Aldermen blast lack of diversity in city of Chicago workforce

By Kevin Beese For Chronicle Media
Chicago Alderman Milagros Santiago (31st Ward)

Chicago Alderman Milagros Santiago (31st Ward)

The city of Chicago’s workforce not reflecting the city’s population is coming under attack from aldermen.

Angered by city departments’ slow movement in hiring more people of color, aldermen lashed out last week when a chief diversity officer was proposed in the budget of the city’s Human Resources Department.

Although making up 29 percent of the city’s population, Hispanics make up just 9 percent of the city’s workforce, down 1 percentage point from a year ago.

“It’s very frustrating to hear some of these answers and reasons,” said Ald. Milagros Santiago (31st Ward) during discussions about the composition of the city’s workforce. “It is frustrating to hear that change has been very minimal or absent in some cases. We have an issue.

“I am not going to sit here year after year and listen to the same rhetoric. The city is not opening the door to hire people of diversity.”

He told Soo Choi, commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Department, that aldermen are growing weary of waning diversity numbers.

“If the numbers do not change, you will have a problem in that the majority of the people here will not vote for your budget,” Santiago warned.

Chicago’s population is almost evenly divided with 33 percent of residents being black, 32 percent white and 29 percent Hispanic.

The city of Chicago employees 35,000 people. Choi said of the 1,256 city jobs that are exempt from the federal ban on political hiring, 46 percent of those positions are held by whites, 27 percent by blacks and 17 percent by Hispanics.

“We do not reflect our city as closely as we should,” Choi said of the city’s workforce composition. “It’s embarrassing. The numbers should reflect the city.”

Choi said there are positives signs however. She noted that new hires this year reflected a 4 percent increase in Hispanics.

“We are seeing upward movement in general,” Choi said. “I am not applauding where we are at, but it shows we are moving in the right direction.”

Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) said it is clear from the employment numbers that the city has to fight racism in its hiring.

The chief diversity officer is a proposed $90,000-per-year position in the city’s HR Department. Choi said the position would focus on ensuring that the city is reaching out to the right job fairs, groups and organizations to increase diversity numbers in the city’s workforce.

Chicago Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward)

Chicago Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward)

“We are not seeing representative diversity in applications for positions so we are not seeing representative diversity in our hiring,” Choi said.

Ald. Nicolas Sposato (38th Ward) noted there have been recent improvements in diversity with the city’s job applicants. He said that 70 percent of the most recent police applicants were minorities.

“That’s pretty good diversification,” Sposato said.

The alderman added that he would like the HR Department to look at requiring city job holders to live in the city or at least give bonus points to job applicants who live in Chicago’s boundaries.

Ald. David Moore (17th Ward) said blacks being underrepresented in the city’s workforce has to be tackled.

“It is concerning when we have jobs in the city and blacks are not being hired for them,” Moore said. “It is an issue of concern for the city. It is an issue that we must address … In all departments across the board, the number of black males being hired is skewed.”

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza said while unemployment in the city is 6.5 percent, unemployment in her 10th Ward is 19 percent.

“When the (steel) mills left, so did the jobs,” Garza said.

She questioned the city’s weeding out process after a 10th Ward resident who has a master’s degree from  Georgetown University “has never gotten called” for city positions for which he has applied.

“I have people coming into my office every day because they applied and never got called, never got an interview,” Garza said.   

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