Print this page

Diversity Through a Local Lens

Unveiling the results of a historic survey
image: iStockphoto Diversity Through a Local Lens
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Earlier this fall, more than 3,550 southwestern Pennsylvanians shared their views on racial and ethnic diversity in a region where the population of African Americans, Asians and Hispanics — and the slice of the labor force they hold — are among the smallest in metropolitan America.

What emerges from the Pittsburgh Regional Diversity Survey is a complex portrait of a region where white workers, who hold 89 percent of the jobs, are much less likely than minorities to strongly feel a diverse workplace is important. And they see the region as more of a melting pot and their employers as much more committed to diversity than what minorities have come to believe from their experiences living in southwestern Pennsylvania.

It’s a region where views within the minority population often differ, sometimes dramatically; a place where African Americans value diversity the most, but are the least likely to feel welcome and to feel a sense of belonging at work.

It’s also a place where nearly 8 out of 10 workers say their employers have adopted policies and goals that address diversity.

Ultimately, southwestern Pennsylvania is a region that almost 9-​in-​10 of its residents would definitely or probably recommend to others, despite its shortcomings — although those numbers, like many others, are dramatically different when viewed through the lens of race and ethnicity.

A region less diverse

Southwestern Pennsylvanian is an outlier among U.S. metropolitan regions when racial and ethnic diversity is the measure. Less than 14 percent of Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area residents are African American, Asian, Hispanic or of mixed race, which is the lowest minority rate of any of the 15 regions benchmarked by Pittsburgh Today.

And minorities claim only 11 percent of the local jobs, which is the smallest share of the labor force found among benchmark regions. To put that in perspective, minority workers claim an average of 25 percent of the jobs across those benchmark regions. In Cleveland, they hold 21 percent of the jobs; in Baltimore, 37 percent; and in Atlanta, 44 percent.

The Pittsburgh Regional Diversity Survey explores diversity in the workplace and community through the views and experiences of residents in all seven MSA counties and workers in 20 job sectors. Minorities account for more than 22 percent of those who took the online survey conducted by Pittsburgh Today, the University Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh and the Regional Workforce Diversity Indicators Initiative organized by the nonprofit Vibrant Pittsburgh.

Residents’ responses suggest they are under no illusions that the region is anything but what population and jobs data suggest it is. Only about 1 out of 4 of those living in the region see it as being very diverse and fewer than 30 percent feel that way about the places where they work.

In the workplace

A growing number of Pittsburgh-​area employers see value in diversifying their payrolls if for no other reason than to fill jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers now and in the near future. And in an increasingly diverse world, the more diverse the region, the more appeal it holds for companies looking to relocate or expand and the easier it is to attract new talent of all races and ethnicities.

Whether the workers themselves see value in a diverse workforce is another question. Overall, 67.6 percent of those surveyed “strongly agree” there is value in a diverse workplace. But a wide opinion gap exists along racial lines with less than two-​thirds of white workers strongly agreeing it has value compared with 80 percent of their minority co-​workers. More than 77 percent of all workers say their employers have policies, practices and goals that address diversity. And more than 8 out of 10 workers have undergone training on diversity issues.

But the survey suggests that’s not enough to warrant high praise from employees. Less than half of workers see their employers as very committed to recruiting a generally diverse workforce. Only 42 percent say employers are very committed to advancing and promoting minority workers. And in all cases, minorities are much less likely than whites to hold their employer’s commitment in high regard.

White and minority workers also tend to hold widely divergent views on whether race and ethnicity influence promotions at work. More than 7 out of 10 white workers don’t believe it does, while only about half of minorities agree. And 31 percent of minorities say race and ethnicity is a disadvantage in the workplace, compared to 13 percent of white workers.

Workers across the region, however, seem fairly content with their jobs. More than 86 percent overall are satisfied to some degree with their work. That includes 8 out of 10 minority workers, although 1 in 5 are dissatisfied with their job, making them twice as likely than whites to be unhappy about what they do for a living.

