AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new City of Austin audit shows Austin employs considerably fewer women than some other governmental entities in the region.
The audit, presented to the Audit and Finance Committee Wednesday, shows that just 39% of City of Austin employees are female.
The audit says that percentage is not representative of the population served, as 50% of the population in the Austin-Round Rock MSA which includes Travis, Williamson, Hays Bastrop and Caldwell Counties is female.
In both Texas state government jobs and Travis County positions, women make up 53% of the workforce, according to the audit.
Numbers included in the audit show that some city departments in Austin hire well over 50% women. However, in two departments on the lower end, women don’t even make up 20% of the workforce.
The audit found that the City of Austin’s workforce does, however, closely align with the racial and ethnic makeup of the community.
In a statement provided to KXAN, the city’s Human Resources Department pointed out, “There are 14 operational departments that make up about 67% of municipal civil service employees. These departments are traditionally comprised of male employees. Of the other departments comprising the remaining 33% of municipal civil service employees, 60% are women.”
“Being a female employee within the city, I would like to see that number go up,” said Dr. Dana Kadavy, the Director of the Austin Police Department’s Forensic Science Office, of the overall percentage of female employees.
Among city departments, APD has one of the highest percentages of female employees. Dr. Kadavy says her specific office within APD is about 70% female. She credits a recent push for women to enter STEM fields.
“The strength that women bring to the workplace, from my perspective, is strong work ethic. We tend to be highly organized, self motivated,” Dr. Kadavy said. “And I think in some ways, we’re empathetic, and that is very helpful, especially in the last couple of years when we’re just hit with so many challenges.”
In contrast, departments where women are under-represented, like Public Works and Austin Resource Recovery and Watershed Protection say they don’t get as many female applicants for many of their positions, which are traditionally male-dominated throughout those industries.
“Austin Public Works is proud of its workforce, the majority of which are involved in field operations, including repaving streets, filling potholes, constructing sidewalks and forestry operations. Applicants for these positions are traditionally male, however, these roles are open for anyone to apply,” a spokesperson for Austin Public works wrote in a statement.
A statement from Watershed Protection highlighted efforts for balance, “When separating our field employees from office employees, we are proud to note that we are comprised of 102 female and 106 male employees, which closely represents the greater Austin community.”
Similarly, while a statement from Austin Resource Recovery said, “Historically, the number of women who apply for field positions as Operators is low,” that department points out that even with a low percentage of women on its operations staff, its administrative workforce is 73% female.
Austin Water is in the same type of situation, highlighted strides it’s taking in a statement, saying, “Due to the nature of our field operations, a large percentage of our workforce is male; however, for the first time in Austin Water’s 100-year history, half of Austin Water’s executive team is led by female executives. Additionally, its Engineering Services Program Area is led by a female engineer, historically a male-dominated field. Further, Austin Water sees more and more of our leadership workforce consisting of women in manager, supervisor, and other critical leadership roles.”
Although more than 60% of the city’s EMS employees are women, Austin EMS Association President Selena Xie says there are several policies that the city could improve in order to recruit more women.
For example, Xie says, while civilian employees who work for that department have access to paid family leave, sworn civil service personnel do not.
“I wish that we did a better job with leave that would promote having more women in the workplace,” Xie said. “I know that in the past few months, two women have left our department after having babies.”
Xie also references some other areas where she feels the city could improve.
“I definitely think that Austin needs to think about policies that encourage more women to join the workforce. Only recently has the Fire Department been forced to put in female locker rooms in all their stations,” Xie said. “I’ll give you another example– only this year do we have a lactation policy for women responding to 911 calls. I know a lot of women have actually lost their milk because they could not have an appropriate amount of time to lactate while they’re on the job, so there really are serious consequences and challenges in being a woman in public safety, and I think that the city can absolutely do a lot more to address those things that I didn’t really see in the auditor’s report.”
The City Auditor’s office made several recommendations for the City’s Human Resources Department moving forward, including:
- Creating a citywide plan for recruiting more diversely
- Helping specific departments with the most disparities better recruit demographics more representative of the community
- Evaluating current recruiting and hiring data to develop strategies that help in diverse recruiting, like providing anti-bias training for employees, removing names and other identifying information during candidate screening and encouraging the use of more diverse hiring panels
In a statement, a city of Austin spokesperson said, “There is more to do to tackle gender gaps when it comes to jobs that have been traditionally seen as ‘male’ or ‘female’ roles, and our Human Resources Department will be working with our Equity Office and City departments to develop plans to do just that.”