Is Pittsburgh a diverse and welcoming city? It depends on whom you ask.

According to the results of the Pittsburgh Regional Diversity Survey, minorities in the area have a very different perception of how diverse the region is compared to their white counterparts. And this comes as no surprise to the survey’s creators.

Only 26 percent of all residents surveyed describe the region as “very diverse,” and only 11 percent of minority residents hold this viewpoint.

“We knew we had much lower racial and ethnic diversity than other regions,” said Doug Heuck, director of Pittsburgh Today, which cosponsored the survey along with Vibrant Pittsburgh. “What we didn’t know was how the shoe fits here, what it actually looks like.”

For instance, he says, Pittsburghers have a fairly solid reputation for being friendly. “But friendly is different than welcoming,” Heuck says. “We’re not a transient city; people have lived here much longer than other parts of the country. That’s part of Pittsburgh’s charm, but it’s also tough to make connections if you’re not from the area.”

Seventy-five percent of white residents say they feel very welcome in southwestern Pennsylvania, compared to 36 percent of minorities. And 79 percent of whites feel the region embraces racial and ethnic minorities but only 41 percent of minorities agree.

Conducted online in August and September through the University Center for Social & Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh, the survey was taken by 3,553 people, who answered a series of 54 questions. Seventy-eight percent of those who took the survey are white, 13 percent are black, 4 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 3 percent are Asian and 2.1 percent are of mixed race. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed live in Allegheny County.

The survey also probed how residents feel about their workplaces. Only 42 percent of workers overall see their employers as being “very committed” to advancing and promoting minority workers. When separated along racial lines, the differences in opinion are much sharper: 55 percent of white workers reported that they think their employer is very committed to hiring minorities but only 34 percent of minority workers say the same.

Tara Sherry-Torres is founder of Latinoburgh.
Tara Sherry-Torres is founder of Latinoburgh. Courtesy Tara Sherry-Torres.

Tara Sherry-Torres, founder of  Cafe Con Leche, which works to make connections in Pittsburgh’s Latino community, says that’s the part of the survey business owners need to sit up and pay attention to.

“We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion but the real change maker is equity,” she says. “That means not just making sure everyone gets to speak at a meeting  but that everyone has a living wage and can send their kids to a good school. Diversity is only the beginning. We have to encourage people to think holistically and that’s where Pittsburgh struggles.”

She said she’s not surprised by the survey results but hopes this gives people in positions of power the evidence they need to take action.  And businesses that ignore Latino consumers do so at their peril, Sherry-Torres adds.

“Latinos in this country have over a trillion dollars in buying power. The median age is 27,” she says. “So if companies here aren’t targeting that market, they’re losing their customer base for the next 40, 50, 100 years.”

Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, wrote on the organization’s blog that the results of the survey were more than just a matter of perception, and not an issue for minorities to fix on their own.

“Growing regions grow through their ability to attract diversity,” Oliphant writes. “We all need to care about whether this is a place where everyone is valued. It will define who comes here and helps us grow, who stays here and helps us prosper, and how many of us who are already here are given the real opportunity to succeed.”

Some other highlights (or perhaps lowlights) of the survey include:

  • About 73 percent of white workers say their race isn’t a factor in getting a promotion while only 51 percent of minorities agree.
  • Finding people to socialize with is something that fewer than 15 percent of foreign-born residents say is “very easy.”
  • Gay, lesbian and bisexual workers are less likely than heterosexuals to say their employer is very committed to hiring minorities, advancing minorities and recruiting a diverse workforce.

The Regional Workforce Diversity Indicators Initiative is a coalition of Pittsburgh area organizations that includes: Vibrant Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Today, the University of Pittsburgh University Center for Social and Urban Research, the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the University of Pittsburgh Center on Race and Social Problems. The coalition is focused on researching and publishing data on workforce diversity, with an eye toward building a more diverse workforce in the area.

See the full Pittsburgh Regional Diversity Survey here.

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor always on the lookout for a great story. Her experience includes writing about business, politics, and local news, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh.