The State Worker

California state government diversity lacking

An ironic fact: California is the nation’s most ethnically diverse state, but its government is disproportionately white, while Hispanics are heavily underrepresented.

To what degree this matters and what the state should do about it will be batted around during a joint-committee hearing Wednesday morning at the Capitol. Marybel Batjer, secretary of the Government Operations Agency, will be there. So will her director of human resources, Richard Gillihan. They set the course for state hiring practices, including equal opportunity policy.

Here’s the challenge: Right now, according to federal and state-employee census data analyzed by The Sacramento Bee, Hispanics make about 40 percent of the state population yet accounted for 23 percent of total government workers in state departments with 1,000 or more employees.

Meanwhile, whites accounted for 47 percent of employees in those departments, compared to about 40 percent of the population statewide. A little more than 10 percent of the government’s workforce is black, nearly double the state’s percentage of black residents. About 10 percent are Asian. Statewide, that group accounts for 13 percent of the population.

Unless something changes, the diversity gap will widen.

In 10 years, millennials will comprise 75 percent of the state workforce. It’s a generation much more ethnically and culturally diverse than the retiring boomers they’re replacing, Batjer said in a July 1 letter to the joint committee’s Democratic co-chairs, Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Alameda and Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento. “The state has no choice but to change how it recruits, develops and retains employees.”

Over the years, the state has tried several times to improve diversity. Its latest effort, Batjer said, is a central part of a top-to-bottom overhaul of state civil service that 28 groups are working on.

(In decades past, the state might have set hiring quotas. Proposition 209 ended that practice when voters in 1996 changed the state constitution to ban discrimination by public institutions on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity.)

Leaders from the Latin American Civic Association, the United College Action Network and the Civil Rights Coalition also will speak Wednesday. It’s a safe bet they will say they are tired of waiting for change.

Tyrone Netters, a former state employee and chairman of the State Employee Civil Rights Coalition, said his group for years has pressed for change in the state’s equal employment practices. The members are worried that all of the discussion about increasing civil service diversity is just “lip service,” Netters said, and that the state consigns the subject to an afterthought when it should be woven into hiring policy.

“There are well-meaning people in state service. Marybel Batjer and Richard Gillihan have good intentions,” he said, “but at some point in time we’ve got to get beyond political correctness and get into politically correct action.”