How diversity benefits municipalities

Rosa Inchausti, CPC
Diversity Manager
City of Tempe, Arizona

All too often corporations are highlighted as being leaders in the area of diversity, while government agencies are not seen as contenders in the field. The City of Tempe challenges these misperceptions. While Fortune 500 companies understand the value of diversity as it translates into a higher stock price, the City of Tempe creates a greater quality of life for both its residents and employees through diversity. This article will identify three top reasons how diversity benefits municipalities. The three top reasons are: Providing More with Less; Competitive Edge, Financial Gain; and Reduce Your Liability: Pay Now or Pay Later.

Providing More with Less
Being in the public sector, the essential function of our organization (a city government), is to serve our customers, our community. Several factors come into play in our ability and success at providing good customer service to our community: (1) our customer base is changing; (2) a changing customer requires different services; and (3) greater productivity from City staff is needed as municipal budgets are shrinking.

Dynamic Diverse Community. In the City of Tempe, as in many parts of the nation, our demographics are radically changing. Tempe, as home to Arizona State University (ASU), has always historically been more demographically diverse than most of its neighboring cities. However, as the recent U.S. Census highlighted, Tempe is rapidly increasing its Hispanic population at record levels. Additionally, it appears that the average citizen is younger than in the past. Combining these demographic changes with the recent change in the City's growth pattern from sprawling suburbia to landlocked urban core has created a much different and dynamic customer base than those of the past few decades.

Demand for Services. A changing and diverse customer base demands different services. As in any business a key to success is identifying what is needed in the market and meeting that demand. City government is no different. For example, citizens demand public safety; thus, cities have police departments. Library and parks and recreation services are desired; thus, community services departments are created. Emergency services need to be provided; therefore, fire departments are formed. All of these functions are essential to a high quality of life and every resident, regardless of location within this country, has come to expect them.

Most importantly, city governments exist solely to provide such community-wide services. If not for municipalities, who would tackle such difficult and costly tasks? After all, with very few exceptions, no for-profit organizations have been able to create a lucrative business out of enforcing speed limits, providing free books or saving burning buildings. Cities provide the services that benefit everyone and otherwise would not be cost effective in the free market.

  City of Tempe Adapted Track

Diverse organizations and communities demand diverse services. In response, the City of Tempe has created numerous community outreach programs specifically targeted to the changing demographics and needs. For example, the City's Mediation Program addresses neighborhood disputes and provides guidance for neighbors trying to work out their differences. Additionally, based on a discovered need within the community, a new City program now assists residents with disabilities. The Adapted Recreation Coordinator creates and implements recreational programs for people with disabilities. Recently, many City publications and notices have been translated into Spanish so all residents are informed equally. New City celebrations and educational events highlight the City's diverse composition and have created a greater understanding between differing community groups.

By and large, these new services are a result of identifying and seeking out the needs of a changing, diverse population. As a result, this focus on diversity has created a community where needs are met. Customer satisfaction with City services is at an all-time high. The City has actively shown that it recognizes the differences in the individuals it serves and strives to meet their diverse needs.

Staff Productivity. All of the new programs and services mentioned have been created within the past few years. During this same time period, annual City budgets have been cut, squeezed and frozen. A hiring freeze has been in place for over three years, meaning the City has been forced to get more out of its existing employees. This scenario is not unlike many for-profit organizations throughout the country.

  City of Tempe Supervisor Training

In an effort to increase productivity, maintain customer satisfaction and fix some employment problems of the past, the City underwent an exhaustive system-wide audit of its employment and diversity practices. The results of this study helped to create several new organizational structures and positions that greatly impact overall staff productivity. The combination of a newly-created Diversity Office, Tempe Learning Center and newly-created Diversity Steering Committee provides tools to assist managers in developing good management skills, a safe haven for dissatisfied employees, and oversight and input by a City-wide employee representative panel. These organizational changes have provided a message that regardless of an employee's background or experience they are valued individuals, creating a higher morale among our workforce. This in turn has greatly benefited our customers—our community.