Impressions of community

A majority of southwestern Pennsylvania residents see many aspects of the region in a positive light, including its embrace of diversity, how welcoming it is and how it compares to other places where they’ve lived.

A closer look reveals those perspectives to be largely driven by the region’s white residents, who make up about 86 percent of the population and 78 percent of the survey sample. And that tends to mask some starkly different views held by minorities.

How welcoming is the region? Ask white residents, and 3 in 4 will say it’s a very welcoming place. But only a little more than one-​third of the region’s minorities will agree. Is it more welcoming than other places they’ve lived? Nearly 71 percent of whites say yes. But nearly 49 percent of minorities say it is less so. Does the region embrace racial and ethnic minorities? For 79 percent of whites, the answer is yes, at least to some degree. But 59 percent of minorities disagree that the region is a place that embraces them.

Race and ethnicity also divides opinions on how important it is to live in a diverse neighborhood. It’s very important to more than 47 percent of minorities. But fewer than 1 out of 5 whites agree.

The survey suggests southwestern Pennsylvania is not the easiest place to find new friends. Less than one-​third of residents say it’s “very easy” to find people to socialize with. But minorities are more likely to struggle: Only 19 percent say it’s very easy to make friends and they’re four times more likely than whites to find it very difficult to do so.

One of the most striking differences is seen in whether residents would recommend the region to others. It’s an important question. How attractive a region is perceived by people elsewhere is influenced by whether people in the region recommend it as a place to live, particularly if the recommendation comes from relatives, friends and others whose opinions are trusted.

The good news for southwestern Pennsylvania is that more than 89 percent of residents overall would definitely or probably recommend it. But whether they’d definitely endorse the region depends a great deal on their race: 70 percent of white residents say they definitely would, while only 28 percent of minorities would definitely give the region a thumbs-​up.

Perspectives among minorities

The region’s minority community might have a much different take on diversity than whites, but Asian, African American, Hispanic and multiracial residents are not unanimous in their views. And the differences among them can be significant.

No minority group values diversity more than African Americans, nearly 85 percent of whom strongly believe it is very important. They are also the most likely of minorities to express disappointment in what they find in the workplace. Less than 31 percent see employers as very committed to hiring minorities. And they’re the least likely to see employers as very committed to recruiting a generally diverse workforce and advancing the minorities who work for them.

The survey offers some insight into those perspectives. Only 31 percent of African Americans are “very satisfied” with their job, giving them the lowest job satisfaction rate among minorities. Only 1 out of 4 received a promotion in the past two years — fewer than other minority workers.

Asian and Hispanic workers are the most likely of minorities to be very satisfied with their jobs. And Asians are the most likely to have been promoted, with 41.5 percent saying they received a promotion in the past two years. They’re also the most likely to say employers are very committed to hiring minorities and recruiting a generally diverse workforce.

Most minorities highly value living in a diverse place. But significant numbers are less than impressed at what they find in southwestern Pennsylvania. Asian residents, for example, are the most likely of minorities to describe the region as “very welcoming,” but only 49 percent see it that way. And only 1 in 4 African Americans agree.

Yet most minorities would definitely or probably recommend southwestern Pennsylvania to others. That’s the sentiment among 86 percent of Asians and 85 percent of Hispanics. But an endorsement from African Americans is much less of a sure thing: 42 percent probably or definitely wouldn’t recommend the region to others.

Income matters

Money has many advantages. The survey suggests that having a lot of it makes it easier to make friends. Only 12 percent of residents with annual incomes of $200,000 or more say it’s difficult to find people to socialize with compared to 25 percent of those earning under $25,000.

The wealthiest are also the least likely to see the region as being very diverse— three times less likely than the lowest earners. The wealthy also are less likely to live in neighborhoods they see as very diverse. The reasons why might include the fact they’re the least likely of any income group to believe living in such a neighborhood is very important.

