Windsor looks to diversify municipal workforce
In replacing retiring workers, Dilkens is pushing for new hires to reflect makeup
A wave of about 1,200 predominantly white City of Windsor employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years and Mayor Drew Dilkens wants their replacements to be much more racially diverse. “Today when I walk around city hall there are a lot of faces representative of what it was like 25 or 30 years ago. That demographic has changed,” Dilkens said Friday, as he explained his Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. Dilkens hopes the initiative will transform the city hall workforce into something that reflects Windsor’s current status as the fourth most ethnically diverse city in the country. “When I was in high school at Vincent Massey in the late ’80s, early ’90s, if you said someone was diverse it meant they were Italian. That was diversity,” the mayor said, estimating that the student body was comprised of 98 per cent white faces. Now, if you go to Massey, or any other high school, the makeup is dramatically different, he said.
According to census figures for Windsor, the number of visible minorities rose to 57,605 in the 2016 census (26.9 per cent) from 35,350 in the 2002 census (16.2 per cent of the population), an increase of 22,255 people when the city’s population rose just 8,120. Since figures from the 2016 census actually come from 2015, the numbers are undoubtedly even higher in 2018.
With 48 per cent of the city hall workforce eligible to retire in five years, the opportunity is now to make changes to ensure new hiring is reflective of the broader community, the mayor said.
“It doesn’t mean not taking the best candidate. It still means taking the best candidate,” he said, explaining he wants to make sure that hiring policies and practices don’t have build-in discrimination or biases that make it difficult for minorities to get their feet in the door.
He has asked staff to prepare a report on making the workforce more diverse. Once completed in the next month or two it would go to the city’s diversity committee and eventually to city council for a vote.
“What I want is those who are coming here (to Windsor), and those who are from diverse backgrounds who are here, I want them to feel like this is a place that is welcoming,” the mayor said. “I want them to feel like they have opportunities here.” Dilkens is “100 per cent right” that the city hall workforce is “very white, very pink, very pale, very European,” said Sushil Jain, who chairs the city’s diversity committee.
“I know it has been like an old boys’ club, that’s what people have told me, that you needed to know someone, but in the last few years, under this mayor and the last mayor, they’ve been trying to change it.”
One problem the city has is that human rights rules hamper attempts to get accurate data on the current makeup. Employees can only be asked to volunteer the information and the number of willing to do it is woefully inadequate. Mark Vander Voort, the president of CUPE Local 543 representing city hall inside workers, said there will be a lot of people leaving in the next five years. And he shares his union’s position that racial diversity to the workforce is a good thing, that “everybody needs to be given a fair shake.” He said the mayor’s intentions are laudable. “I just think it needs to be done with an abundance of caution to make sure everyone’s opportunities are considered and it’s a fair process,” said Vander Voort, who will be eligible to retire in the fall with an unreduced pension.
Dilkens wants administration to look at its hiring process and make sure there are no hidden biases that disfavour visible minorities. “What this is really about is saying that as this wave of baby boomers start to retire, how do we make sure that the systems internally are able to evaluate and appreciate skills and experiences from other places.”
Police, who are not included in the 2,500-strong workforce Dilkens wants looked at, have done a great job in recent years of diversifying its new recruits, he said. But the story’s different with the fire service, which is included in the workforce.
“Fire is not diverse at all,” he said. “If you look at the last several classes (of recruits) it’s almost all white faces.”
The mayor said his initiative has nothing to do with courting votes of the city’s multicultural groups for the coming Oct. 22 municipal election. It’s an issue that was part of his inaugural speech after he was elected in 2014.
“This is not something that just popped on my screen today. I’ve been trying behind the scenes to try to figure out the best way.” The wave of retirements is not just coming for Windsor, he said. It’s happening at municipalities throughout the province, and these are well-paid jobs that people tend to stay at throughout their careers.
“If I were a young person graduating university, I’d be certainly excited.”
“Fire is not diverse at all,” says Mayor Drew Dilkens. “If you look at the last several classes (of recruits) it’s almost all white faces.”