Adding on to my last post on the Women’s Empowerment (WE) initiative in Kansas City, Missouri, we are looking closely at our internal practices to build a more inclusive, diverse city government. As a woman, a new mom, and coming from the male-dominated profession of architecture, I am acutely aware of some of the barriers in the workplace but my perspective is also limited to my own experience.
If we really want to understand why there is a gender gap in city government, we have to know more from those just starting off in their career why they may leave for better opportunities if we do not foster a culture that encourages retention and internal advancement. We have to talk to staff that have been in the organization for a while to understand what they have experienced or perceive as challenges before we can arrive at any true recommendations for improvement.
I find the best way to delve into any issue is to take a step back and take the time to listen. By understanding the status quo, it is easier to set a baseline and metrics for success. Reaching out to others helps you to see more than one perspective and can really enhance buy-in to the final solution at the end of the day.
In January 2014, the Office of the Mayor and Office of the City Manager launched extensive internal outreach to engage staff in a conversation about opportunities for professional advancement within the organization. Here is how we did it:
- Welcome everyone to the table: If you want to get a good read, it helps by reaching out to all parts of the workforce. It can be tricky to get people to step away from their daily responsibilities to have a conversation but this is really important. Making the offer directly to staff to participate is crucial to getting a good response.
- Use multiple channels for communication: It is relatively easy to reach staff with regular access to email and computers – but the majority of our workforce is out in the field. Through internal newsletters and announcements on the Intranet site, we reached out to office staff with an invitation. We also included a letter from the Mayor to be included in paystubs for those who may not receive an email.
- Offer alternatives for participation: We provided a short, anonymous survey that covered the same questions as the focus groups for those who were interested but unavailable for any of the sessions.
- Identify a third party facilitator: Our community partner, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, volunteered two skilled facilitators to lead discussion sessions. Bringing in skilled, unbiased facilitators to convene and manage the reporting of feedback was essential to providing a “safe” environment for an honest conversation.
- Use the data you may already have: We have data collected from an annual employee survey that helps define staff perception of our work environment and some of the challenges we face over multiple years.
- Don’t forget your organizational leadership: A good leader should have a pretty good understanding of the challenges within their departments. We interview department leadership to not only understand what they have seen as obstacles within the organization but to know more about how they may already be working to address these challenges. Engaging your organizational leadership can help build support for the overall initiative and future recommendations.
The feedback gathered through these channels helped us identify several areas for improvement within our city government. In my next post I will focus on some of the internal structural changes we are making for a more diverse, inclusive organization.
Ashley Brown is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
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