In the workplace, the higher-​income employees are the most likely to praise their employer’s commitment to recruiting and hiring racial and ethnic minorities, and to report that there are diversity-​related policies and goals where they work. For example, two-​thirds of the highest income workers describe their employer as very committed to hiring minority workers — a level of commitment only 40 percent of the lowest-​paid workers credit their employer with achieving.

Yet those with the largest paychecks are the least likely to say their workplace is very diverse. In fact, only 16 percent of those earning at least $200,000 a year describe it as such.

The influence of education

Residents’ education levels also tend to color their perspectives of diversity in the workplace and the southwestern Pennsylvania community.

Those with the highest levels of education and those with the least education often have sharply contrasting views. Take their views on whether the region embraces minorities, for example. Nearly 86 percent of residents with a high school education or less believe it does. But 39 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees and 41 percent of those with doctorates disagree.

Among those with a high school degree or less, two in three believe employers are “very committed” to hiring minorities. But only 52 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree and 44 percent of those with doctorates agree.

The divide of education is just as dramatic in how residents view the diversity of the region: 57 percent of those with a high school degree or less feel strongly that the region is diverse. But only 1 in 4 with a master’s degree agrees, and 24 percent of them say the region isn’t diverse at all.


When age is considered, the youngest workers are the least likely to think highly of their employers’ diversity practices and commitment. Among those younger than 24, only 43 percent see their employers as committed to recruiting and hiring minorities. But they are also the least likely to be aware of any diversity-​related policies, practices or goals their employer might have.

But while they may be skeptical about their employers’ commitment to advancing minorities, the youngest workers are by far the most likely of any age to see race and ethnicity as an advantage in getting a promotion or a raise.

Older residents, on the other hand, feel most strongly that southwestern Pennsylvania is worth recommending. That’s particularly true of those aged 65 and older, 72 percent of whom say they’d definitely endorse it, compared to 53 percent of the youngest surveyed. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that seniors as a group have lived in the region the longest; 80 percent of them see the region as a welcoming place and more than 3 out of 4 believe it embraces diversity.

Views of the foreign-​born

Improving conditions necessary to draw foreign-​born workers to the region and convince them to stay is an idea gaining momentum among companies, government and others who see the specter of a large share of the labor force aging into retirement as a threat to tomorrow’s economy.

The survey offers a glimpse of what they are up against.

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s foreign-​born residents are few in number, claiming only 3.6 percent of the population, the smallest rate among Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions.

While 67 percent of U.S.-born residents see the region as a “very welcoming” place, only 46 percent of foreign-​born residents feel the same. Survey data also reveal a foreign-​born population that finds it more difficult to adjust to life in the region.

Nearly 87 percent feel it’s important to live in a diverse neighborhood. But finding such places can be a challenge in southwestern Pennsylvania, and 42 percent of foreign-​born residents live in neighborhoods they see as not diverse at all. Finding people to socialize with is something less than 15 percent of them find “very easy.”

Not surprisingly, less than half of foreign-​born residents would definitely recommend the region to others, although 34 percent would probably end up endorsing the region despite harboring some doubt.

And their difficulties are not exclusive to community life. Foreign-​born workers are also less likely than others to see their workplace as “very diverse” and to feel their employer is strongly committed to hiring racial and ethnic minorities, promoting and advancing them, and recruiting a generally diverse workplace.

In fact, when asked for reasons that would cause them to leave the region, employment concerns were just as important as social issues, if not more. For example, they most often mention the lack of advancement in their career and wages as the chief reason they’d go elsewhere.

At work, foreign-​born residents are more active in diversity-​related affinity groups than others. More than 3-​in-​4 strongly agree that diversity is a valuable aspect of a workplace. And they’re much less likely than their U.S.-born co-​workers to say they’ve grown tired of the conversation around diversity that is spreading throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

Jeffery Fraser

Jeffery is a Pittsburgh-​based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Pittsburgh Quarterly. In his past life, he was a reporter and editor for newpapers large and small, only one of which is still in business. His magazine and newspaper reporting has won numerous awards.

Explore Related Stories: