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City of St. Pete internal survey shows diversity in theory, but not necessarily in practice

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete city employees want to have a diverse and inclusive workplace.

The city conducted an internal survey of 1,124 of its employees. There are a little over 3,000 total employees, including about 500 part-timers. The results of that survey show that 95 percent of employees agree there should be equal support and opportunities to grow in their careers.

The survey was voluntary and all employees could take it.

Another 95 percent think people in the same job should have access to the same equipment, training or technology and 95 percent of those who participated in the voluntary survey indicated all citizen customers should be given the same levels of service.

But results from that survey show while employees overwhelmingly support those values, they aren’t quite as confident in their implementation.

While 95 percent of those surveyed said all employees should have the same opportunities, only 30 percent agreed their department “uses systems that make sure that everyone gets a fair chance to be successful.”

And 44 percent of those surveyed indicated they were not “confident that there is no prejudice or bias in our system of promotions or transfers.”

There is also a feeling among some staff that the Mayor’s Office has not done an adequate job of communicating messages promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace. While 65 percent of respondents agreed those messages were clearly communicated, 7 percent disagreed and another 22 percent didn’t have an opinion.

Survey takers were also invited to offer comments about their work experience with the city.

Comments involving race were particularly interesting. Some commenters complained there were not enough opportunities for African-American employees while others complained it was easier for black employees to get promoted to fill a “quota.”

The disparity was even noted by one commenter who wrote, “there is a thinking among employees that the city will give minorities promotions in order to fill a quota … at the same time, minority employees feel they are discriminated against and do not receive equal opportunities.”

In questions involving access to resources and opportunities, far more African-American employees indicated they did not feel there were equal opportunities – 44 percent verse just 35 percent who did see equal access. Meanwhile, only 25 percent of white employees saw a disparity in opportunities and access while just 13 percent of Asian-American employees saw a problem.

Despite overall positive responses from employees, there were still some issues identified with gender equality.

“The question was asked if women can do just as good of a job in all areas of the workplace as men can, and several men have raised their hand and said NO,” wrote one survey taker.

Yet comments also seemed to imply a sense of reverse gender discrimination. One comment suggested the city “discontinue passing over people for hiring and promotion just because they are a white male.” Another told a story about “firing a white woman and replacing her with a gay man in interests of diversity.”

On that note, still other comments implied an unfair work environment for LGBT employees. One person wrote that he/she was discriminated against based on their HIV-positive diagnosis. Another said a coworker made comments about gay people during a break in the lunch room and that person “found these comments to be extremely inappropriate.”

One comment went in the opposite direction, alleging the city gave preferential treatment to LGBT employees by offering “same-sex unmarried couples benefits and not heterosexual unmarried couples.” It’s unclear what “benefits” this commenter was referring to. St. Pete has a domestic partnership registry available, but that applies to all couples, not just same-sex.

There were also positive comments, including notations that the city is “fair and respectful with everyone” and “there’s never a lack of respect or professionalism toward the public.”

One person wrote, “the city of St. Petersburg is the most diverse city in west central Florida.” Another wrote, “this city is far ahead of the curve in maximizing the strength of its workforce by frequently stressing the value of diversity.

Other comments included complaints about generational problems. One surveyor wrote, “I have seen ageism and favoritism. Longevity and experience with the city are seen as negatives.” Another wrote, “there is no sensitivity for people over 40. Everything exists to cater to millennials.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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