The City of East Lansing Decries Bias. Its Workforce Demographics Tell a Different Story.

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Raymond Holt for ELi

City Manager George Lahanas at the Feb. 27, 2020, meeting of City Council.

A city that has long prided itself on being an advocate for disadvantaged groups and on standing up against discrimination has a workforce in which men hold two-thirds of the full-time jobs and several key departments employ only white people.

According to data provided to ELi by the City of East Lansing under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), at the end of 2019, about 65% of full-time employees were men, with about 35% women.

Meanwhile, only 44% of Black employees of either gender working as employees of the City hold full-time jobs, with 56% working part-time. All of the Black part-time workers are contingent workers; none are regularly-employed part-timers.

By contrast, 54% of white employees enjoy full-time employment with benefits. Full-time jobs typically come with higher salaries and far better benefits.

Five departments in the City of East Lansing are staffed entirely by whites.

These are Human Resources, IT, Communications, the City Manager’s Office, and the City Clerk’s Office. The Clerk’s office oversees voting, among other duties. The Human Resources department is responsible for hiring and firing of most employees and managing compensation packages.

The East Lansing Public Library, which often holds social justice-related events, has a workforce that is 90% white non-Hispanic. According to the census bureau, only 71% of the City’s population is white non-Hispanic.

Asians account for only 2.7% of the City’s workforce even though they make up 12% of the city’s population. All Asian men employed by the City are full-time employees, while 80% of Asian women are part-time.

On the surface, the statistics paint a picture of fewer disparities.

At the close of last year, the City’s workforce was exactly evenly divided between women and men: 274 each, making for a total of 548 employees.

Blacks and African Americans make up 7.48% of the City’s total workforce, 6.1% of the full-time workforce, and 7.8% of the East Lansing population according to information from the Census Bureau.

Those who identified as Hispanic or Latino account for both 4.8% of the City’s employees and of its residents. Fewer than 20% of Hispanic men were part-time workers, while 45% of Hispanic women were.

But digging in, a pattern emerges: It appears that lower-paying jobs are more likely to go to white women and African Americans of both genders.

Forty percent of City employees who identified as Black or African American or as “two or more races” are employed in Parks, Recreation, and Facilities, and the number of women there is more than double the men: 133 women to 51 men. Most of this unit’s workers (149 of 164) are part-time, and so the average yearly income in this group is low.

Parking, which is a male-dominated department, relies heavily on part-time workers. Parking is the most racially diverse department. Its workforce of 20 people includes one Asian, four Blacks and African Americans, two Latinx, one person of two races, and 12 whites.

But again, digging down shows a different picture. The six full-timers in Parking include five men and only one woman. Of the six full-time workers, all are white non-Hispanic except one Latinx man.

The library and the senior’s program also rely on a workforce that is majority part-time, lower-income women. Women make up 78% of the library workforce, where the average salary is $28,656. Women make up 100% for the seniors’ program, where average pay is roughly $31,000. These are the lowest average yearly incomes after Parking and Parks and Rec.

A FOIA response available on the City’s website provides a look at who makes the most money in the City. The request was filed by Kyle Kaminski of the City Pulse and was aimed at finding the top ten earners from Dec. 3, 2018 – Dec. 2, 2019. The City included the top thirteen earners, presumably because three of the top ten had retired by the time of the request.

City Manager George Lahanas received the top compensation, listed as bringing in about $211,000. Before he became City Manager, George Lahanas was the City’s Director of Human Resources.

In this list, of the top 10 earners who were not retired at the end of 2019, only 2 were women. One was Jill Feldpausch, Finance Director, who ranked sixth (fourth among non-retirees), bringing in about $160,000.

The other woman was Police Lieutenant Tresha Neff, who ranked seventh (fifth among non-retirees). She just retired.

In 2016, Neff sued ELPD for discrimination, arguing that she had been denied promotions and educational opportunities that her male colleagues received. The court case was thrown out by a federal judge in May 2017. Neff was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant by ELPD in March 2017.

We’ll be bringing a separate report on ELPD’s demographics, particularly its officers’ corps, which has been getting whiter and more male over the last several years.

We requested information about the City’s workforce demographics on June 8. On June 9, City Manager George Lahanas announced he would create the position of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Administrator in his statement “Regarding the National Conversation on Racial Inequality.”

On June 18, Elaine Hardy was appointed as the City’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Administrator.

When asked for comment on our findings, Hardy told ELi, “Part of the reason why this position was created was to look at all aspects of our hiring, recruitment, training and promotion policies with the lens of creating a more equitable and inclusive workforce – where disparities exist, and if they are shown to be a result of bias, we will work to realign our policies to support equitable outcomes.”

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