By Carla Kimbrough
When I recently shared the Diversity Dozen with ICMA professionals, I told them that Race is the most important conversation this nation has never really had.
Many agreed. They were talking about race in terms of hiring, from government staff and public safety jobs, to community outreach and services they provide. Many had the question where and how do we begin.
Defining diversity, inclusion and equity is a good starting point for gaining a shared understanding. These terms are not interchangeable but they certainly should be interdependent for maximum impact. For example, an organization that is diverse may not be inclusive, and diversity alone does not make an organization equitable. If you need greater understanding about the differences, let’s talk about it. Shared understanding is extremely important as you proceed.
A next step in building a foundation to discuss race is understanding who is a living in your community. If you did a pop quiz with your staff, could they accurately cite the demographics - race, ethnicity and foreign-born residents? Another question, do you know the history of race and racial conflict in your community? By history I don’t just mean the last 10 years; I mean way back. Were there acts of racial terror such as lynching or racial exclusion such as redlining? These stories have been passed down through generations. They’re the reason communities of color don’t trust the government and are reluctant to contribute.
Next have you driven through the neighborhoods where people of color and immigrants live? What do you see? Homes in disrepair? Financial disinvestment? High unemployment? Lack of investment in people? These are issues that government, through federal and local policies, have protected or neglected. That’s why discussing and reflecting on issues of race, which is only one category of diversity, is a great conversation to have within local government.
The Diversity Dozen is a tool to begin reflection and then discussion. City managers can ponder the questions individually and then share them during department head meetings. Department heads can begin discussions with their managers. The questions don’t have to be handled all at once, but can be done over a few weeks or few months.
The important step is to simply begin. After all, race is the most important conversation we have yet to start in this nation . Let’s start this on the local level. Nervous still? Just tell folks you ran across a tool from the National Civic League, and they want a few local governments to try it out and let them know how it goes. That’s true, I do want you to use it and invite your feedback. Let’s talk about your questions and concerns.