How we measure up "a San Antonio, Texas experience" managing team diversity

Thomas G. Wendorf, P.E., Director of Public Works, City of San Antonio, Texas; Chair, APWA Urban Forum

Jason E. Cosby, P.E., Assistant Director of Public Works, City of San Antonio, Texas; Member, APWA Membership Committee

There are numerous ways to enhance and promote diversity within your workplace, memberships, community organizations, and others. The City of San Antonio Public Works Department has achieved just that. We are practicing what we preached, through spearheading the Citizens Public Works Academy, recruiting from local universities, internship programs, and more. Through these tools, our organization has become an "inclusive organization" where our customers and prospective customers feel welcomed and valued.

As a way of achieving this objective and in an effort to strive for excellence, the City of San Antonio would like to offer our findings, solutions, ideas, successes, and nuances that we encountered and use within our community, employment, and memberships. Why, when, and how to implement diversity strategies within your community requires you to connect with and support your diverse customer base, in order to generate new ideas and problem-solving innovations.

As you may know, the City of San Antonio is the ninth largest city in the United States, with the following characteristics:

  • 51.7% Female, 48.3% Male
  • Median Age - 31.7 years
  • Percent high school graduate or higher - 75.1%
  • Percent bachelor's degree or higher - 21.6%
  • Hispanic or Latino (of any race) - 58.7%
  • Not Hispanic or Latino - 41.4%
Compared to the ten highest populated cities:

  1. New York - 8,008,278
  2. Los Angeles - 3,694,820
  3. Chicago - 2,896,016
  4. Houston - 1,953,631
  5. Philadelphia - 1,517,550
  6. Phoenix - 1,321,045
  7. San Diego - 1,223,400
  8. Dallas - 1,188,580
  9. San Antonio - 1,144,646
  10. Detroit - 951,270
Our Mission Statement:

To be committed to providing public services and infrastructure in a quality manner through the use of modern engineering and management practices with a team of people dedicated to professional excellence and customer satisfaction. We strive to accomplish these tasks efficiently, effectively, and with accountability to the community we serve.

To accomplish our goals of managing team diversity and following our mission statement, as stated above, we first:

  • Recognized diversity in the community.
  • Recognized the need for staff to mirror the makeup of the community.
  • Hiring practices—looked at different avenues when recruiting staff to identify staff with diverse characteristics.
  • Recognized that the organization would be stronger because of its diverse staff.
  • Emphasized living in San Antonio, Texas.
We understood the benefits that could be derived by diversifying our work force, such as the following:
  • Diversity of staff draws from their personal experiences.
  • Citizens relate to our staff because staff have "walked in their shoes" and understand their issues.
  • Citizens relate to staff that represent their interests and to whom they can confide in and rely on for obtaining information.
Our successes became evident during the implementation of the different processes:

  • Successful in recruiting a diverse management staff that are representative of our community.
  • Recruited employees from various professional organizations (TSPE, TPWA, etc.). Support the San Antonio PREP program, which encourages youth to become involved in the engineering profession.
  • Hired college interns that have become full-time employees.
  • Participated in the Engineer for a Day program.
  • Supported staff wanting to continue their education.
Below are the different programs implemented within our Public Works Department:
  • Citizens Public Works Academy which brought together representatives from each Council District.
  • Educated them regarding the various range of services provided by Public Works.
  • Provided them with an opportunity to interact with a diverse group of trained employees.
  • Management staff directly involved in National Diversity Committees, i.e., APWA National and Texas Chapter Diversity Committees.
  • First Timers events within the Texas Chapter.
Our community continues to benefit from these programs today as is shown below:

  • Participants have made numerous contacts.
  • Gained expertise necessary to implement change, improvements, and increase overall stability in their community.
  • Positive vocal support of Public Works staff in public venues where negative public opinion is expressed—created a support network.
  • Utilizing Public Works' diverse employee base enabled us to reach out to our diverse citizenry.
  • A diverse staff generates new ideas and innovative problem solving because of the variety of perspectives.
It is important to consider the different characteristics of your community, to understand the changing trends in the industry, to take note of the differences in gender and gender communication, and to possess the ability to bring together people with different characteristics that complement each other and can work together to create a better and stronger organization.

Doing so will provide you with an opportunity to discuss local events, scholarship programs, student programs, infoNOW Communities, the APWA Reporter magazine, distribution of the APWA Diversity Resources Guide, Volume II: Tips, Tools, and Triumphs to employees, memberships, and more. An added benefit is the possibility of developing mentorship opportunities, new relationships that will not only benefit new employees but also existing employees through the development of new professional and working relationships.

Diversity is an issue that is an ongoing process in an organization. It needs constant attention and revitalization for organizations to reach their full potential of mastering the capabilities that a diverse population has to offer through greater productivity, more creativity, and an improved bottom line.

Our diverse work environment is a wonderful representation of the diversity within the great City of San Antonio. It is important to not waste time in implementing these strategies in some form or fashion in your organization because we need to continue marketing the public works profession and motivating our community using the techniques discussed above.

Thomas G. Wendorf can be reached at (210) 207-8025 or at twendorf@sanantonio.gov; Jason Cosby can be reached at (210) 207-7785 or at jcosby@sanantonio.gov.