City Employees Work Toward Enhancing Workplace Diversity

DEEP Executive Committee, from left, front row: Delphine Kennedy-Walker, Attorneys Office; Carolyn Quan Lee, Parks & Recreation; Nickole Cheron, Office of Neighborhood Involvement; Michelle Harper, Parks & Recreation; Carmen Caballero Rubio, Office of Mayor Tom Potter; Danilo Del Rosario, Bureau of Technology Services.  Left to right back row:  Karl Harn, Bureau of Development Services; Jared Spencer, Office of Mayor Tom Potter; Deena Pierott; Angie Harris, Former Commissioner Sten's Office; Debbie Caselton, Bureau of Environmental Services; Greg Wolley, Bureau of Purchases; Mikal Shabazz, Bureau of Development Services. Not pictured:  Jeri Williams, Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

Diverse and Empowered Employees of Portland (DEEP) is a networking resource and support mechanism developed by city employees for city employees. The employee-led group aims to enhance the city efforts in diversity, job recruitment, professional development, customer service, and employee mentorship by drawing on the cultural competencies and networks of the city’s own employees. DEEP is open to all city employees who support the shared mission of facilitating positive changes across the city.

Through Affinity Groups, DEEP provides a network of employees to promote professional development and advancement and to foster mentor relationships. Affinity groups also serve to encourage all employees to value their respective groups’ uniqueness and contribution to the city and to promote a positive work environment

Chairwoman Debbie Caselton and Greg Wolley, two leaders among DEEP’s Executive Council, shared their views about why the organization is important to city employees.

Greg Wolley, Bureau of Purchases

We have a great city. But by and large, people of color in our city are invisible. There isn’t a lot of diversity in government, in business ownership, and in corporate roles. People of color need to see people who look like them in a lot of different roles. This is especially important for our young people, to provide them with inspiration to develop themselves professionally.

Portland has been changing in a lot of ways. There are lots of concerns about changes among ethnicities and cultures represented in our neighborhoods. People are moving out of Portland due to a number of issues: cost of living, transportation issues, housing. The City of Portland has the opportunity to help employ a diverse workforce and keep the diversity that we have in Portland by providing good jobs.

How did DEEP get its start? It was obvious to us that there is a disparity, especially in professional and managerial positions, among people of color and other minority groups who are working in the city of Portland. This is a big motivation for Mayor Potter and the City Council to unanimously support the resolution to create DEEP.

Retention also is a key issue. Many times, people who are recruited from more diverse cities come to Portland and experience culture shock because of the lack of diversity. Part of what DEEP does is creating community and help employees from diverse backgrounds connect with each other. I hate to see good people leave an organization because they don’t feel a sense of community, or they may feel that they’re not progressing in their careers as they should. These issues are not endemic to city governments: they happen in a lot of places.

The purpose of various DEEP affinity groups is to enable employees of similar interests, cultural backgrounds, and ethnicities to come together. We want all affinity groups to be successful. Some affinity groups may get off to a faster start than others. The DEEP Executive Council’s role is to provide support and help address any challenges.

It’s important to note that we are a volunteer-driven organization. Everyone of us does our DEEP work on our own time.

Working with the city’s Human Resources bureau, members of DEEP have also provided diversity for interview panels. There are lots of different skills associated with various backgrounds that may not always show up on an employment application. When you have a diverse group of people conducting interviews, it can be easier to recognize the skills and talents that people from various cultures bring to the table.

It’s exciting that our efforts have inspired other municipalities to look at our affinity networks model. The cities of Gresham and Eugene are watching how DEEP develops as they consider similar initiatives for their own municipalities

Debbie Caselton, Bureau of Environmental Services

I used to work for the private sector, and worked in a very homophobic atmosphere. When I finally did come out, I had such a negative response from my employer. I was blown away. I was told not to cut my hair short because I’d look like a dyke. I could not to bring a date to the Christmas party because it would make everyone uncomfortable. I asked myself: “Is this legal?” Which was ironic, because I worked for a law firm.

When I started working for the City of Portland, it marked the first time in my entire working life that I ever worked beside another gay person. Ever. It was exciting and empowering to find other people like myself.

DEEP is an employee-driven group committed to honoring diversity in the workplace. We have a wide range of representation: from across different departments, racial and ethnic backgrounds, the gay and lesbian community, a wide range of lifestyles, as well as differently-abled members of the City of Portland workforce. Our members vary in age from their 20s to their 60s.

We all have something to learn from each other. Working alongside co-workers who represent a wide range of cultures and backgrounds makes for dynamic workplaces. What can we learn from each other if we didn’t have differences and recognize our commonalities?

The strength of the affinity groups lies in the opportunity of people to come together to share their experiences, and bring to the table any issues they may have. There may even be a chance for these issues to be solved. Affinity group meetings are open to everyone, and not limited to people who identify with that group.

Beyond racial, tribal and ethnic affiliation, our affinity groups cover a wide range of diversity. For example, we have an affinity group of Working Mothers. Members come from all different bureaus and cultural backgrounds.

The DEEP Affinity Council – made up of chairs and representatives of various affinity groups – is scheduled to meet every quarter. That’s another opportunity to learn about what the other groups are doing, and maybe discover some common issues that need to be addressed. It’s also a good way to build networks.

Summer 2008 Colors of Influence || Share on Facebook

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