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How Philadelphia plans to advance racial equity in the civil service sector

Dilworth Park outside of City Hall. August 20, 2018 Category: FeaturedLongResults


This story has been updated with information about why the three civil service jobs listed are the focus of the City of Philadelphia's future equity work. (8/21, 6:18 p.m.)
Nefertiri Sickout, the City of Philadelphia’s deputy diversity and inclusion officer within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, is leading an interdepartmental project to advance racial equity in the city’s civil service sector.

Just under 35 percent of the city’s population is white alone (not Hispanic or Latino). According to the 2017 Philadelphia Workforce Diversity Report, white Philadelphians make up about 39 percent of the entire city workforce and 49 percent of full-time workers in positions not requiring the Civic Service exam. And the executive-level exempt workforce is nearly 60 percent white.

“You may hear a lot of people talking about ‘equity, equity, equity,’ but [for] this project to really focus on equity, it takes data analysis, community engagement, an action plan and a commitment of time and resources,” Sickout said.

In 2016, Philadelphia was one of five cities chosen to be a part of the Racial Equity Here initiative, a collaboration between Living Cities and the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). The city was given a $75,000 grant, technical assistance and resources to begin to carry out city operations and services with a racial equity approach.

“Philadelphia is important to our group because it stands to lead the nation,” said Nora Liu, project manager for Racial Equity Here. “If Philadelphia can move forward on advancing racial equity, that’s an amazing statement for our country, isn’t it?”

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The Racial Equity Here initiative resulted in:

  • Two projects: Partnering with the Department of Public Health and the Mayor’s Office to launch the Get Healthy Philly Summer Youth Tobacco Survey Program with an aim to decrease smoking in minority youth, and partnering with the Department of Licenses & Inspections and Philly 311 to test for response time disparities when considering communities’ race, crime and poverty
  • Trainings for administrative and departmental leadership to help staffers “integrate explicit consideration of racial equity in decisions”
  • And a racial equity lens included in Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine, the city’s workforce development strategy.

The initiative ended in June, but the city has committed to continue advancing racial equity in communities and workplaces, Sickout said.

“It’s really looking at how institutional and structural procedures and policies can create or maintain racial disparities and outcomes,” she said. “It’s not that a person is necessarily acting in a racist way, and it’s not that anyone is intentionally discriminating against people, but that you have a system … that was developed decades ago.”

Moving forward, the racial equity workforce project will identify racial and gender disparities in employment outcomes — specifically for the positions of civil engineer, environmental engineer and recreation leader — by using the data-focused racial equity toolkit developed by GARE. (Those three jobs “we understand do have some disproportionate outcomes in terms of employment across racial and ethnic groups,” Sickout said.) Toolkit questions include “How have communities been engaged?” and “Who will benefit from or be burdened by your proposal?”

"A lot of the work around racial equity really involves educating people on how do you approach this work with an equity lens and what does that mean."
Nefertiri Sickout, Office of Diversity Inclusion

“You want to make sure that your programs and your projects all advance racial equity, and in order to do that, it’s pretty clear that we need to have a checklist,” Liu said.

Disaggregating data, which organizes data into smaller categories, helps identify disparities that might not be as visible in larger data sets. The city relied on this method in its Philly 311 partnership project.

“A lot of the work around racial equity really involves educating people on how do you approach this work with an equity lens and what does that mean,” Sickout said. “Data disaggregation is a huge component of it.”

City officials will follow the racial equity toolkit to identify disparities in hiring and promotion outcomes and develop strategies to address those disparities for the three civil service positions identified. The city will host a meeting in September to decide which relevant city data should be analyzed.

A team of city officials from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Workforce Development, Office of Human Resources, Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement, Mayor’s Policy Office, Managing Director’s Office, the Streets Department, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Water Department will be working together on the project, as well as partnering with an external consultant, Maryland-based research and development org Community Science.

Sickout said the team is expected to finish up their work by the spring of 2019.

“We’re building capacity among our colleagues to really understand how to approach this work in an informed manner,” Sickout said. “When the project is over we’ll have a cohort of leaders who better understand how to approach their work with an equity lens and be able to implement that in their respective offices.”

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