With the dust still settling from the social unrest that marked last summer, it is more important than ever for local governments to pursue organizational policies that center social justice. One of the ways ICMA is helping is through the development of a series of workshops on Equity and Inclusion: A Strategic Organizational Approach with associate professors at Auburn University to provide a comprehensive approach to implementing the principles of equity and inclusion within local government organizations. 

In the first workshop Establishing Inclusion as a Value held on March 31, 2021, workshop presenters Geoffrey A. Silvera, associate professor, Department of Political Science at Auburn University, and Jonathan M. Fisk, associate professor, Department of Political Science at Auburn University and core MPA faculty member, provided an interactive and engaging webinar for over 320 attendees. The session began with an overview of foundational concepts and key terms and definitions for diversity, inclusion, equity, bias, privilege, disparate impact, and disparate treatment. Through a discussion on how diversity, equity, and inclusion are related and how they are different, Silvera and Fisk led a reflection exercise for participants to analyze their organization’s existing culture and learn how inclusion can improve performance. 

Following the first workshop, we asked three attendees to share their insights and takeaways from the session.

How did the Establishing Inclusion as a Value webinar help you understand the term ‘equity’? 

Colleen Spurlock, city management fellow, Columbia, Missouri: 

It is ironic, because the city of Columbia just passed equity into its strategic plan as a core value. I surveyed all departments to get a baseline for how we are doing on equity and equitable practices across the city. The responses were all over the place! But the webinar helped me think of how to move forward with this. I had been struggling with a definition of equity for the city, which defined it as "consistent and systematic, fair, just, and impartial treatment of individuals who belong to underserved communities and groups that have been denied such treatment." This will help me communicate with the departments on how to move forward thinking of equity. 

More importantly, this webinar defined how inclusion is a choice. I had never heard the chocolate syrup, milk, and spoon analogy before but it clicked in my head. We can have as many efforts and attempts to be inclusive, but until we commit to it as anf institution, we will never be able to achieve inclusive diversity. We will not be able to be inclusive unless we take those next steps and, to go back to the analogy, put a spoon into the milk and mix it with the chocolate syrup. 

Susan Daudelin, director of human resources, Dover, New Hampshire:  

Learning that equity and equality are not interchangeable and do not mean the same thing. 

Scott Trainor, CCCMA president and city manager, Fountain, Colorado: 

The overall webinar was really valuable, both in terms of the content shared by the presenters but also in terms of the ongoing dialogue in the chat area. I thought it was very interesting to see different perspectives, which actually helped me finetune my own perspective. Specific to the term “equity,” I’m not sure that I gained a new understanding of what that term means with regard to DE&I issues, however, the various perspectives of other participants was very valuable. Those perspectives help me think more in terms of outcomes of our actions versus the action itself. 

Why is it important for your organization to establish inclusion as a value? 

Spurlock: 

Like I said above, it is important to establish inclusion as a value because so often local governments and organizations think they are being inclusive, but they really are just going through the motions. For organizations to actually be inclusive, diverse, and equitable, each needs to be a value. Diversity isn't a person, it's a group. Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected, and supported. Equity is the consistent, fair, and systematic impartial treatment of those who are underserved. Once you have a group of people of all different diverse abilities and neurological abilities, you create policies and procedures to ensure that in the group of people, those who are underserved are treated fairly, and you include them in the conversations.

Daudelin: 

We have some departments where there is a need for a culture change.  One department is experiencing issues where there is a lack of respect among workers, which primarily appears to be age related.  We have a dwindling population of employees that have many years of service and others that a relatively new.  Both groups appear to disregard each other.  We need to work with these groups to help them understand that both groups have a lot they can learn from one another.  Communication and accountability will be key. 

Trainor: 

We often think that diversity is the goal, but that is really just about getting someone to the dance; inclusion is about making sure that person is invited out on the dance floor.  For our colleagues to truly feel a part of the organization, they have to feel welcomed into a culture that values their experiences, backgrounds, and ideas and the organization has to demonstrate that through its actions. They have to not just be allowed in the door but be welcome (and expected) to participate.  I really liked the analogy shared in the chat dialogue around the tossed salad. . . we each represent a different ingredient in that tossed salad.  We could certainly be placed on a plate together, but separate, and we would represent our own unique ingredient (that’s diversity).  But that really wouldn’t taste all that great.  However, once the tongs are brought in to toss the salad, we’ve now created inclusion and an overall better dish!  We’re still our own unique ingredients with our own flavors, but tossed together we really create something special and all play an important role in that final dish!  Very similar to Dr. Silvera’s chocolate milk analogy, but I just connected more with the tossed salad idea. 

What is one thing you will do, change, implement based on the webinar? 

Spurlock: 

One thing I want to do is take the definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion and have them printed in everyone's workstation. Seeing and reading the definitions throughout the day will help everyone keep them in the back of their mind and ensure that all they do is inclusive and equitable. I think, too, it will be important to ensure that we as an organization go through the organizational dividends and understand the importance of embracing diversity, inclusion, and equity to help us be innovative and lead the way of all that we do. 

Daudelin: 

I understand training is not the total solution but do believe it is a good start.  All should learn that this is not a political topic, but rather a matter of being respectful and kind to one another.  All need to understand how to have uncomfortable conversations in a respectful way.  There needs to be accountability to address not only our actions, but also our inactions. 

Trainor: 

First, take the second and third webinars in the series.  This first webinar gave me a good sense of the value of the future ones.  Second, and probably more importantly, it spurred me to take advantage of the GARE resources that we receive as a member and to have them conduct an assessment of our organization. 


Upcoming workshops in the series are: 

April 28: Kickstarting Inclusion  

May 26: Keep Moving Forward 


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