The many faces of Atlanta

Teresa Scott, P.E.
Director of Public Works
City of Gainesville, Florida
Member, APWA Diversity Committee

To find out a little bit about the diversity of Atlanta, I did what any conscientious Baby Boomer would do—surfed the web. While visiting the City of Atlanta's website I found that although Atlanta is rich in history, it claims to be a city of the future "with strong ties to its past." The city was founded in 1837 at the end of the Western & Atlantic railroad line and originally named Marthasville in honor of the governor's daughter. Soon after, the name was changed to Atlanta.

Today Atlanta is a fast-growing metropolitan area that remains a transportation hub with I-75, I-85 and I-20 converging through the downtown area. The Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport is one of the nation's busiest in daily passenger flights with direct flights to Europe, South America, and Asia. This has allowed easy access to the more than 1,000 international businesses that operate in the area and the more than 50 countries that have representation in the city through consulates, trade offices, and chambers of commerce. The city has emerged as a banking center and is ranked number three for world headquarters with 13 Fortune 500 companies.

Lauren Kenworthy of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau was kind enough to provide me with some interesting information about some of Atlanta's national rankings. It is ranked number one for Nation's Best Big Cities for Entrepreneurs (source: Inc. Magazine, 2004); Best Place to Expand and Relocate Your Business (source: Site Selection Magazine in 2002); Best Place for Women and Minorities to Climb the Business Ladder (source: Demographics Daily, 2002); and Fastest Growing Online City (source: Nielsen/NetRatings, 2003). Atlanta was also named the Number One Destination for African-Americans (source: Travel Industry Association of America in 2000 and 2004).

As the State Capitol of Georgia, Atlanta is a government center as well as home to 15 colleges/universities such as Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, Spelman College and Morehouse College. Atlanta is home to many diverse landmarks and attractions from historical venues such as the Atlanta Civil War Museum to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center; Underground Atlanta to the Centennial Olympic Park. There is something for everyone in the attractions from museums, to theatres and fine art centers, to Six Flags Amusement Park and Zoo Atlanta.

For the sports enthusiast, Atlanta is home to not one but five national professional sports teams. The three most commonly thought of are the Atlanta Braves (baseball), the Atlanta Falcons (football) and the Atlanta Hawks (basketball). To my surprise, they also have one of the few southern NHL teams—the Atlanta Thrashers—as well as the Atlanta Beat, one of eight professional women's soccer teams.

The 20-county Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area population is 4,112,198; the 10-county Atlanta region has a population of 3,304,000 with a population of 430,000 in the City of Atlanta (source: Census Bureau 2000; Atlanta Regional Commission, 2000). The minority population of the City of Atlanta is the majority with African-Americans composing 61% and other minority groups at 4%. Shirley Franklin is the 58th mayor of Atlanta and has the distinction of being the city's first female mayor. She is also the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of a major southeastern city.

I learned quite a bit about the diversity of Atlanta through my research and have a newfound appreciation for that sprawling metropolis located six hours to the north of the just-over 100,000 metropolis I call home. Atlanta is a fitting location to focus on the topic of diversity during Congress. The Diversity Committee is pleased to provide three very good sessions covering a broad range of diversity-related topics that we hope you will plan to attend.

H. Reed Fowler, Jr., Director of Public Works, and Linda Pearce, Safety and Training Coordinator, will present "Teambuilding to Diversity" from the City of Newport News, Virginia. This presentation is based on actual experience of the Department following team-building exercises, which identified a need for finding ways to appreciate cultural differences within a 300-employee workforce. Through the lessons learned by this agency, participants will be able to customize and implement their own diversity-training program. The discussion of the techniques used to develop and implement the diversity training program can help others to achieve a better appreciation by their employees for diversity in the workplace, which can boost employee morale, increase work production, and achieve more positive social interaction among workers. According to Fowler, "It is a wonderful management tool. I have had numerous employees express their appreciation for having such a dynamic program in place. It promotes a greater understanding of our differences and enhances teamwork." The diversity training program deals head-on with biases, and aids in discussion of how differences can create controversy if they are not appreciated and problems resolved.

"Generational Workers = Higher Performance" will be presented by Peggy M. Pound, Vice President for Business Development with AMEC Infrastructure in Las Vegas. "'They' don't have a work ethic. 'They' are not loyal. 'They' drive me crazy." Sound familiar? Well, you are not alone. For the first time in modern history, we have four completely separate generations working together. Each generation has unique needs, understandings, and ideas. How can we manage? Knowing which generation can better relate to another is the key to success. "They" do have work ethics and are loyal, and determining those can be easy. Understanding generational differences of the Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexers is the key to success.

Rosemary J. Baltcha, Personnel Officer, Department of Public Works and Planning, and Paul Nerland, PHR, Personnel Services Manager, Staff Development & Training in Fresno County, will present "Diversity Training that Delivers Measurable Bottom-line Results." It is fairly easy for corporate America to measure bottom-line results. Was there a net profit and what was the main source of that profit? However, in cities and counties across the country, we struggle to define "the bottom line." As public service agencies, with limited resources, bureaucratic controls, and an increasing need to maximize the taxpayers' dollars, we must create cohesive workforces that deliver the kind of customer service that changes the stereotypical perception of public agencies. That's our bottom line.

Individually as public servants, we know that it is "not a free ride," that we are dedicated, and that we work long, hard, and sometimes thankless hours. But individually we cannot project this reality to the public we serve. It must be an effort undertaken by our entire organization, from bottom to top, which brings us back to creating a cohesive workforce capable of delivering this message.

A cohesive workforce is only obtainable through a better understanding of ourselves and appreciation and respect for others. Managing diversity in this manner will change the image of your public agency and result in increased productivity. The diversity initiative undertaken within the Public Works & Planning Department at the County of Fresno goes beyond the traditional approaches of the past that assigned guilt, blame and shame. Most organizations have experienced traditional approaches including Affirmative Action and Valuing Differences training. The "Managing Diversity" training program expands the definition of diversity beyond ethnicity, race and gender, and acknowledges that everyone has culture and values that shape their lives and approaches at work. Learning about others begins with learning about yourself and how you can better interact with fellow employees and customers and, ultimately, be more effective as an organization.

Teresa Scott can be reached at (352) 334-2070 or at scottta@ci.gainesville.fl.us.