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Audit: City failing to hire equal numbers of women

Wednesday, August 18, 2021 by Jo Clifton

While the city has achieved its overall goal of hiring racial and ethnic minorities in numbers equal to the local population, only 39 percent of Austin’s Municipal Civil Service workforce are women, compared to 50 percent of the Austin-Round Rock area population, according to a report by the Office of the City Auditor.

Municipal Civil Service, or MCS, includes most employees except the staff of the Law Department, executives, City Council staff, temporary employees, and police, fire and EMS employees, who have their own civil service organization.

The audit shows that departments vary greatly, both in terms of women hired and in the number of Hispanic, Black and other minority employees. Unlike the city, women make up 53 percent of the workforce for Travis County and the state of Texas, the auditors said.

Auditors analyzed each department in terms of the percentage of men and women within the Municipal Civil Service workforce. According to their analysis, Fleet Mobility Services, Austin Resource Recovery, Austin Water, Public Works and Watershed Protection had the lowest percentage of female employees. In contrast, Austin Public Health, Animal Services, police within the MCS category (not uniformed officers), Small and Minority Business Resources, and Municipal Court had the highest percentages of women workers.

The auditors also wrote that “further analysis of pay throughout the organization may provide insight into inequities. A cursory analysis found that departments with more employees that identify as ‘white’ were correlated to higher average pay.” This problem is not unique to the city of Austin, auditors noted.

The report concludes that current city initiatives are not sufficient to identify and address workforce disparities. Although the Human Resources Department states that “the workforce should closely mirror the community,” auditors found that the directive is absent from guidance documents and “lacks associated performance measures.” Likewise, the city does not have a process to identify which departments’ demographics fail to align with community demographics.

Auditors noted that departments cannot get direct assistance from Human Resources to remedy a lack of minority or female employees unless they acknowledge deficiencies in their recruiting and hiring and ask for help.

One surprising finding was that the city seems to be “out of compliance with three federal grants awarded to the Austin Police Department.” The grants require the city to report workforce demographic data, but APD officials told auditors they were not aware of the reporting requirements. However, auditors noted that the department has started to work on the issue.

Auditors made numerous recommendations to city management and to Human Resources to assist the city in diversifying its workforce. For example, auditors said Human Resources does not regularly review recruiting and hiring data or departmental hiring to ensure compliance with policies related to equitable hiring.

One problem the auditors noted is that the city MCS rules state that the hiring process must be competitive and that “all hiring decisions must be made based on merit and fitness.” It is not clear how departments can follow two directives that may appear to be working at cross purposes. At any rate, it is clear that in order to address disparities, Human Resources will have to become more involved with hiring.

In response to the audit, HR Director Joya Hayes wrote, “We do recognize there are areas that need more attention, and as the city continues to grow and authorize new positions, HRD also needs additional employees to ensure hiring is done within our guidelines and so we can provide adequate oversight for departments.”

Council’s Audit and Finance Committee will have an opportunity to ask questions and accept the audit at this morning’s meeting.

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