A new report and survey are part of an effort by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to learn how city-government employees are being treated.
People of color who work for the city of Seattle are underrepresented among its top bosses, and women are badly underrepresented across all levels of city government, according to a new workforce report by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration.
At the same time, 32 percent of black city employees who responded to a new survey said they had experienced different treatment based on race, and significant percentages of employees belonging to various groups said they were treated differently because of gender.
“I’m not surprised,” said Tia Jones, who identifies as African American and mixed race and works in Seattle’s call center for utilities customers.
“We work for an institution that’s not held accountable for representation and for fair and equitable treatment,” said Jones, who has been active in the Seattle Silence Breakers — a group of city employees and activists speaking out about harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
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The report and survey are part of an effort by Durkan — partly responding to harassment and discrimination claims at City Light and in other departments and to the #MeToo movement — to get a grip on how Seattle’s city employees are being treated.
Mariko Lockhart, interim director of the Office for Civil Rights, called the picture painted by the report and early results from the survey “clearly not acceptable.”
“This information is really upsetting and concerning and yet, I’m grateful for it to come to light in a discernible and measurable way,” she said.
The mayor’s report says her administration is ramping up recruitment of people of color and women, and a series of recommendations for combating harassment and discrimination are due soon, covering policies, reporting procedures, training and more.
Durkan’s intentions will become more clear in September, when she lays out her first city budget. Past mayors also have conducted studies and promised improvements.
“These are not new issues,” Lockhart said. “So there’s a sense (among employees) of frustration about that and hope for addressing them in a more significant way.”
In the background, a City Council consultant is exploring this year how to make the Office for Civil Rights a stronger watchdog on race and social justice, possibly by granting the office a greater measure of independence from the mayor.
Some council members say the quasi-activist office needs more authority, though any plan to change the city’s power structure could prove controversial.
Released last month, Durkan’s workforce-equity report compares the demographics of the city’s 12,000 employees as of December 2017 to the demographics of King County’s population.
People of color account for 38 percent of the county population and 39 percent of the city workforce. But they account for only 33 percent of Seattle’s top-level supervisors and 31 percent of the city’s top-level wage-earners, according to the report.
Women represent 50 percent of the population but only 39 percent of the city workforce, partly because they represent only 31 percent of the employees in the city’s largest departments — police, fire, parks, public utilities and City Light.
Including every department, women account for 35 percent of top-level supervisors and 34 percent of top-level wage earners.
Women of color represent 19 percent of the population, but 11 percent of top-level supervisors and 10 percent of top-level wage earners.
The report doesn’t differentiate between regular and temporary employees, who are about 15 percent of the workforce.
Whether Seattle has made progress on pay equity isn’t clear. Durkan’s report didn’t seek to identify an overall pay gap between men and women, as past studies have.
A 2013 study by then-Mayor Mike McGinn found men were paid 9.5 percent more than women, on average, while a 2015 study by then-Mayor Ed Murray found men were paid 10 percent more.
Murray’s study attributed the gap mostly to the police and fire departments and to City Light employing large numbers of highly paid men.
The gap in 2015 was even wider for women of color. Murray’s study didn’t account for overtime pay, which is common in Seattle’s male-dominated departments.
His study found no indications of systemic gender, race or ethnic discrimination by the city and said the gap did not exist among men and women with similar jobs.
That led Murray to tout the results, comparing Seattle’s 10 percent pay gap between men and women to wider gaps of 23 percent nationally and 26 percent regionally.
Moving beyond parity for men and women in similar positions, Durkan’s report provides a baseline from which to monitor whether the city is hiring more women and people of color for top jobs, said spokeswoman Stephanie Formas.
The city plans to revise certain job-posting protocols, has been working to consolidate its human-resources units and plans to give bonus points to police-officer applicants for attributes such as foreign-language fluency, the report says.
Mistrust, fear in employee survey
The complete results of the city’s employee survey have yet to be released. But a presentation of selected results to officials earlier this month cited a series of alarming themes in how employees responded to questions related to harassment and discrimination, including mistrust of management, fear of retaliation, lack of transparency, bias in hiring, and ageism.
More than 4,000 employees participated — about 30 percent of the workforce.
Thirty-two percent of respondents who identified as black reported personally experiencing different treatment based on race; 24 percent of those who identified as Asian and 23 percent of those who identified as Hispanic reported the same. Separately, 30 percent of black, 26 percent of Asian and 23 percent of Hispanic respondents reported witnessing such treatment.
“I’ve experienced it,” Jones said. “The same question I ask and get labeled a troublemaker for, being a woman of color… when (other employees) ask that, there are no negative outcomes.”
The survey results are “heartbreaking,” she said, “but in a strange way, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one.”
Employees also reported different treatment based on gender. The highest rates were among Hispanic employees: 33 percent reported experiencing such treatment.
“I’m really appalled to see where we currently stand,” said City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. “We need to make sure women and people of color are employed in positions like manager and director and make sure people at every level feel safe.”
On her first day in office, Durkan ordered a review of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) — an effort begun in 2004 to end institutional racism.
Completed in March, the review identified barriers to implementation, including an inconsistent commitment among city leaders and inadequate investment in cultural change, according to documents obtained through a public-disclosure request.
Recommendations based on that review are still in development, Formas said.
An interdepartmental team charged by Durkan and Mosqueda in January with examining the city’s harassment policies initially was scheduled to make recommendations by the end of May. Those recommendations also are pending, which worries Jones, who represented the Silence Breakers on the Durkan and Mosqueda team.
She says the administration should swiftly plow money into RSJI, the city’s human-resources department and training programs. “HR is clearly understaffed. They don’t have adequate resources to conduct thorough investigations,” Jones said.
The Silence Breakers have called on Durkan to hire an independent ombudsperson to handle discrimination and harassment complaints, while Councilmember Lisa Herbold says the Office for Civil Rights, which oversees RSJI, lacks teeth.
Though all city departments are supposed to complete racial-equity analyses of their projects each year, many have failed to comply, Herbold noted.
“Some departments are really getting into the work and others are checking boxes,” she said. “We need something other than just training … We need structural change.”