Pittsburgh’s Community, Workplace Experience Different For Those Of Color

Jan 14, 2016

People of color who live in the city are significantly less likely to recommend Pittsburgh and say race plays a more significant role in their jobs than their white counterparts. 

That was the finding of a survey done by the University Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh. It’s called the Pittsburgh Regional Diversity Survey.

A majority of the 3,553 people surveyed agreed that racial and ethnic diversity is valuable, but divides occurred when they were asked about their perceptions of minority experiences in the community and workplace. The survey was commissioned by Vibrant Pittsburgh, an organization that promotes diversity in Pittsburgh's workforce, to gage perceptions around race.

“The growth of diversity in our region is part of our strategy for improving and ensuring our economic competitiveness as a region,” said Melanie Harrington, president and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh. 

Pittsburgh is the lowest among benchmark cities in terms of diversity, with minorities making up less than 14 percent of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. That’s according to Pittsburgh Today, one of the survey partners.

The survey, released Wednesday, asked questions such as, “How committed do you think your employer is to recruiting and hiring employees from racial and ethnic minority groups?” And, “How committed do you think your employer is to the promotion and advancement of employees from racial and ethnic minority groups?”

Minorities surveyed were much less likely to say their employers value diversity. It found 55 percent of white workers said they feel their employers are committed to hiring minorities, while 34 percent of minorities agreed. When it came to job promotions, about 73 percent of white workers said their race is not a factor in getting a promotion, while 51 percent of minorities agreed. And 31 percent of minorities said they see their race and ethnicity as a roadblock to promotions, while only 13 percent of white workers reported the same.

The survey was funded by a grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation. President and CEO Grant Oliphant said that, while the questions gaged perceptions, it wasn’t meant to focus on people’s feelings. Though, he said that shouldn’t be dismissed.  

“The whole basis of community and living in a community, is that you have empathy for the other person. So, we should care what other people perceive and feel. It should matter to us, particularly because when people feel a certain way, they begin to act a certain way. So, perception shapes reality,” said Oliphant.

Increasing diversity will help the region be more globally competitive, according to Vibrant Pittsburgh’s Harrington. She said area leaders have pledged to do their part in supporting efforts to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

“These indicators let us know where we are and where we need to go,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “Until you can measure it, you don’t know where the progress needs to be.”

And Oliphant said this is not an issue that affects only minorities, and is not just about economic development.

“It is also about justice. It’s also about living in a community we all want to live in. It’s also about creating the sort of community where everybody is valued and everybody feels welcomed and no one is excluded based on something as silly as the differences we see on their skin,” he said.

Seventy-five percent of white residents surveyed said they feel “very welcome” in southwestern Pennsylvania. That’s compared to 36 percent of minorities who agreed with that statement. And 70 percent of white residents said they would “definitely” recommend the region to others, while 28 percent of minorities said the same.

In total, 3,553 people were surveyed, including 2,896 who identify as white, 453 who identify as African-American, 132 who identify as Hispanic, 100 who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander and 72 who identify as multicultural.

Scott Beach with the University Center for Social and Urban Research said the sample is not reflective of the region’s demographics, but that the survey was designed to get a “snapshot” of the views of a large, diverse sample of people. According to numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census, about 66 percent of the Pittsburgh population identifies as white.

The next steps include examining best practices of other regions in promoting diversity, training and addressing barriers. The full survey can be found here