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Dubuque: Building our CommUNITY. Kelly Larson Human Rights Director. What were we concerned about?. Aging workforce Expanding economy/remaining competitive Welcoming new employees/neighbors/visitors Changing world/changing community Serving the public the best we can

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Dubuque: Building our CommUNITY

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Dubuque: Building our CommUNITY

Kelly Larson

Human Rights Director


What were we concerned about?

  • Aging workforce

  • Expanding economy/remaining competitive

  • Welcoming new employees/neighbors/visitors

  • Changing world/changing community

  • Serving the public the best we can

  • Quite simply: we need to maintain our population in order to maintain a growing, vibrant community and people stay when they feel comfortable and their needs are met


What did we decide to do?

  • Traditional “diversity training?” No.

    • Limited effectiveness

    • Train and move on - no plan for sustainable change

    • Often alienates people

    • Narrow focus on “black vs. white”

    • Most of us think we already know this stuff

    • Focuses too much on beliefs and not enough on behavior and economic imperative


What did we decide to do?

  • Training AS PART OF organizational development:

    • Identify problem areas

    • Figure out how our workforce, in general, views “culture” and help them see it more broadly

      • “differences that may make a difference” in terms of productivity, cost, safety, legality

    • Develop a strategy to address inclusion on an ongoing, sustainable basis


How did we begin?

  • Assessment

    • Scientifically valid tool that measures level of intercultural development – how adept people are at working across all types of differences

    • Administered to random cross-section of approximately 150 City employees

    • Also gathered input from employees and community members regarding their perception of workplace and community


What did we learn about ourselves?

  • We tend to overestimate our level of sensitivity to other cultures

  • We tend to place an extreme emphasis on the current “culture” of our organization, causing strong pressure to conform

  • Some of our employees are resistant to change and feel threatened; leading to “us vs. them”/Dubuquer vs. non-Dubuquer behavior


What did we learn about ourselves?

  • We are comfortable – we want to learn about others but we don’t want to change; we want others to adapt to “our way”

  • Our emphasis is on helping employees learn and embrace the skills and style of the majority

  • We overemphasize universal values and human commonality (“deep down we’re all the same”); thus, we miss crucial cultural differences, which can increase misunderstanding and cause backlash of defensiveness (people being “in your face” with their culture)


What did we learn about ourselves?

  • We are a typical “compliance” organization, rather than a “committed” organization

  • We often avoid making waves or challenging our “majority” employees; there’s a strong belief that minorities get an unfair advantage

  • In short, we will work to remove discrimination and barriers so long as we can do so without disturbing the structure, mission, and culture of the organization.


What did we learn about ourselves?

  • All of the preceding ways that we behave significantly hinder our ability to recruit and retain employees of different backgrounds

  • But we also learned another critical thing about ourselves: most of us really do want to be better at working across differences, we’re just not sure how to do it


How do we improve? Create an understanding

  • Progress in this arena is everyone’s job, not just personnel, or human rights, or “diversity” person:

    • Clear message from the top

    • It’s about behavior, not beliefs, and it’s a required job expectation

    • Integrate throughout organization in all we do

    • Regular training

    • Expectations set forth in performance reviews

    • Each department has obligations


How do we improve? Change our focus

  • Focus on the system:

    • Long lasting change requires that we stop “reacting” and focusing solely on “who did what to whom”

    • Look beyond individual mistakes, personalities, events, and focus on underlying structures that shape individual action

    • Review our structure, policies, culture and consider ways to adapt

    • Create conditions where certain events become more likely


How do we improve? Change our focus

  • Focus on the system:

    • Instead of pressure to conform, find mutual solutions and/or culturally appropriate responses

    • Think “universal design” – strategies that may be designed for needs of a specific group but that also benefit others


How do we improve? Create a plan

  • Create an ARSR plan

    • Attract: show people we mean it; visible statements and visible progress

    • Recruit: remove barriers, reach out, and get people in the door

    • Support: keep employees engaged; build support systems and maximize potential

    • Retain: prevent loss of talent


How do we improve? Keep trying

  • Excellence is not always about perfection

    • Support risk takers – errors are a chance to learn, not a chance for retribution

    • Be willing to face conflict and discomfort

    • Be supportive of one another and assume good intentions first

    • Accept ambiguity – there is no magic pill

    • Remain flexible and open to new ideas and options


Why do we want to do this?

  • We want to provide good customer service – serving the public is what we do

  • We know we face retirements in the coming years, and we need to fill those slots

  • We want to remain competitive and to do that, we need workforce and visitors to feel welcome

  • We want to be able to resolve culture clashes at work and in the community


Why do we want to do it?

  • We want to capitalize on diversity; full inclusion = greater success, ideas, growth of the organization

  • We want to better understand ourselves and others – it reduces conflict and makes life more pleasant

  • We want everyone who comes to Dubuque to be able to see and enjoy all of the things that we are really proud of and that make our city a great place.


This work is a marathon, not a sprint, but progress begins with the first step.

Would you like to come along?


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