Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bamboo Gate and Glass Ceiling

Asians Left Out of Government Jobs and Promotions at East Bay Agencies

By Edward Tom

Government jobs are known to be good wage jobs with great benefits. For many in the Asian-American community, getting a good city job is a sign of success. However, an OCA investigation of the hiring statistics of East Bay public agencies – city of Oakland, the Port of Oakland, East Bay Municipal Utility District and Bay Area Rapid Transit – shows that Asian-Americans are being left out of traditional public works jobs and slow in being promoted to management positions.

A gap between employment and Asian-Americans available in the workforce is most prominent in management positions – the “glass ceiling” phenomenon – because employees hit a discriminatory ceiling above which they cannot be promoted. Asians are also significantly under hired in the public works and blue-collar jobs.

Public Agency Studies Find Disparities Between Employment and Asians Available to Work

Federal law requires agencies receiving federal funds to study their employment practices. East Bay agencies periodically study their workforce by job categories and by race. They then compare the ethnic makeup of their employees against the makeup of the available workforce pool from which they hire. So, for example, if 10% of an agency’s workforce is Asian-Americans and 16% of the available workforce in the relevant area is Asian, then the agency has underutilized Asian-Americans by 6%.

The city of Oakland, by far the largest public agency in the East Bay with over 5,400 employees, recently released its employment study. The study showed that Asian Americans are underutilized in 3 out of 8 job categories. The biggest disparity is in the category of service/maintenance workers where Asians are underutilized by 9.35% (translating into 56 positions). In the management and director ranks, Asians are underutilized by 4.51%, or almost 17 positions.

In 2006, EBMUD had 62 Directors/Managers; Asian underutilization within this group was 11% or close to 7 positions. Underrepresentation in various other job groups include 14% (5.0 jobs) for Technicians, 10% (3.3 jobs) for Plant Operators Lead/Supervision and 10% (7.7 jobs) for Lab & Quality Control Technicians.

At the end of the year 2000, BART was above or only a few percent below placement goals for most of their non-managerial job groups. However, of the 156 Executives / Managers, only 6.5% or 10.1 people were Asian. According to their placement goals, there was a deficit of 11.4% (7.4 positions) for transportation supervisors, 10.1% (8.1 positions) for other supervisors, and 9.2% (9.2 positions) for other foreworkers. Only within the Transportation Foreworker and Police Supervisors and Managers were they above goal.

The Port of Oakland had 45 Officials / Managers in 2005 and Asians were underutilized by 5.0%, or 2.3 positions. Since The Port had the fewest employees, the number of underrepresented is low. They do however, hold the highest underrepresentation percentage: 22.1% for Operatives. This, only amounts to 3.3 persons because there were only 15 people within the job group. Another astounding figure was that out of 28 Laborers, zero were Asian.

Why The Hiring and Promotion Disparity?

When asked what the city of Oakland is doing to ensure workforce diversity, Don Jeffries, Equal Opportunity Programs Division Manager, explained that they are conducting compliance reviews, barrier analyses and have an EEO plan. However, there are some challenges. Sometimes data is not yet available for determining progress, or creating plans, policies and strategies for addressing deficiencies. “It’s a long term effort.” In addition, the city is planning to review strategies to reduce any imbalances.

Another possible explanation, according to the EBMUD FY06 Program Report, is that “most of the turnover in District manager and director positions will occur in the next two to five years due to the relatively higher age profile of long-term incumbents in these positions.” In other words, as the Baby Boomer generation begins to reach retirement age changes should occur in the workforce.

Although the Port of Oakland received federal funding this year and in past years, and therefore is subject to requirement to prevent discrimination, as of late March 2007, The Port had only a draft workforce diversity study conducted in 2005 that was never completed.

BART is meeting placement goals in many of its job positions, however its latest Affirmative Action Report, from December 2000, is based on 1990 Census data and is more than six years old. BART Civil Rights Officer, Ron Granada, stated, “Our plan covers a 5-year period. Our new EOP is in progress.” The new Equal Opportunity Program report would be based on the 2000 Census information.

Asian-Americans need to act

A former city of Oakland employee who wishes to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the information, offers a different explanation: “For many positions, the City tends to promote and hire based on who you know. So, if Asian-Americans do not know the people who already work at the City, they will not get hired. We need to be more assertive.”

During a recent lunch workshop sponsored by OCA-East Bay, Jack Lee, an attorney specializing in employment, consumer fraud and civil rights law at Minami Tamaki LLP, and Elaine Lew-Smith, the Affirmative Action Officer at EBMUD discussed with 45 participants some of the causes of disparity. During the discussion, one participant stated that Asians do not have someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton who will advocate on our behalf. Greg Chan of OCA-East Bay commented, “If you say something about African Americans, they’ll come after you, but if you say something about Asians, maybe not.” Lee pointed out that this is all connected with “political sophistication” and “access to power.” “If Asians are discriminated against, they tend to leave or don’t complain,” replied Lew-Smith. “It’s hard as an individual, but if we don’t stand up as a group, no one will care.” Another issue is that since there are fewer Asians in management positions, there are fewer to serve as mentors or role models.

Does this show that the agencies are using discriminatory practices?

Some contend that the disparities are indication of either intentional or unconscious discrimination against Asian-Americans for certain jobs and promotions, however proving discrimination may be difficult. During the workshop, Lee explained that while workforce statistics show that Asians are underutilized in many job groups, they do not necessarily show that there is discrimination. Additionally, if statistics showing underutilization were presented in court, some opponents would say Asians deserve credit for areas of overrepresentation. It is necessary to identify a process that is causing discrimination against a legally protected group based on age, gender, race, language, et cetera. The minimum required to make a discrimination case is someone within a protected group not getting a job, while someone outside of that group gets the job instead.

What can employees and employers do about underutilization?

At the workshop, Elaine Lew-Smith stated that after Proposition 209 passed, many believed that you could not do selective hiring. “Not true”, says Lew-Smith. Employers can still do focused recruiting when underutilized. To help address underutilization, EBMUD offers various programs to develop diversity, leadership, and training among its employees, as well as internships and education programs to help recruit minority and female employees. The standard employers should strive to achieve is workforce representation equal to Labor Market representation.

Two questions to consider when reviewing an employer’s hiring process…

  • Are they recruiting candidates representative of the labor market?
  • Do any racial or gender candidate groups pass the selection process at a rate significantly below other groups?”
Two questions to consider when reviewing an employer’s promotion rate…

  • Are any racial / gender groups failing to promote at the rate they are represented in the feeder groups?
  • Do they offer training programs to assist employee’s development and enhance supervisors / managers cultural competency?

What does OCA –plan to do?

To reach a wider audience, East Bay OCA - East Bay plans to follow up the luncheon workshop by sponsoring a larger “town-hall” meeting on the issue of underutilization and glass ceilings. Attendees will include local organizations, as well as more of the public and public officials.

In September, an annual fundraising banquet will feature a keynote speaker on this issue. The “town-hall” meeting will be held after the banquet in October or November.

1 comment:

ninquelote said...

This article was so awesome I didn't even have to read it.