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

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Dubuque: Building our CommUNITY

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Dubuque building our community

Dubuque: Building our CommUNITY

Kelly Larson

Human Rights Director


What were we concerned about

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

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 do1

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

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

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 ourselves1

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 ourselves2

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 ourselves3

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

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

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 focus1

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

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

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

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

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

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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