Minnesota state agencies barely employ more minorities now than they did in 1997 and a number of departments are showing a decline despite the steady growth of populations of color statewide, according to a new report by the Minnesota State Affirmative Action Association (MSAAA).
Further, it appears that the bulk of that slippage has occurred since Gov. Tim Pawlenty took office in early 2003 for reasons that are unclear, according to the 25-page report.
Some affirmative action advocates argue that the state of affairs is the result of lackadaisical attitudes toward the related laws, coupled with an unwieldy computerized hiring system — assertions that some state officials deny. Many of the state’s affirmative mandates simply aren’t followed or have makeshift solutions while some statutes are crafted in such a way that they’re impossible to fulfill, the MSAAA report explains.
It points out shortcomings such as the absence of a full-time diversity director to oversee affirmative action and equal opportunity efforts, a required position that was cut early in the Pawlenty Administration, with some of those duties being heaped onto an employee relations staffer. Additionally, each of the 1,000-plus departments are supposed to have a diversity point-person, but a good chunk of them don’t and in many cases that role has been reduced.
Departmental affirmative action plans aren’t due until well into the period for which they cover while progress reports haven’t been delivered since 2001.
MSAAA president John Gilbertson, who helped put the report together, argues that the state should be held to the same standard that it requires of its contractors. On top of that, he says, bad laws should be changed and formulas for determining goals for minority inclusion should be adapted. (For example, one stipulation imposes ineffective quotas on the state.)
Corrections’ affirmative action plan is among the best, he says, but its record for hiring minorities is conversely one of the worst. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is one of those that recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t do, but others are slower to switch gears.
“Affirmative action is a shell of what it used to be…30 years ago it had more teeth. Now it’s more about equal opportunity,” Gilbertson said. In any case, “It’s not taken seriously.”
Judy Reinehr, a human/civil rights activist from Hopkins who belongs to the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions agreed: “To me that says that state agencies aren’t being proactive in recruiting [for a diverse workforce],” something she adds takes a lot of time and energy. Nevertheless, “Holding government responsible is really important,” she stressed.
A look at the data
Among the MSAAA report’s key findings:
• Minority representation spiked two percent overall from 1997 to 2007.
• The Department of Human Services nearly doubled in minority hires since 1997 and was among some of the agencies making significant strides.
• Advances happened mainly in the lowest-paying jobs for most agencies.
• Minority inclusion went down for one-third of state agencies.
• Minorities in management positions rose .3 percent overall, but decreased in half of the 18 agencies. (In Military Affairs and Finance, there are no minorities).
• Of 613 skilled craft positions, only about two percent are held by people of color.
• In the Department of Administration alone, only one of 34 officials and administrators is a minority, while just a handful of 151 professionals and one of 59 skilled craft laborers are minority.
• Female professionals went up by 5.6 percent; however, they comprised less than one percent of the skilled craft jobs.
• Female managers climbed nine percent, but dropped off in five departments.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s demographics have changed a lot in that time: Currently, minorities account for nearly 10 percent of residents, compared with 5.6 percent, according to the available U.S. Census data in 1997.
Blame the Internet hiring system?
MSAAA attributes some of the these disparities to the state’s Internet-based hiring system, “Resumix,” stating that it inadvertently discriminates against minorities who have less access to the Internet. But it’s also unfair to applicants overall because, “Thousands of qualified persons (of every race) in the resume bank are not notified of positions for which they are well qualified,” it reads.
The same minority availability data is used across the board, rather than doing the math for individual job types, which results in unattainable hiring goals while internal candidates are often overlooked. By looking at the state as a whole, minority availability in the marketplace is marginalized because the metro area boasts the most diversity and it could capitalize on that, the report states.
Affirmative action staffer Martha Brechlin rationalized that availability isn’t based simply on population, noting that employees that come from the metro area and outstate are split 50/50. She says the Internet system expands accessibility even beyond the state’s borders. “Resumix is one of several ways to apply,” she said, adding that paper resumes are accepted. (The caveat here, according to the report, is that hard-copy resumes are too slowly scanned into the system.) “It’s handled differently by each department,” she said.
Further, applicants voluntarily offer information such as race and gender. Those blanks are hidden to hiring managers, however, and “affirmative action isn’t built in” to the hiring process, according to Brechlin (which makes it harder to understand how affirmative action goals are realized but couldn’t be clarified by press time).
HR manager Laurie Hansen, also defended Resumix, saying that it is just one tool among others and that applications are manually vetted. “Everyone goes through human hands,” she said. Additionally, she likened it to other computerized application systems that are now commonplace.
Jim Monroe, the director of the union Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, which has 12,000 professional-level members, concedes that the hiring system is flawed. “You have to know how to fill in the key words. It has artificial barriers… I’m not a big fan of it.” Plus, “There aren’t a lot of promotions…we need to take a look at how we’re doing things,” he said.
Lester Collins, who heads the Council on Black Minnesotans, said the report’s findings are discouraging. “It definitely concerns me … There’s no doubt that with growing cultural and ethnic groups, their representation ought to be rising, not decreasing … Minorities and disadvantaged groups are a vital part of where the workforce is headed,” he said.
More emphasis should be placed on job retention so “people can stay and make careers,” Collins said. It requires “a real concerted effort … with greater creativity, more assertive intention… Hopefully, Minnesota can become a model for federal agencies.”