Besides higher employee morale and higher productivity, this focus on the diversity of the workforce has created an atmosphere where the diverse demands of the changing population are routinely solved by the diverse experiences and backgrounds of the empowered City workforce. As has been shown over and over again, the motto of the City's Diversity Department is true, "with diversity comes strength." An empowered and motivated workforce has created higher customer satisfaction and productivity.

Competitive Edge, Financial Gain
In line with staff productivity follows the concept of retaining your competitive edge. Municipalities traditionally do not have the deep pockets to enter bidding wars with other cities or private corporations for recruitment. Therefore cities need to hire well and create an environment where employees are productive, happy, and committed for the long haul.

Employee Turnover Costs. Retaining employees you have spent time and resources on saves money in the end. A recent Arizona Republic article reported on the high turnover in government jobs and the drain it has on agency budgets. Recruitment, administrative and training costs are enormous for an organization experiencing high turnover, not to mention disruptive to morale and productivity. Significant savings can be obtained by keeping as many good employees as long as possible.

Employee Morale. At the end of our day, we go home to significant others, family, friends or pets that are generally happy to see us. Most of us don't enjoy spending time in places where we are not wanted (if you do, perhaps you should be reading a different type of article). Just like in our personal lives, how do we communicate to our employees that we are glad they are part of the daily struggle? At the City of Tempe, our focus on diversity has created a work environment where feedback is bidirectional with workers and management, discrimination is not tolerated and workforce diversity is encouraged and managed. Where conflicts arise, systems are in place that help resolve issues and create a welcoming workplace.

Training the Next Generation. In tune with reduced turnover and high employee morale is the value of developing leadership. A happy, productive, diverse workforce committed to long-term goals and commitments produces valuable leaders for the organization. Instead of needing to replace our best employees each time higher wages or fancier titles come calling, many of our committed staff members are choosing to remain, citing an "ownership" with their jobs and duties to the community. These employees, with the help of City-paid training, tuition reimbursement and many promotional opportunities, will be the backbone of the next generation of staff leaders and managers. The recent City-wide Diversity Audit (found at www.tempe.gov) documented the value City employees place in having a welcoming, diverse and supportive workplace.

Reduce Your Liability: Pay Now or Pay Later
The final top reason why diversity to municipalities is vital will clearly catch the attention of many linear thinkers reading this article. If higher productivity and low turnover rates haven't convinced you to make diversity a priority in your city, the following information will do it for you.

EEOC Complaints. Due to more effective conflict resolution systems and EEOC training, we have seen a decrease of EEOC filings from 36 in the year 2000 to an average of only 3.7 per year over the past three years. It should also be noted that there have been no unfavorable outcomes for the City during this same three-year timeframe.

This reduction in EEOC complaints represents a significant savings in litigation, management and administrative costs for the organization.

Healthier, Safer Workplace. Thanks to the creation of a safe haven for employees, training for managers and conflict resolution tools for all, the City is a safer and less stressful place to work. From personal experience, I can tell you that one stress migraine headache per week at the office can contribute to countless hours of missed work time, clouded judgment and low morale. While no concrete studies have been performed, I can guarantee fewer sick days, happier workers and a safer environment from having effective tools in place to reduce and handle conflicts between a diverse workforce.

Good Corporate Image. Finally, to all you political-minded readers out there, focusing on diversity keeps you out of the headlines. No CEO of any corporation or mayor of any city wants to be highlighted in the local newspaper for unfair employment practices or insensitivity to a minority group. This is where properly addressing diversity issues before they become problems can be paramount. Anyone remember the Denny's restaurant headline problems from a few years ago? The amount of corporate goodwill, legal costs and business Denny's lost due to the discrimination by a handful of employees was enormous. Would you like your town to have those types of headlines?

Conclusion
Your municipality, like mine, could greatly benefit from a focus on diversity. Corporate America is doing it—why shouldn't your city? I've laid out three areas where even nonprofits such as municipalities can see the financial reasons for promoting diversity throughout its organization. Need more reasons? Just ask 160,000 City of Tempe residents why they think their city is "the best place to live, work and play."

Rosa Inchausti can be reached at (480) 350-8999 or at rosa_inchausti@tempe.gov.