Lexington's Town Office Building on a sunny day
Martha Duffield was hired as Chief Equity Officer last summer following a 2021 Town Meeting vote to fund the new position as part of the FY22 operating budget. (Courtesy of Dylan Clark)

After serving as Lexington’s first-ever Chief Equity Officer for about a year, Martha Duffield announced that she would leave the position at a July 11 Select Board meeting. Her last day was July 20, and the Town is still in the process of recruiting for her replacement.

“I will be stepping down from my role as Chief Equity Officer,” Duffield said at the July 11 meeting. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be the Town of Lexington’s inaugural Chief Equity Officer, and I feel really fortunate to have made so many meaningful relationships with my colleagues and residents over the past year. I will definitely miss working together with the staff and community.”

Duffield was hired as Chief Equity Officer last summer following a 2021 Town Meeting vote to fund the new position as part of the FY22 operating budget. During her year working for Lexington, Duffield’s many contributions included forming strong partnerships across multiple town departments and community groups, improving data collection and transparency, reviewing job descriptions and hiring practices and participating in interviews for Town job candidates, as previously reported.

“Thank you for choosing Lexington,” said Select Board member Suzie Barry following Duffield’s announcement. “I think we knew when you came the plate was more than full – or there were multiple plates, or multiple courses – and you rose to the occasion and met all of the challenges that were in front of you.”

Select Board Chair Jill Hai added that “I think they were spinning plates, so thank you for stopping the spinning, and getting us into some semblance of order in this work.”

“We know we have a long road in front of us still – this is, as we said all along, a continuing journey, not a particular job…so thank you for giving us this start,” Hai said.

In an email to LexObserver this week, Town Manager Jim Malloy wrote that “we are in the process of recruiting right now” to replace Duffield. The job description posted to the Town website states that priority will be given to applications received by Sept. 2, but also stipulates that the Town “reserves the right to modify the application deadline.” 

As of Wednesday, the Town had received three applications, and planned to interview two candidates, Malloy wrote. “We have continued to post on a number of different job boards through a service that we are now using,” he added. 

Prior to announcing her departure, Duffield noted that the Town had recently contracted with DiversityJobs.com as “a streamlined, centralized way to post our jobs at many different locations.” This platform is also “cost-effective” for the Town, she added, and provides the Town with some data on who looks at Lexington jobs and which posts are most popular.

Duffield announced her departure after delivering her first annual Chief Equity Officer update to the Select Board, which included a review of recent demographic data indicating progress made and room for improvement in the Town’s hiring and retention practices, especially for staff belonging to the global majority (a term used to decenter whiteness in describing people of color).

In her presentation, Duffield reported that in an employee demographic snapshot for 2022 based on responses from 342 Town staff members, about 89.7% of employees are white, 6.1% are Asian, 2.6% are Black and 1.2% are Hispanic. These findings reflect voluntarily collected data upon hire, she said, and are drawn from the Town’s most complete set of demographic information. 

According to the same data set, roughly a third of employees identify as female, while two thirds identify as male (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – EEOC – forms are binary for gender, which is beyond the Town’s control, Duffield noted). 

About 92% of staff who receive salaries over $80,000 are white, as are 96% of the staff who receive salaries over $100,000, according to Duffield’s presentation.

In the past year, the Town had succeeded at increasing hires of people of the global majority by 7%. “I think that’s a positive sign,” Duffield said. “From what I’ve seen, the staff is being very intentional about…trying to be more aware of any biases people might have in their hiring process” and taking other important steps toward reducing bias in hiring. 

On the other hand, Duffield found that almost 50% of staff who leave the Town do so after less than three years – and that people of the global majority leave faster than white staff. Specifically, 75% of Asians who leave the Town depart after less than three years of employment, as do 60% of Black and Hispanic staff; on the other hand, just 44% of white staff who leave the Town depart after less than three years, she said.

“It looks as if there is a disproportionate amount of staff…that are part of the global majority [leaving] faster than our white staff,” she said. “We need to look into this. This makes us ask questions: Why is this happening? Could it be the positions that these people are in? Could it be the types of situations of life?”

