WPTI Hosts Briefing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Frontline Workforce Development Professionals

On Tuesday, March 9, 2021, Workforce Professionals Training Institute (WPTI) hosted the third briefing in connection with its Voices from the Frontline initiative. This briefing followed the third report in connection with the initiative, Voices from the Frontline: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for NYC’s Frontline Workforce Development Professionals, which offered compelling data on the impact of race and gender on workforce professionals with regard to their salaries, their opportunities for advancement, and their day-to-day workplace experience.

The Report

The findings revealed in this report developed out of the 2020 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Professionals, conducted by Workforce Professionals Training Institute (WPTI) – in partnership with the Labor Market Information Service (LMIS) at CUNY – in January and February 2020. The survey, which was completed by 362 respondents, explored a range of issues, including:

  • Compensation and benefits
  • Career goals, including short- and long-term plans
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Job quality
  • The impact of contracts and funding on the worker experience

Responses to the survey reveal a frontline workforce that is predominantly made up of women (67 percent of respondents) and people of color (72 percent), with both women and people of color represented more heavily among frontline workforce professionals than among the broader New York City population. Black workers are most notably overrepresented among frontline workforce professionals, with 35 percent of survey respondents identifying as Black or African-American (as compared to 24 percent of New Yorkers identifying as Black), including 25 percent identifying as Black women. Only 21 percent of respondents identified as white, as compared to the 42 percent of the broader New York City population identifying as white.

This predominantly female, predominantly non-white workforce is highly educated, with 74 percent possessing at least a bachelor’s degree (as compared to 44 percent of the broader working-age NYC population), yet in spite of this high level of education, salaries remain low, with 58 percent earning less than the city median of approximately $55,000. In addition to low pay across the sector, the third report revealed that workers of color earn less than their white counterparts.

A Conversation on Equity

The session began with remarks by WPTI Executive Director Sharon Sewell-Fairman, who laid out some of WPTI’s current work on issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) – including our current DEI Learning Community for workforce providers as well as our Workforce Systems Leadership Program (WSLP), operated in partnership with Coro New York, which focuses on how workforce development can contribute to an equitable economic recovery for New York, and which provides an avenue for emerging senior leaders of color to advance within the workforce development field. She also discussed WPTI’s 2021 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Development Professionals, released March 8, which focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on workers in our field,.

Following her remarks, Dana Archer-Rosenthal presented some of the key findings in her report. In addition to the field demographics discussed above, Ms. Archer-Rosenthal revealed evidence of inequities in the field – particularly with regard to race. Among other items, the report revealed:

  • There exists racial stratification with regard to salary, which cannot be explained by factors such as education and experience alone. Workers of color are overrepresented among those earning less than $55,000 and underrepresented among those earning more than $55,000, and this is true even when controlling for graduate-level education or years of experience.
  • Furthermore, only 59 percent of respondents to the 2020 survey indicated that organizational leadership is reflective of the community being served with regard to race, while 74 percent believe the frontline is reflective of the community with regard to race.
  • While 84 percent of respondents believe there are “enough” women in leadership roles at their organization, only 56 percent believe there are “enough” people of color in such roles.

The report also revealed differing experiences between individual racial or ethnic groups, with Asian-Americans, the least represented community among respondents, expressing less feelings of both physical and emotional safety in the workplace than respondents of other backgrounds.

Our Panel

Following the presentation on findings revealed in the report, we were joined by a panel of leaders in the workforce field with expertise and experience dealing with issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within and across workforce development organizations.

Kahmia Moise, Director of Equity and Inclusion at the Ali Forney Center, discussed how organizational capacity can often be the biggest obstacle to implementing effective DEI strategies, namely balancing the demands of contracts and funders with the need to spend time and energy on issues of equity.

Brittany Smith, Senior Director of Education and Training at the Fortune Society, also raised the importance of ensuring that frontline staff feel comfortable sharing their perspective, and understanding that their voice is important, especially when some individuals may feel hesitant or intimidated due to the presence of leadership.

Dr. Jen Siaca-Curry, founder and CEO of Change Impact, emphasized that DEI solutions are not “one size fits all,” and need to be responsive to the needs and conditions presented by the situation and organization in question. She also raised an existential question for the field – particularly around the issue of hiring, as workforce organizations often hire former participants in their programs, but sometimes into positions that offer low pay and little opportunity for advancement.

All three shared strategies for organizations to make headway on DEI challenges, and offered examples of areas where they have made or seen progress. They emphasized the need for listening and a commitment to long-term reeducation, particularly when issues of white supremacy and bias are so deeply embedded and structural. Organizations need to look at structures, systems, and programs to ensure that they are using a DEI lens – and that they are accessible and inclusive.

While some of these large-scale structural changes can and will require significant time and effort, immediate progress can be made on issues like transparency and information-sharing between leadership and staff. Online trainings are available to get the ball rolling, and organizations and leaders can set aside time for lunch-and-learn sessions or to simply make the space for team members to learn, grow, and begin engaging in this work. Furthermore, organizations can begin looking at hiring, staffing, and salary practices to ensure both equity and transparency.

Facilitated Conversation

Following the panel, Raabia Shafi of Raabia Shaafi Consulting and Colin Mincy of Human Rights Watch, both WPTI board members, facilitated an open conversation including panelists, the report’s author, and members of the audience, to gather audience questions and gather perspectives from around the room. Among other items, this conversation revealed a need for policy changes and systemic coordination, with a focus on DEI issues, as well as a desire to incorporate mentorship and coaching – especially for frontline workforce professionals of color. Furthermore, panelist Jen Siaca-Curry emphasized the need to incorporate a DEI analysis into work with jobseekers and employers, with a goal of ensuring equitable work environments for individuals connected to employment.

Lastly, panelists shared helpful resources for organizations interested in beginning to pursue a more intentional strategy with regard to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. These include:

What’s Next?

WPTI continues to release reports as part of our Voices from the Frontline initiative, with the next report, focused on job quality, anticipated for mid-April. We have also recently released our 2021 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Development Professionals, developed and administered in partnership with the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, which will also be followed by a report in June. The upcoming reports, and the survey, will be followed by policy recommendations aimed at key workforce development stakeholders, including government, philanthropy, and leaders across New York City’s workforce field, with the goal of better supporting and meeting the needs of frontline workforce professionals, and enabling them to better serve jobseekers and make greater impact.

WPTI will also be announcing additional learning opportunities in the coming months, focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, among other topics, with the goal of strengthening the workforce field’s commitment ability to address these critical issues, with regard to staff, jobseekers, and employers.

Stay tuned.