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City employee assessment highlights cultural challenges

Mark Parker



City employees clear storm debris in October 2022 after Hurricane Ian. While middle management more closely reflects the workforce’s ethnic and racial composition, "upper-management and upper-middle management is overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white," according to the report. Photo: City of St. Petersburg.

An extensive Organizational Culture Assessment details a disconnect between St. Petersburg’s leadership’s goals and what the city’s workforce encounters daily, particularly regarding inclusivity, discipline and promotions.

Independent consulting firm Inclusivity LLC conducted the assessment and subsequent survey from February through April. City spokesperson Erica Riggins said administrators received the 240-page report around Independence Day.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch announced that he received the results – and a recommitment to a positive workplace culture – July 28. The prepared statements followed a July 19 email from a “concerned citizen” to the mayor, city officials and news publications highlighting alleged claims of impropriety inside the city’s fire department.

The full report was obtained by the Catalyst through a public records request.

While the official report corroborated some of the anonymous claims, it offered a more nuanced analysis. In a comment section titled “Diversity is Vital,” one employee asked administrators to “look at the staff for both the police and fire department and tell me if the fire department is inclusive and diverse.”

Another said that “no one calls for the fire department and are worried about diversity. They just want to know that we can do our job right.”

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue attends to an IndyCar driver during the 2022 Grand Prix. Photo by Mark Parker.

The report

The assessment’s first goal was to analyze demographics. The workforce features fewer Hispanics or Latinos (5.9%) but a higher proportion of Blacks and African Americans (31.1%) than St. Petersburg’s population.

City officials stated that middle management more closely reflects the workforce’s ethnic and racial composition. However, the report prefaced that observation by noting that “upper-management and upper-middle management is overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white.”

It also reports that demotion and discipline disproportionately affect Black workers. The analysis shows that directors are more likely to then re-hire those employees.

The assessment recommended that a chief equity officer define diversity’s value and develop a “definitive plan” for increasing inclusivity. That position, a prominent aspect of the city’s 2021 Structural Racism Study, remains vacant.

Welch said he developed and posted a job description for the long-discussed role “parallel to the survey process. “Our goal is to have the new chief equity officer hired by this fall,” he added.

The report suggests city officials complete a cultural competence curriculum for the entire organization. That should address unconscious bias; allies, actors and accomplices; emotional intelligence; and inclusive recruitment.


The report shows that over 80% of the city’s fire and police officers are Caucasian. Contrary to some survey comments, it also notes that leisure services and public works employ much higher percentages of African Americans than other departments.

While less than half of city workers are female, the mayor’s office, city administration and city development show more gender balance. Over 80% of fire department and public works employees are male.

“While males somewhat outnumber females in upper management, the gender balance is almost even at the upper middle management level,” states the report. “However, at the middle management level, males again significantly outnumber females.”

City officials noted that Gen Z and Y employees comprise nearly half of the city’s workforce. However, the report’s authors found it “surprising” that those age groups – born after 1998 and 1980, respectively – had little representation among middle management.

A graphic showing the city’s workforce and management representation. Screengrab.

Organizational Survey

Inclusivity commended the administration for effectively communicating the organizational survey’s importance. About 44% of St. Petersburg’s 3,600 employees participated, and the firm received over 2,000 written responses.

City administration (93%) and public works (76%) showed the highest response rates. The fire department was fourth out of eight, at 39%.

While the assessment found that 78% of employees feel diversity is vital for the city’s success, participants remained skeptical of implementation. Just 39% believe officials value input “at all levels.”

Less than 60% of respondents agree that the city’s culture supports and encourages positive change to achieve objectives. However, nearly the same percentage believe organizational practices enable success among all racial and ethnic groups.

“The opportunity to serve the city has been a challenge but an honor,” wrote one employee. “And I wouldn’t leave it to go anywhere else.”

Reprisal fears

Focus groups told Inclusivity’s researchers that coworkers feared notifying supervisors of their desire to participate to receive an excused absence. Firm representatives also documented their hesitancy to contribute until city employees received repeated assurances that their identities and responses would remain hidden.

The report concluded that those combined observations suggest “an element of fear” within some departments. It also noted a lack of transparency regarding employee recognition, training and career advancement.

“Participants identified all of these processes as being highly discretionary, meaning the process for providing information on what was accessible to employees in any of these arenas was up to the supervisor rather than equitably offered and/or advertised.”

Focus group recommendations included increasing mayoral visibility; improving management training; conducting exit interviews to address “notable turnover”; and implementing an anonymous “360 Review” for human resources to mitigate retaliation fears.

“As we work our way through this feedback, we are developing plans of action at both the citywide and departmental levels to address any issues raised by our employees,” Welch said.





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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Steve D

    August 2, 2023at5:09 pm

    From personal business experience, if you make everything about race and gender, then it will be. And, when that becomes the most important thing, you’ll have resentment and toxicity.

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