“The times, they are a-changing,” Bob Dylan sang in the 1960s. History has proven this true, and the trend has only accelerated in 2017. U.S. communities and workforces are more diverse today than ever before. Demographers project continued shifts in everything from culture to population age.
National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) joined the dialogue at the West Coast Regional Summit in Burlingame, CA. An opportunity for professional development and networking, the summit also provided a platform for colleagues to discuss today’s most pressing issues. A panel led by Lee Feldman, ICMA president and City Manager of Fort Lauderdale, FL, launched the event with a candid discourse on Equity and Inclusivity in the Workplace and Our Communities.
“A perfectly inclusive organization can be perfectly blind,” said Feldman in an interview with NRC and the League of Women in Government. “But of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. There are barriers and we must find ways to jump those hurdles.”
Panelist Mary Morrison, Policy and Program Manager for the Office of Equity and Human Rights at Tacoma, WA, identified the tallest hurdles as laws and institutions that suppress marginalized groups. She implored advocates and leaders to move beyond political correctness to make meaningful changes.
ICMA clarified that diversity is more than just race or gender. Members included age, immigration status, LGBTQ orientation, economic status, educational level and other facets in the discussion. Attendees also brought up the need for preparedness of younger generations as looming retirements create vacancies in city management.
Participants at the West Coast Summit were themselves a diverse group. Panelist Reyna Farrales, San Mateo County Manager, explained that her County is one of the most diverse in California, with a government workforce to match. Farrales asserted that local governments are better able to serve their constituents when they closely reflect their diverse populations. She also recognized that attaining a diverse leadership is a struggle for many municipalities.
Summit participants expressed a commitment to inclusiveness and a passion for their communities. For many of them, the discussion boiled down to trust. “In order to have an inclusive community, you need to have trust, and you need to build it from the ground up,” said Panelist Ruth Osuna, Assistant City Manager for Oxnard, CA. By digging into real-life issues with local government professionals, the ICMA Regional Summits begin the work of filling those gaps in civic trust.