LANSING – The state government workforce is becoming whiter under Gov. Rick Snyder, especially in the highest-paying positions.
While the state’s population is more diverse, state workers of color are leaving or losing their jobs faster than their white coworkers under Snyder’s watch. And, while people of color are actually slightly overrepresented in the civil service ranks as a whole, they are not moving at the same rate into the top-paying positions — despite having the same level of experience as their white coworkers.
While a controversial Facebook post by the director of the Michigan State Police has put a spotlight on that department’s struggle to recruit persons of color, five other state government departments — including the governor’s Executive Office — are less diverse than the State Police, according to data from the Michigan Civil Service Commission.
Ethnic diversity is especially lacking in scientific and engineering positions, meaning there are few employees of color at departments heavily reliant on such jobs, such as Environmental Quality and Natural Resources.
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Last budget year, the state paid $7.6 million in settlements stemming from discrimination lawsuits filed by employees, according to a Senate Fiscal Agency report. Almost all of that was paid as part of a lawsuit against the State Police.
State officials pointed to Civil Service Rules prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring, firing or promoting, and noted several programs underway to find a diverse pool of applicants, especially in scientific fields.
“We consider it vitally important to develop a diverse workforce,” DNR spokesman Ed Golder said in an email to the State Journal. “Natural resources belong to every citizen in Michigan. We want everyone, regardless of background, to be involved in managing those natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations.”
But the administration isn’t doing all it could, said Liza Estlund Olson, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Local 517M, which represents the Scientific Engineering bargaining unit. She said the SEIU has recently pushed for recruitment and retention incentives, but the state hasn’t yet agreed to negotiate specifics.
“We’re ready to go,” Olson said. “We have lots of ideas … but you have to have the other side of the equation at the table.”
State government has done well at maintaining a diverse workforce, overall.
As of this summer, about 23% of Michigan’s nearly 50,000 state government workers were persons of color, according to the latest quarterly Workforce Report from the Civil Service Commission. That’s slightly higher than the 21.5% of all Michiganders who were people of color in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some departments, such Health Human Services, Civil Rights and Talent Economic Development, have workforces far more diverse than the state as a whole.
But the state hasn’t done as well at promoting those employees or hiring them into higher-paying fields. Across the three bargaining units with the highest average wages — managers, supervisors and scientists and engineers — just under 18% of employees were people of color this summer, according to the Workforce Report.
And diversity has slipped under Snyder.
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Current diversity figures are down from a peak in fall 2011, the first time the state budget closed with Snyder in the executive office. Then, nearly 25% of all state workers and 20% of those in the top-paying positions were people of color.
That diversity decline happened because, between fall 2012 and fall 2016 — covering the five budget years in which Snyder was in charge for the entire year and complete data is available — the number of white employees in state government fell a half-percent, while the number of employees of color fell 8%. In the top-paying positions, the number of employees of color declined 10%, while the number of white employees actually increased slightly.
Between fall 2007 and fall 2011, the number of employees of color actually increased, while the number of white employees declined, according to Civil Service data. Snyder took office on Jan. 1, 2011.
State workers leave through retirements and “voluntary separations” far more often than they are fired, Civil Service data shows.
Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said in an email to the State Journal that the governor relies on the Civil Service Commission and Department of Civil Rights to “advise on hiring and recruiting practices” and he “will continue working with them and other groups to maximize the diversity of the state’s workforce.
“Gov. Snyder believes we are the best Michigan when we are a diverse Michigan, and the same goes for employment in state government,” Heaton said. “We need employees of all backgrounds and cultures represented in all positions in order to properly serve residents.”
Building the pipeline
Employers nationwide struggle to hire scientists of color. While black Americans represent 12% of the U.S. workforce, they make up only between 6% and 8% of scientific fields, according to federal data. But things are worse in Michigan state government, where more than 17% of all employees are black but only 3% of scientists and engineers are.
Olson, of the SEIU, said the state struggles because, while there are more women and persons of color pursuing scientific fields than in the past, they’re more likely to enter the private sector, where they can make more money.
But there are efforts underway. SEIU, for example, has partnered with a school robotics team and with a Lansing program that encourages young girls to consider science or math careers.
“We’re, in our own way, trying to support programs that are going to bring people in,” she said.
Golder, the DNR spokesman, pointed to several youth programs — including a Career Pathways program launched this year — that expose young kids in urban areas to natural resources jobs. He also said the DNR’s management of Belle Isle Park in Detroit exposes more people in that city to the agency.
Bruce Ross now runs the Career Pathways program for the DNR through his company, the Ypsilanti-based Ross Contemporaries. Before that, he said he was one of the first black men to oversee state parks as a DNR employee, where “one of the first things I noticed is that there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me.”
Career Pathways exposes kids of color to DNR jobs in different ways. Earlier this year, he took a group of kids from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula. He’s partnered with Michigan Technological University in Houghton to show kids science-related courses. He said the program has already had success: One of the students from the U.P. trip is now attending Michigan State University and thinking of becoming a conservation officer.
“That exposure and that follow-up and that mentoring, that is the key,” Ross said. “If you don’t know about science careers, natural resources careers, how are you going to find out about it?”
Contact Justin A. Hinkley at (517) 377-1195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley. Sign up for his email newsletter, SoM Weekly, at on.lsj.com/somsignup.
State government diversity, by the numbers
23%: The share of 49,637 Michigan state government employees who were persons of color as of this summer, compared to 21.5% of the Michigan population
17.8%: The share of state employees in the highest-paying bargaining units who are persons of color, including 8.6% of the Scientific Engineering Unit, 14.5% of the Managerial Unit, and 23.4% of the Supervisory Unit.
8%: The decline in the number of state government employees of color between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, compared to a 0.5% decline in the number of white workers. Between fiscal years 2007 and 2011, the number of white employees declined 7.9%, while the number of employees of color increased 2.4%.
10%: The decline in the number of state workers of color in the highest-paying bargaining units between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, compared to a 0.1% increase in the number of white employees in those groups. Between fiscal years 2007 and 2011, the number of employees of color in the higher-paying units declined 2.9%, while the number of white employees of color declined 11.6%.
Sources: Michigan Civil Service Commission, U.S. Census Bureau