Elgin diversity survey results call for less talk, more action

Employees of the city of Elgin are tired of talking about diversity and inclusion, but there is "a clear appetite" for concrete work, according to a diversity consultant.

"They are fatigued because they are tired of talking about it," consultant Denise Barreto told the city council Wednesday night. "There's a clear appetite for actions. There's a clear appetite for next steps."

City Manager Rick Kozal pointed out that diversity was identified as a core value in the city's new five-year strategic plan that launched in January. He also acknowledged that in the past, "there probably was a lot of talk but not enough action.

Kozal has been city manager since August 2016; Barreto began working with the city last spring after Kozal severed ties with Elgin's longtime diversity consultant. She conducted an online survey and focus groups of employees by September, and the city manager's office postponed her presentation until after the 2018 budget was approved.

The survey showed that, while most people have a positive work experience, more white males reported feeling valued and respected compared to women and people of color, Barreto said. On the upside, employees under 35 reported higher rates of satisfaction in areas such as recruitment and talent development, she said.

As for whether city employees value diversity and inclusion, attitudes vary greatly, Barreto said. "That's why it's important to get on the same page and understand what the role (of that) is."

The city doesn't track diversity among its contractors. A manual analysis of 47 contracts larger than $20,000 from January to August showed that only 6 percent of the money was spent on minority and female contractors, Barreto said. Among the 15 largest cities in Illinois - Elgin is the 8th - only three track supplier diversity in some form, she said. "We're not so far worse than anyone else but we do have an opportunity for leadership here," she said.

Barreto and the city manager's office worked outlining three overall goals for diversity and inclusion: continue building a workforce with diverse backgrounds, skills and perspectives; delivering high-quality programs and services to all members of the community; and ensuring that minority owned and women-owned businesses have a fair opportunity to get city contracts.

"We want everybody in this organization to feel some ownership in this," she said.

The next steps include re-evaluating the city's 24 boards and commissions, including mapping a process for appointments; monitoring supplier diversity with new software that will go live in February, with data to be reviewed by the end of the year; and creating a temporary task force to come up with recommendations in the first quarter and developing an action plan in the second quarter. The employee survey will be re-administered in fall 2019.

The survey was sent to more 600 employees, including all full-timers and part-timers with city email addresses, and only 41 percent responded. The low rate of participation is a "a good wake-up call," Kozal said, adding his office is working on improving communication strategies targeting employees.

City council members gave positive reviews to Barreto's work and said they looked forward to more.

Barreto's 90-day, $11,900 contract has expired, and her next contract is to be determined, Kozal said.

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