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Ravi Perry: Worcester’s Embarrassing Lack of Diversity in the Workforce

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Ravi Perry, Guest MINDSETTER™

Worcester, we have a problem. It’s a problem that is rooted in decades of injustice and centuries of ignorance. It’s a problem that affects us all. It’s a problem we must all own. The problem centers around diversity. And I don’t just mean the black and white binary. While that binary lends credence to all related contexts in terms of substantive action and legal protections, it is but one example.

I encompass diversity and inclusion in the broadest sense to include race, color, religion,
age, national and ethnic origin, disability, status as a veteran, language [multiplicity], socioeconomic background, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, political ideology, and theoretical approach.

The fact is Worcester’s city manager and staff are not doing enough to fix the problem. Despite slaps on the wrist by council members at various stages of his review through his tenure, City Manager O’Brien has done very little to solve the obvious problem. The city is now roughly comprised of a 35% person of color population; with Latino/as leading the way, persons of African (including American) descent, and Asian (including American) descent fall shortly behind.

Yet, as of 2010 at least, the city’s own data reported to the federal government concerning the diversity of the city’s workforce proves a 10% minority city workforce.

Most cities would be embarrassed by this lack of representation. Most city leadership nationwide in cities of comparable size have seriously sought to address the issue.

(If it were a priority, for example, the city’s Office of Human Rights and new City Manager appointed Director of Human Rights would not have been abysmally silent given the recent community attention regarding that tragic Russo racial profiling incident in Hammond Heights last summer).

In Worcester, diversity, representation and inclusion is clearly not a priority. And we all should own up to that. We should all be concerned that mostly white men run all departments. It’s not that they aren’t qualified, it’s that others who applied (or may have if informed of vacancy) were never seriously considered or sought after. Most of those “others” were women and persons of color.

For all of us, but particularly for women, it should be concerning that most women are working for the city in clerical positions, as if it’s still the 1950s. This should be embarrassing for a city leadership full of members of the Democratic Party.

Additionally, to have a city council that never had two members of color serve simultaneously is simply another sad case of affairs. To have a charter with a neighborhood council provision with no authority and subsequently, no representation in government, is just – sad.

Here’s why all of this matters. First, if the city’s executive leadership cared, they could be reaping financial benefits from diversity and inclusion efforts in contracting and hiring. But, a lack of vision prevents that from happening. Second, if we citizens truly cared about having a government that represented everyone both substantively and descriptively, we would do better with volunteering for boards and commissions, getting out the vote, and encouraging diverse candidates to run for office. But, the reality is, we don’t really do much of that, either.

I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but Worcester has a lot of be proud of. We have a lot to showcase to others. And it baffles me, why we don’t do so. Particularly when the rewards for each of us individually and for the community, collectively, are so great.

So, for now, I’m done ranting. But, I seriously wish more of us were willing to hold our elected and appointed official accountable for their actions and inactions. From the distribution of Community Development Block Grant funds to the lack of serious solutions to persistent problems of inequity that permeates city hall, we have some serious problems to solve.

Just talking about it in forum after forum won’t accomplish much.

Ignoring the problems or pretending they don’t exist, won’t solve them, either.

One way to begin to solve these problems, and to improve business representation in government, increase opportunities for neighborhood representation (and so much more) is to call for a re-visit of the Plan A form of government grassroots campaign movement.

All signs point to the fact that if executive leadership was directly accountable to the voters for their decisions, a lot would have to change, and we’d all be better for it.

As a final word, what I am addressing is not affirmative action. It’s not special benefits for a few at the hands of everyone else. My message is simply that we all lose when everyone is not seriously a part of the decision making table.

Group mobility matters. And the group to which I’m referring is called the human race.

Dr. Ravi Perry is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of Race and Ethnic Relations at Clark University where he specializations in Black politics, minority representation, and urban politics. He concentrates his research, oratory, and activism in areas such as the new generation of civil rights debates, public policy, and urban politics public service delivery to persons of color. His activism, commentary and oratory have been featured in media outlets nation-wide. 


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