Race/Gender Gaps in Boston’s Municipal Workforce

Police Accountability, Racial Justice

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) issued an open letter to Mayor Michelle Wu outlining findings based on public records disclosures from four Boston agencies: the Boston Police Department (BPD), Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC), and Boston Public Works Department (BPWD).

LCR submitted public records requests to these agencies – as well as the Boston Fire Department (BFD) – in January 2022. BFD failed to respond. Overall, the agencies’ demographic disclosures reveal an alarming trend of significant underrepresentation among women and people of color within the municipal workforce.

BPD’s disclosures are particularly distressing. BPD’s data reveal that little has changed since 2016, when the uniformed workforce was approximately 65% white. Fast forward to 2022: BPD remains 64.9% white and minority representation hovers around one-third despite the City’s ever increasing diversity.  

BPHC’s data is emblematic of the problems that LCR uncovered across the other agencies. Data for uniformed Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel show that those identified as Black, Latinx, and Asian American are underrepresented both overall and within supervisor positions. Members of those groups only constitute about 14%, 9%, and 3% of EMS uniformed personnel respectively. This despite that these groups respectively represent approximately 22%, 19.5%, and 9.7% of Boston’s population. The EMS numbers are similar for women. Although women comprise 52% of Boston residents, they only represent 33.8% of all uniformed EMS personnel and 27.5% of uniformed supervisors. 

These gaps along racial and gender lines are not just relevant as a matter of workforce inequity. By increasing diversity and cultural competency, agencies would not only improve access to municipal services, but also the quality of those services. Boston’s increasingly multicultural and multilingual population should be able to engage with – and see themselves reflected in – the City’s workforce. 

The responsive agencies’ disclosures also suggest that they are taking few steps to fix the disparities within their ranks or ensure inclusive internal atmospheres. This raises serious concerns about the agencies’ current efforts to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

LCR is calling on the City of Boston to take corrective action immediately, including: 

  • Hiring a third-party monitor to conduct an independent audit that can comprehensively investigate the above issues across all municipal agencies, report back to City Hall and the public with reform recommendations, and assess periodic progress;
  • Imposing strict standards for DEI trainings across all city departments, including by dictating the substance and minimum frequency of such trainings;
  • Engaging with underrepresented workers to better understand the problems they face on the ground and devise solutions tailored for each agency that will affect change;
  • Encouraging agencies to hire with an eye towards linguistic diversity; 
  • Creating more transparency in agency hiring – including by developing and updating an online “diversity dashboard” that would allow the public to track annual hiring, staff, and management demographics within municipal agencies; and 
  • Developing meaningful partnerships with community-based organizations and other stakeholders such as the NAACP and the Greater Boston Latino Network (GBLN) that can advise on these issues on a regular basis.

The status quo is unacceptable, especially for communities of color, and a “business as usual” approach will not affect the necessary change. LCR urges city leadership to consider these solutions so that Boston can begin addressing the diversity-related issues affecting its agencies and their provision of services. LCR stands ready to support city leadership and community partners in these important efforts.

LCR’s records requests are available here: BPD, BFD, BWSC, BPWD, and BPHC. The agency responses are available upon request.

LCR’s letter to City Hall is available here: