Black Portland City Hall staff feel unsupported, survey finds

This summer, Portland city employees received a survey designed to answer a fundamental question: How satisfied are Black City Hall staff?

One hundred and three employees responded. Eight of them said they felt supported in their work.

City council members received the results of the investigation Tuesday as part of a working session on supporting black employees. The numbers seemed to shock many commissioners, who regularly cite anti-racism and fairness as the city’s main values.

But it underscored what many staff members say they’ve been trying to get the attention of officials for for years: Black employees working for one of America’s whitest cities feel undervalued and overloaded.

“If this survey was a bulletin that assessed the black experience… it would fail the city of Portland,” said Ira Bailey, coordinator of the Portland Housing Bureau, who presented the results to council.

Portland City Hall.

Amanda Troxler / OPB

Bailey is one of six leaders of the City African-American Network, a volunteer group for black city workers that works to improve the experience for black city workers. Over the past few years, the group has led three reports on black employees as well as Tuesday’s working session.

According to the presentation, 49% of respondents said they felt symbolized at work; 53% said they felt unsafe when disclosing their mental health distress to their supervisors.

“The reality is that black employees don’t feel supported,” said Tyesha McCool-Riley, mental health programs specialist in the Office of Community and Civic Life. “They don’t feel like they have the ability to access the support and resources they need to feel like they really want to stay there.

Members of the group said they struggled to get basic demographics from the city’s human resources office, including a list of black city employees they were looking for as they worked to expand. the number of group members. The data they were able to retrieve showed that the percentage of black employees in city government has declined in recent years even as Portland City Council has become historically diverse. In 2019, there were 793 black employees, making up 7.7% of the workforce. The most recent data showed 456 employees who identified as black, or 6.7% of the city’s workforce. (The city’s total number of employees also declined during this period, although the overall percentage of the workforce who identify as white has increased slightly.)

According to the group’s analysis, most of the black staff remaining in the city were in service or administrative support positions. The Portland Parks Bureau, which employs a large number of seasonal workers, had the blackest staff, followed by the Bureau of Transportation, which required a large number of maintenance workers. The Office of Equity and Human Rights had the highest percentage of black employees.

Just under 4% of the Portland Police Department identified as black.

“I think that tells a story in itself of where black employees are valued in the city of Portland and where they get entry,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said.

As the first black female commissioner in Portland’s history, Hardesty said she encountered resistance and skepticism from city officials when she first took office. Changing the culture of town hall, she said, was not a matter of politics. It was about changing the way supervisors and managers viewed black employees.

“I know exactly how you feel, because I feel it every day in the seat I’m in,” she said.

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