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City making efforts to diversify staff

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Jake Magee
Sunday, March 12, 2017

JANESVILLE—Officials say they are taking steps to make city staff more diverse, but some city council members think more could be done.

As of the end of 2016, 97.4 percent of the city's 617 employees were white. Whites make up 86.8 percent of Janesville's population.

City officials said departments have done extensive training and have reached out to minority populations to diversify the workforce, but council members Sam Liebert and Kay Deupree think the city hasn't made diversity and inclusiveness the priority it should be.

Last year, the Janesville Police Department hired its first black officer. At the end of last year, the city employed eight black people, four Hispanics, three American Indians and one Asian. The rest were white.

“I don't want to say it's alarming, but I would just say that it just shows there's always more work to do,” said City Council President Sam Liebert.

For the most part, the racial makeup of the city workforce doesn't reflect Janesville's population. Whites are overrepresented, and minorities are underrepresented.

But department heads are trying to change that.

CITY EFFORTS

Part of the city's five-year strategic plan includes steps to improve workforce diversity to more closely match the community.

Sue Musick, human resources manager, said some tasks the city is working on or has completed include:

-- Recruiting potential employees from cities with large minority populations.

-- Reaching out to education institutions.

-- Conducting diversity training.

-- Reaching out to the Diversity Action Team, Rock County Diversity Team and Janesville School District.

Tasks the city hasn't completed include establishing an employee committee to review and make recommendations on diversity-related topics and creating a city diversity coordinator position. Such a position was deferred to next year because of a tight budget, Musick said.

Among people who applied for city jobs in 2016, there was a small uptick in the number of black people and a small drop in the number of white people, she said.

Musick pointed out the council's efforts to increase diversity. Last year, the council adopted a non-discrimination ordinance regarding gender identity and expression. The council also adopted a diversity statement years ago.

“We strive to maintain a community culture where differences are recognized, understood and appreciated,” Musick said.

The city also completed diversity and conflict resolution training in 2016, asked county officials about their diversity and inclusion efforts and met with the Beloit chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other things, Musick said.

Police Chief Dave Moore said his department makes efforts to attract minority applicants.

The department makes recruitment visits to area colleges and career fairs. While officers are on patrol, they reach out to residents and encourage minorities, especially children, to consider a career with the police department, Moore said.

“We have school officers in all of our high schools and middle schools, and they are able to build relationships with these young students and urge them and inspire them to become a police officer and hopefully one day apply to the Janesville Police Department,” Moore said.

Moore hopes this year to establish a minority scholarship program with with help from private party.

“… A scholarship would be afforded to a student with the expectation they would one day work for the Janesville Police Department,” he said.

Anyone who applied for a job, minority or not, would still have to go through the normal application process, he said.

Moore called his department “culturally competent” and encouraged people to not just examine the number of minorities the city employs. The department would have to hire only three black people or six Latinos to meet the ratio where the department reflects the city, he said.

“It's an easy optic across our nation to say that organizations mirror our populations, but I think that's a poor test of if you're really culturally competent,” Moore said. “There are police departments across this nation that have many persons of minority on their department, and they're judged to be some of the most racist police departments in our nation.”

What people should be concerned about is how much diversity training an organization has done, and the police department has done a lot, Moore said.

Janesville Fire Department Chief Randy Banker said several women are excelling in leadership roles at the fire department.

The department also is changing the certifications necessary to get into the hiring process. While potential employees will still have to pass all the regular requirements, less certification is required to apply for a fire department job, he said.

Applicants still must have all the normal certifications at the time of hire.

“We're not lessening our requirements, but what we are doing is opening those opportunities to more people,” Banker said.

The public works department has eliminated gendered language. Foremen are now known as crew leaders, for instance, said Paul Woodard, public works director.

“Some of those were easier than others, like 'material man' is now 'supplier,'” he said. “That was fairly easy, but some references like 'manhole' are now 'structures.' That's going to be a bit tougher to get used to, but we'll get there.”

GOING FURTHER

Liebert and Councilwoman Kay Deupree are two council members interested in promoting workforce diversity, and they think the city can do more.

More than 20 years ago, Ku Klux Klan rallies gave the city a reputation it's still trying to shake, they said.

“The city has a history, and it's not one of welcoming of people who are 'different,'” Deupree said. “The history lives on even if we think we're different now.”

City staff is predominantly white and male and doesn't accurately reflect the city's population. The city's workforce doesn't have to perfectly mirror Janesville's makeup, but the city needs to employ more black people, for instance, Liebert said.

“I think that's an issue. I think we need to do more to recruit people of diversity and be more aggressive,” he said. “It's 2017. I think we need to get on the diversity bandwagon.”

Solutions could include city employees attending more job fairs or the city starting school programs to encourage minorities to apply. The city needs to make diversity a priority, “and I don't feel like it's a priority,” Liebert said.

Change is slow because many city employees stick around for a long time. It's not until they get another job or retire that their positions can be filled by others, potentially minorities, Deupree said.

The police department is often lifted up as the organization that's done the most to be inclusive, which makes sense considering its level of public interaction. However, all city employees should receive training in diversity and inclusiveness, Deupree said.

Liebert commended the police department for being progressive.

“… I do think that we need to have officers and city employees that look like the community, especially the police department and the people who interact with the public on a daily basis,” he said.

“Being culturally competent is something we will never totally achieve,” Deupree said. “We're all on that journey, I think.”



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