“This is data to help us ask questions so that we can dig into it and try to understand more,” she said.

Following Duffield’s presentation, Select Board members expressed appreciation for the data as a baseline from which to monitor future progress. “This is great data,” said Vice Chair Doug Lucente. “As we’ve all said in the past, it’s hard to…see if we’re going in the right direction if we haven’t measured [where we are].”

“It looks like we’ve made progress in some areas, and we have work to do in others,” he said.

In August, Duffield began working for the private company Salsify as an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager, according to LinkedIn. Multiple attempts to contact Duffield for comment on her departure and experience as Lexington’s inaugural Chief Equity Officer were unsuccessful. 

Following Duffield’s announcement, six Town Meeting Members who had collaborated on the 2020 Special Town Meeting resolution against systemic racism signed an open letter in July to the public Town Meeting Member Association listserv reporting Duffield’s departure and sharing reflections for how the Town should move forward in hiring a replacement. The six members – Jodia Finnagan, Tanya Gisolfi-McCready, Pam Hoffman, Vineeta Kumar, Deborah Strod and Weidong Wang – wrote that they were “disappointed” that Duffield had resigned but “appreciate all that she has accomplished to date in working with staff and community.” 

In an email to LexObserver, Gisolfi-McCready, Hoffman and Strod explained that they circulated the letter because “as the group who brought the resolution to Town Meeting, and because our presentation was part of the groundswell of community support for the position, we felt it was important to notify our colleagues of this development.” Other individuals who signed the letter were unavailable for comment by press time, they noted.

The Town’s unanimous passage of the Systemic Racism resolution in 2020, coupled with other “significant community advocacy,” demonstrate that “there is community support for this position and continuing the work,” the six members wrote in their letter. 

The Town Meeting Members suggested that the process to replace Duffield “involve community and staff input to build on successes as well as address any challenges.” 

Town Manager Malloy wrote that in hiring Duffield’s replacement “there is not an opportunity for community input.” He noted that “this is [a] confidential process where candidates have a right to privacy.” That said, some board and committee chairs will be asked to participate in a panel interview “similar to the last interview process,” he added.

The TMM open letter also recommended that in its hiring process, the Town “revisit the job description and reporting structure, including full membership on the Senior Management Team.”

Gisolfi-McCready, Hoffman and Strod explained they made this recommendation “because there were significant community concerns raised during public comments on drafts of the original job description” discussed in public meetings last year before Duffield was hired. 

In these meetings, “community concerns included ensuring the position had the respect, authority, and information necessary to help the Town manage programmatic and cultural changes,” they wrote. There were also concerns that the job description’s scope could mean this staff member would be burdened with an overwhelming number of duties, including “monitoring compliance.” 

Additionally, “the word ‘chief’ denotes a level of seniority to the public and in a job description, which the term ‘officer’ does not in the current organizational structure,” the three Town Meeting Members wrote. In their view, “membership on the senior management team would clarify this discrepancy.”

Malloy wrote that “the Chief Equity Officer is not a member of the Senior Management Team, they are a member of the Town Manager’s office and not a department director (no direct reports).”

But in response to some suggestions from Duffield, “the Deputy Town Manager and HR Director made some adjustments to the position description,” Malloy added. He shared a redlined copy of the job description specifying some of the changes made. Additions to the position description included a clear statement of a salary range between $85,692 and $93,580 and an explicit line in the “general purpose” section stating that the Chief Equity Officer works “with the Senior Management Team” as well as relevant stakeholders. The original job description included a note about partnering with the Senior Management Team in a different section of the posting.

The redlined version also included several additions and modifications to the specified “essential duties and responsibilities,” such as a line added about “bringing new ideas to the Town’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” an addition about focusing on “develop[ing] ways to engage communities in meaningful dialogue” about diversity, equity and inclusion in Lexington, and a line about “develop[ing] new employee groups.” 

Gisolfi-McCready, Hoffman and Strod wrote that “we support the town using the strategies Ms. Duffield helped implement as it seeks her replacement.”

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