DOVER — By potentially entering into an agreement with United Way of Delaware for consulting on diversity and inclusion, the city of Dover is looking at making its leadership and employees more closely reflect the demographics of the city’s residents.
Michelle Taylor, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Delaware, was on hand during a council committee of the whole meeting Tuesday to explain the purpose of the diversity, equity and inclusion consulting that may be offered to the city through Fusion Alliance.
“This isn’t meant to be a quick fix, but I think it’s a step forward,” she said.
Fusion Alliance is offered through a partnership between United Way of Delaware, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and New Castle County Chamber of Commerce.
The council committee of the whole gave the consultation program its approval, pending the city’s lawyers’ review of the agreement.
Councilman Gerald Rocha recused himself from the vote as he is an employee of United Way of Delaware.
The next step in the process is for the city council to review the agreement during its Sept. 27 meeting and then take a vote.
The alliance, Ms. Taylor said, aims to accelerate business growth through equity and inclusion.
Ms. Taylor said Fusion Alliance’s efforts include training that aims to transform the culture and landscape within business starting at the senior level and working down.
“This isn’t one of those things where it starts at the bottom. It literally has to start at the top and be owned at the top,” Ms. Taylor said.
As it stands, there is only one department head in the city who is a minority, according to Kim Hawkins, director of the city’s Department of Human Resources. Ms. Hawkins said at the lower levels, there is a high turnover rate of people of color — though she noted in exit interviews, race or racism was not attributed as a reason for leaving.
Ms. Taylor said Fusion Alliance will help “foster conversations” and be a voice in helping the city develop a plan to achieve a higher level of diversity and inclusion. This will, in turn, ideally increase interest in people applying to work for the city and lessen the turnover rate.
The consultations do come at a cost and there is a mandatory two year sign-on. The first year will cost the city $5,000. The second year will cost $15,000 — though Ms. Taylor said United Way of Delaware will apply a discount.
Interim City Manager Matt Harline said the city has budgeted funds to pay for the first year having anticipated some sort of diversity and inclusion training. Going into the second year, this would need to become a budgeted item.
Ms. Taylor said that by the end of the first 12 months, the city should have a strategic plan. The second year would be working to implement that plan.
The idea of having an outside firm consult was met with some hesitation from Councilman Bill Hare. Having worked in human relations, Councilman Hare said issues are typically resolved within businesses by human resource professionals.
“Back in the day when I was in the position, if we had an issue and things needed to be done, we would meet with people and employees and we would set goals,” Councilman Hare said. “Now is that what you’re going to do — come in and ask us what our goals are and then teach our staff how to reach those goals?”
Ms. Taylor agreed with Councilman Hare’s assessment, saying city leadership will essentially be setting their own goals toward diversity and inclusion, but Fusion Alliance will help coach them through the process.
Councilman Andre Boggerty, who holds a master’s degree in human resource management, said the results from this type of training often isn’t quantitative, but qualitative. However, he said quantitative results may come later in the form of less turnover or no legal issues.
Efforts within the city follow an Aug. 30 Diversity and Inclusion Committee meeting where all of the city’s department heads met at city hall to hear a report on the topic.
Ms. Hawkins said at that meeting there was unanimous support among department heads for improving diversity and inclusion among city employees.
In response to a question from Councilman Boggerty, Ms. Hawkins said only three of the 15 department heads wrote responses to the diversity and inclusion report.
Councilman Boggerty said that is “indicative there’s no buy-in” or commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“If there’s no buy-in among our directors, then there’s no buy-in on our frontline staff,” he said, noting he was “bothered” about the lack of response.
Mr. Harline also spoke in favor of diversity and inclusion efforts.
“It’s been proven that more diversity makes you more creative, more responsive in a crisis and makes people have more confidence that you’re working for them — particularly in government,” Mr. Harline said. “There’s very good reasons to do this, practical reasons and ethical.”