Boston’s first diversity chief pledged Tuesday to look within city government for pathways to retain and promote more people of color in leadership roles at City Hall.
Flanked by his new boss, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, at a crowded press conference, Shaun Blugh promised to establish a culture of diversity to better reflect the racial makeup of Boston and help influence the private and business sectors of the city.
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“I hope this means [in] all the neighborhoods in Boston that everyone feels they are part of this city, that they feel represented, and that they feel Mayor Walsh and his administration are looking out for’’ them, Blugh said.
The appointment of Blugh — pronounced like “blue” — comes after an advocacy group released a report documenting a lack of Latinos in positions of power at City Hall despite the city’s burgeoning Hispanic population.
The group asserts that diversity matters at City Hall because research has shown that inclusive bureaucracies are better equipped to handle the complex issues of multicultural cities.
Blugh, a 30-year-old native New Yorker, will direct the mayor’s new office of diversity, charged with providing strategic leadership on Walsh’s diversity agenda and working to hire more people of color.
“Diversity is something that I care passionately about,” Blugh said. “And I look forward to pushing the needle even further” in the city.
The diversity chief will work with the Greater Boston Latino Network, a coalition of advocates who issued a report Tuesday — “The Silent Crisis: Including Latinos and Why It Matters” — that offered startling statistics on the lack of Latinos in city halls in Boston, Chelsea, and Somerville.
A new inclusion team that Walsh is creating, and that Blugh will lead, will work with city boards and commissions to ensure they represent the interests of people of color. It also will partner with colleges and universities to create hiring opportunities.
Walsh acknowledged Tuesday that he made “very ambitious and serious promises” about increasing diversity in the city’s workforce as he entered office. He lauded the leadership at the local NAACP, the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, and the Greater Boston Latino Network who “pushed the government’’ on diversity.
“From day one, I’ve been very clear about my commitment to diversity in the city . . . by race, by ethnicity, by gender, and by sexual orientation,’’ Walsh said. “It’s something I strongly believe in. . . . We all believe that diversity is certainly the strength of our city. But the diversity also has to be empowered.”
In less than a year in office, Walsh contends that City Hall is significantly more diverse than when he began his term. He noted his installation of the most diverse command staff ever at the Boston Police Department. But Walsh said the hiring and promotion system his administration inherited was outdated and needed to be changed in other departments.
“Progress has been slower than we wanted it to be,’’ he said.
Walsh’s chief of operations, Joseph Rull, cited widely quoted statistics that detail Boston’s changing cultural landscape. More than half of Boston residents are nonwhite, and one in four residents are foreign-born, he said. With a population of more than 645,000, Boston is one of “the most diverse neighborhoods in our nation,’’ Rull said.
The mayor described Blugh as dynamic, saying he will help Walsh carry out his vision for diversity.
Asked by a reporter whether Blugh’s position will have teeth or carry much sway, the mayor quickly responded.
“This is going to have a lot of teeth and a lot of sway,’’ Walsh said. “Clearly, we have some challenges that we have to deal with in the City of Boston, and we are going [to] work on that.”
Blugh will earn $102,000 annually. Freda Brasfield will be paid about $94,000 as deputy chief. Blugh currently recruits and vets minority job candidates for IMB Development Corp., and Brasfield first came to work with the city in 1998 and most recently was manager in the mayor’s Office of Administration and Finance.
Blugh said the diversity office will be used to advocate for policies, procure talent, and increase contracts between the city and businesses owned by women and people of color. The office will also emphasize diversity training, along with recruitment and retention.Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.