Report: 27 percent of Lexington city employees are Black but most hold low-paying jobs

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The city of Lexington is revamping some training programs, starting a mentorship system and upping minority recruitment after a report showed Black civil service employees hold some of the lowest-paid positions in city government.

“Lexington’s civil service workforce is 27 percent Black,” said John Maxwell, the director of human resources for the city.

That’s good.

According to labor statistics, 10 percent of Fayette County’s available workforce is Black. Overall, Fayette County’s Black population is about 15 percent of the total population. That means the city’s efforts to diversify its workforce are working.

“The city does a good job hiring minorities and retaining them,” Maxwell said during a Tuesday Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council General Government and Social Services committee.

But Black people and people of color are not in higher-paying jobs, an analysis of jobs, pay, race and ethnicity showed.

“We have a high percentage of people of color and racial ethnicity in our lower pay grades,” Maxwell said.

Roughly 70 percent of the city’s Black employees are in the lowest two pay categories, data produced by the city and presented Tuesday showed.

Approximately 40 percent of all Black employees are in the lowest city pay grade compared to 19 percent of white employees. The second-lowest pay grade shows similar disproportionate numbers — 29 percent of employees in that pay grade are Black.

In addition, only 8.9 percent of employees in the highest pay grade are Black, the numbers show.

The analysis included about 1,300 employees that are part of the city’s civil service ranks. It did not include temporary, seasonal employees and those covered by collective bargaining agreements — police, fire and corrections. Those employees do not fall under the city’s civil service rules.

The civil service commission, made up of appointed members who oversee the city’s civil service employees, pushed the city to make changes to address the pay inequalities, said Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton.

“We must address this now,” Hamilton told the council committee.

How to increase minority recruitment

First, the city is upping its recruitment efforts in minority communities, including in publications that target the city’s Spanish-speaking community and other social media sites, to increase the number of qualified minority candidates available for city positions, Maxwell said.

Councilwoman Jennifer Reynolds, who represents the Versailles Road area and speaks Spanish, has helped the city increase its outreach and job advertisements in publications that target minority communities.

The city’s Hispanic workforce is less than .61 percent of its total civil service workforce. Fayette County’s available Latinx workforce is 4.0 percent, according to workforce data.

Reynolds said Tuesday there are more publications and more social media avenues the city can use to attract more minority candidates for upper-tier, higher-paid positions.

The city also plans to do more events at historically Black colleges and universities.

Mentorship, other programs to increase promotion opportunities

“We also need to increase the opportunities for promotion,” Maxwell said.

About 30 percent of the city’s jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Higher-paid positions often require a bachelor’s degree, Maxwell said.

U.S. Census data shows 43 percent of Fayette County’s workforce has a bachelor’s degree. The vast majority — 85 percent — of those with bachelor’s degrees are white. In Fayette, 6.1 percent of Black workers have bachelor’s degrees.

However, Maxwell said city policy allows applicants to use relevant experience instead of a degree, which helps the city attract more minority candidates. Once hired, advancement can be an issue for workers.

“Internally, we need to make sure our promotions are accessible to everyone,” Maxwell said.

From July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2020, 23 percent of 638 promoted employees were Black, city numbers show. That amount can be increased, Maxwell said.

Some mid-level and upper-level city jobs require one to two years of supervisory experience. A few years ago, the city started a training academy, a 60-hour program that counts for one year of supervisory experience. That gives people the experience they need to advance, Maxwell said.

Because of budget cuts, that program was curtailed. But Maxwell said it will ramp back up after the council agreed to hire a training coordinator for the human resource department as part of the $401 million budget approved by the council on Tuesday.

Once that new training czar comes on board, the city will also start a mentor program to help match higher-level employees with minority employees who want to advance. There will be training for both mentor and the mentee. Once completed, the mentee will also gain one year of supervisory experience, Maxwell said.

That program will likely start sometime in June 2022, after the training coordinator is hired, he said.

Earlier this year, the human resources department also launched an online step-by-step guide on advancing in city government.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman James Brown said the promotion panels, or city employees that interview candidates, also need diversity. That’s been an issue in other non-civil service branches of government, including the police department, Brown said.

Hamilton agreed.

“We often hire people who look like us,” Hamilton said. Hamilton promised the council that diversifying those hiring or promotion panels will be part of the city’s efforts to address pay inequity.

The city of Lexington, like all employers, is also struggling to attract employees in a tight labor market. As part of the proposed budget passed Tuesday, all civil service employees will receive a 3 percent raise. It is the first such salary increase since 2018, Maxwell said.

If the city does not consistently raise its wages and make tweaks to those pay scales, it will continue to struggle to attract job candidates, including minorities, Maxwell said.

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