Hey Fresno, it’s 2019. It’s time to hire more women at City Hall

Wilma Quan-Schecter, center, was promoted to Fresno city manager in 2017.
Wilma Quan-Schecter, center, was promoted to Fresno city manager in 2017. Fresno Bee file

On Mother’s Day, the annual time set aside to honor the most cherished women in our lives, The Bee also published a story about how women are a distinct minority when it comes to employees at Fresno City Hall.

The story, by staff writer Brianna Calix, was based off data she requested from the city. The findings:

Out of 3,370 employees, 3 of every 4 are men.

Two-thirds of City Hall’s managers are men; half of the managers are white males.

The police department is 76 percent male; public works is more than 80 percent male; the fire department has just six women firefighters.

Those statistics would reflect poorly if this was 1989, much less 2019. But in a sure sign of current times, criticism of the story emerged on social media, such as on Twitter by City Councilman Garry Bredefeld:

“Bee promoting identity politics and division. Total gibberish and nonsense. The typical divisive garbage they spew. Disgraceful.”

He may have been reacting to a quote in the story from a Fresno State women’s studies professor who was making a general point that organizations can have women and people of color in top management ranks, but they are stars among “a bunch of mediocre white guys.”

She went on to point out how organizations can have problems with men being judged on potential, while women get considered on the basis of accomplishments. Bredefeld missed that point, and his tweet ignored the data.

Actually, the story showed that Fresno is not alone in the challenge of diversifying its ranks. Sacramento also has too few women. According to Sacramento’s official ethnicity and gender diversity report, female employees make up 30 percent of the Sacramento City Hall workforce.

Mayor Lee Brand said police and fire employees make up half of Fresno’s workforce, so a shortage of women in those areas is going to pull down the overall number.

One of the women quoted is Fresno City Manager Wilma Quan. She started at the city as a planning specialist. Quan said the culture is supportive of those who work hard, and allowed her to promote to the top staff position under Brand.

“I can’t wait, personally, for a day when there’s not a story based upon gender and it’s just the qualifications of a person for the position,” she said.

Amen to that. But that day is not yet here, not by a longshot, as the city statistics show. Having a supportive culture is critical, but more needs to be done.

For starters, officials like Bredefeld should cool the rhetoric and own up to the data that reflect the reality of the workforce.

Brand could consider creating an office of diversity and gender as Sacramento has done. Putting some official muscle behind diversifying will show it to be a priority. Sacramento shows that nearly 35 percent of new hires last year were women, better than the 29.7 percent level of females in the existing workforce.

Brand already started down that path with an order his office issued last year called Equal Employment Opportunity Plan and Policy. Brand said there has been an improvement in City Hall’s mirroring the community in terms of ethnicity. Now gender must be accounted for more in hiring and promoting decisions.

Many employers find it tough to diversify: good applicants sometimes are hard to find, and those who do get identified often receive multiple hiring offers.

But that does not excuse any taxpayer-funded entity for not trying its level best.

Next Mother’s Day, here’s hoping that the daughters of Fresno moms find new employment opportunities at City Hall. Their perspectives, hard work and dedication would be very much welcomed. The next Wilma Quan could be in their ranks.