Diversity is good business
Manager of Maintenance & Traffic
Illinois State Toll Highway Authority
Member, APWA Diversity Committee
If you are one of the thousands of 2003 Congress attendees who happened to miss the "Diversity Is Good Business" educational session, or were unable to attend Congress, I invite you to read on.
Three APWA members were invited to speak on the topic of diversity from the prospective of their communities. Our desire was to select communities from different geographical areas, and of different sizes.
The following are some highlights of the presentation. Many thanks to the presenters and their communities for allowing them to share their experiences.
Eugene, Oregon: Eric Jones, Public Affairs Manager, Department of Public Works
Representing the Pacific Northwest, Eugene is the third largest city in Oregon with a population of 142,380 over 42 square miles. The Greater Metropolitan area population exceeds 250,000. Home to the University of Oregon, with an enrollment in excess of 20,000 students, Eugene is a very active community with numerous neighborhood and campus organizations that are actively involved in issues facing the community with the challenge being how to balance competing community values.
Eugene has met these challenges head-on by an in-depth and continuing diversity focus on all city departments.
A city-wide Diversity Advisory Council has been established and each department has active diversity committees that develop and implement work plan goals, such as diversity training, survey of employees, recruitment strategies, communication, and community outreach and involvement.
The Public Works Diversity Committee "Mission": "To challenge and lead the Public Works Department to provide a more respectful work environment in which diversity is a strength in providing services to the community," establishes diversity practices as integral to the business of the department.
Several recent accomplishments of the Public Works Diversity Committee are:
Completed an in-depth Workplace Assessment involving all employees that resulted in several key recommendations including demonstrating top management commitment to a respectful workplace, empowering all employees to be successful, resolving conflict and disputes in a timely manner, and reviewing and clarifying internal policies for better employee understanding. A follow-up assessment is planned.
The net effect of the above diversity focus has been: Greater pool of ideas (input) from employees; more teamwork; better recruitment, selection and retention of employees; fewer unproductive staff interactions; increased receptivity and adaptability to changes; and better service delivery through awareness of community needs and resulting increased community support.
Riviera Beach, Florida: Donald Jacobovitz, P.E., Director of Public Works
In some contrast to Eugene, Riviera Beach is located 75 miles north of Miami and directly north of West Palm Beach, has a population of just under 30,000 covering 8.3 square miles, and is a commercial seaport on the Atlantic Ocean.
While Riviera Beach does not currently have a formalized diversity program, it is embarking on a major redevelopment effort of commercial, recreational, cultural, and housing improvements on prime real estate involving some 850 acres of coastal property. Significant diversity efforts will be needed by the Community Redevelopment Agency that must effectively communicate with a broad range of issues and interest groups as the project(s) moves forward.
In moving forward the community recognizes the need to focus on issues of change management, employment practices, and fostering an atmosphere that promotes free flow of new ideas. Procurement practices are also slated for change to give less preferential treatment for local vendors and thereby receive increased participation and improved pricing. More EEO and other diversity training is planned to improve employment practices and stimulate new ideas and reduce job entrenchment.
Evanston, Illinois: Cathy Radek, Superintendent - Administrative Services, Department of Public Works
The City of Evanston, Illinois, the state's sixth largest community, was founded in 1863. It is located just 11 miles north of downtown Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Some 75,000 residents occupy 8.5 square miles—certainly a densely populated area with nearly 9,400 persons per square mile. It is a vibrant, diverse community—in fact, residents pride themselves on the community's racial, religious, ethnic, social and economic diversity. Evanston shares a strong history with Northwestern University. Evanston grew up around the University.
Evanston is a community of variety and it is believed this variety creates vibrancy in the life of the town that encourages economic development. The number of businesses has increased by 27% over the past six years, and an impressive 1,400 new jobs have been created during the same time period.
To quote Cathy: "Simply put, diversity is good for business in Evanston."
Four target areas were further discussed in the presentation encompassing Human Relations, Health Services, Arts Promotion and Purchasing Practices. A few highlights are noted.
Health and Human Services
Arts Promotion. Three innovative approaches have been developed.
The focus of these efforts is to make more than a token effort to attract diverse artistic expression; to celebrate it and make it possible for artists to thrive in the community.
Whether applied within an organization to improve its responsiveness, flexibility and strength as is being done in Eugene, Oregon, or applied to a an economic redevelopment challenge in a coastal community like Riviera Beach, diversity emerges as a key element to success. In Evanston diversity is its identity, and the ongoing celebration of this fact has proven to be enormously successful and a catalyst for economic growth.
Diversity is good business.
John Benda can be reached at (630) 241-6800 or at email@example.com.