Participants in the Creating Confluence workshop learn to confront racism and implicit bias. Photo by anupama jain.
They’re the defining problems of the 21st century, says Grant Oliphant: wealth disparity, social inequity, racial inequity.

Even with heightened awareness, these issues have grown more complicated.

For Pittsburgh, there are wide-ranging repercussions, says Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments and a frequent voice on inequities.

As developers invest millions of dollars into Pittsburgh real estate, and companies invest millions more to develop an economy rooted in technology and advanced manufacturing, many Pittsburghers are raising their voices about the need for equitable development, affordable housing and equal opportunity in employment.

“We’re at kind of an interesting inflection point that a lot of other cities have either blown past or aren’t at yet,” says Oliphant, “where the momentum of the economy still hasn’t driven out the folks in the community, but we all worry it will leave some people behind. There’s still an opportunity for us in Pittsburgh to engage on this issue and, we believe, make a difference on it.”

Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments, frequently speaks out about inequities. Photo courtesy The Heinz Endowments.

Census Bureau statistics show that about 66 percent of Pittsburgh’s 303,625 residents are white; 26 percent are Black; 4 percent are Asian; and 2 percent, Hispanic or Latino. Fewer still are multi-racial. In its report, “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics 2015: Differences and Disparities,” the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems concluded that among U.S. metropolitan areas with a population of more than 1 million, Pittsburgh continues to have the whitest metro area.

Oliphant is aware that some advocates for social justice criticize even Pittsburgh’s large nonprofit organizations such as The Heinz Endowments for not being inclusive enough. He says the “organizing community” has a valuable role to play in speaking out for people who are marginalized or at risk of being displaced.

“I thank God for those voices. They are the voice of a new generation, and it’s an important voice for Pittsburgh to hear,” he says. “Quite frankly, it will help keep us all honest. I don’t want to characterize what they know or don’t know. Do I always agree with them? No. Part of the advantage or disadvantage of having been around awhile is you get to see how far we’ve come, but I’m also keenly aware that referring back to the past is not a good barometer of how far you still have to go—and I think our city still has a long way to go when it comes to a host of issues.”

The Heinz Endowments has ongoing projects aimed at closing the wealth disparity gap for minorities—everything from improving public schools to figuring out how the government decides to let development contracts and jobs, says Oliphant.

There are many others also working to rectify inequalities. Mayor Peduto has stressed the need to bring people with a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds and voices to the table. That’s top of mind for Oliphant, as well as these other local leaders featured here.

Diversifying government

Disparities remain in the City of Pittsburgh’s workforce, and the Peduto administration is making a push to recruit diverse employees, says Janet Manuel, deputy director of human resources in the Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission. Among the city’s 3,300 employees, 78 percent are Caucasian, 19 percent are African-American, 1.21 percent are Hispanic, and 0.64 percent are Asian. What’s more, 77 percent are male.

“When we look at our departments, Public Safety, Public Works, it’s been a male-dominated area. We’re not the only city that has that, but what we can do is implement our citywide recruiting plan. And evaluating those measurements that we are doing will make an impact,” Manuel says.

Janet Manuel, deputy director of the City of Pittsburgh Department of Personnel. Photo by Margaret Grace Stanley.

Diversity and inclusion go beyond just race and gender, Manuel says.

“Our staffing objective is to be a replica of the community that we serve. So within our community we have people with disabilities, we have veterans, we have people over 40, people of other ethnicities, as well as socioeconomic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, work experience. That’s what we value and see from a diversity and inclusion standpoint for the City of Pittsburgh.”

Manuel’s grassroots recruiting efforts include utilizing social media platforms, career fairs and partnerships with the Housing Authority, Hill House and other community organizations. The department places ads in the Pittsburgh region but also advertises in cities with more diverse populations, such as Cleveland, Detroit, Erie, and Buffalo, N.Y.

Women and African-Americans have made their way into leadership ranks in city government, she says. Twenty of the 82 female directors or assistant directors are African-American; among the 168 male leaders, 148 are Caucasian.

“We’ve seen the numbers lower. To be where we are today is progress,” Manuel says. “That’s why I’m hopeful. It’s a great city to live in, and a better city to work for.”

Accept, accommodate

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.