percent for people of color and about 10 percent for women.
Meanwhile, the city is facing a looming workforce shortage. Between 2018 and 2021, more than half of city employees will be eligible for retirement.
City officials don't have a clear answer for how they're going to close race and gender gaps and fill those jobs. They're trying out different tactics, from recruitment events to on-the-job training to rethinking how employees are hired. They're also working with other local governments to figure out how to attract a diverse range of employees to public sector jobs.
"There are people of color. There are women. There are disabled individuals. You go on and on and on," Turner said. "They're out there, and we want to let them know this is a place for them."
The data presented to the City Council focused largely on four departments — police, fire, parks and recreation and public works — that employ more than 65 percent of the city's total workforce of nearly 3,000. Changes to hiring practices in those departments can have a big effect, Newborn said.
Turner said human resources is going to look at how the city hires for the Fire Department, where more than 90 percent of employees are men. Right now, prospective hires have to take a test that costs the city $500,000 and is offered just once every four years.
Part of the challenge, said City Council President Amy Brendmoen, will be to convince women and people of color that these jobs are an option for them — that they could be a firefighter.
"I think the challenges are above and beyond maybe in a corporate setting where you're just trying to make sure that you're doing a different kind of recruiting," she said. "We're really changing people's minds about these jobs."
There are changes that will have to happen inside City Hall, too, including more oversight from human resources when a department hires or promotes someone, Turner said. She and Newborn are also examining the minimum requirements for city jobs to see if changing them would open up positions to a more diverse range of candidates — something Carter said he supports.
Still, Turner said, change is happening. For the first time in the city's history, she said, half of the department directors are women.
"This is where decisions get made," Turner said. "When you start to have impacts like that, other things will happen and change."