Elgin moves forward on diversity with new consultant

Elgin's new diversity consultant plans to administer an anonymous survey, followed by small group meetings, to help her understand how city staff members perceive their workplace.

The survey will solicit staff members' feedback on topics such as leadership attitudes, recruitment process and talent development, said Denise Barreto, managing partner of Relationships Matter Now. She was initially hired in May and then on a 90-day, $11,900 contract through the end of August and said she is determined to achieve concrete results, even if in a short time.

Her work will focus on three areas: workforce diversity and workplace inclusion, diversity among city suppliers and contractors, and diversity within city programs and services. "We want to look at where they are in all three of those areas," Barreto said.

It all starts with understanding the culture of the workplace, and seeing what can be improved, she said. For example, during a six-hour meeting with senior staff members in May, Barreto noticed some women never spoke, she said. That might be about personality, but it might be that women aren't valued as much - and her job is to figure out which, she said.

She said one major positive in Elgin is the police department's outreach and inclusion effort.

City Manager Rick Kozal did not respond to a request for comment.

The city council formally met Barreto at a special committee of the whole meeting Saturday. Barreto said she plans to compile a report and give a presentation, likely in September.

Councilwoman Tish Powell said she likes the survey idea. "That will give us some marching orders and some tasks that we can work on," she said.

After former diversity consultant Phil Reed's contract was not renewed by Kozal, Powell said, she'd been worried the city might stall in its commitment to diversity, and is now "cautiously optimistic." The fire department is exploring ways to widen its pool of applicants for the upcoming round of testing next year, she added.

"Obviously this work is more of a marathon than a sprint, I get that," she said. "I just want to make sure that we end up with some results that we are committed to making some changes (with)."

Barreto is a former trustee in Lake in the Hills whose local government consulting experience includes North Chicago and Roscoe. That makes her a good fit for Elgin, said Councilman Toby Shaw, who over the years voted against Reed's contract.

"I can see that there is some value in having someone come in and bring a different perspective that maybe (shows us) we have some blind sides," he said. "I feel like Denise kinds of gets her role as a consultant, from being in private business and in the public sector. I am not sure that was always the case (with Reed)."

Diversity isn't only about race and gender, Shaw said, but also about factors like income background and business experience.

Job titles and descriptions can make a big difference in getting diverse applicants, Barreto said. For example, the city is hiring for a new "management fellow" position, but the title might make some minority candidates with fewer means think they can't apply because the job isn't well-compensated, she said.

Shaw said he found that enlightening. "Overnight, you're not going to be able to change the makeup of your workforce, it's just challenging," he said. "But I think there are ways we can do it over time."

Elgin ends diversity contract but looks to advance the work

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