The numbers are surprising if not shocking: The city of Frederick’s population is 46 percent minority, but its workforce is less than 15 percent minority. Its population is 52 percent female, but its workforce is only 35 percent female.
Mayor Michael O’Connor and the Board of Aldermen recognize that the lack of a diverse workforce is a problem for the city. If all members of the community do not feel included in the city, they can begin to feel alienated.
That can show up in subtle but important ways. City police, for example, recently said they believe potential witnesses may be holding back as they continue to investigate a fatal shooting at an apartment complex more than two months ago.
“We didn’t really get a whole lot of people who stepped forward and provided interviews,” Lt. Kirk Henneberry, commander of the Criminal Investigations Division, told our reporter.
We cannot point to a cause-and-effect with the city workforce not reflecting more closely the composition of the population, but it is something to wonder about — and perhaps worry about as well.
The unwillingness of residents to help the police can be an early sign of a trouble for any city, a breakdown of a sense of community.
The city has hired MaxLife LLC, a business that specializes in helping workplaces become more inclusive and diverse, which is a step in the right direction. Founder Toni Bowie recently briefed the aldermen on what the firm has done so far.
MaxLife has worked with the city’s director of human resources, Karen Paulson, on several steps, including conducting a survey of employees and leading workshops and focus groups. She reported that employees were initially reluctant to take part.
“We started seeing a fear of being retaliated against if they participated,” Bowie said. “We learned about the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent. Some people came there in spite of their fears. They felt that it was a responsibility they had to provide different types of information. ... I wish you could have heard some of the stories.”
This, too, is somewhat alarming. It sounds as though the city workforce is suspicious and demoralized, which will make a serious effort to increase diversity that much more difficult.
Alderman Ben MacShane pointed to another serious stumbling block: the city’s generally laudatory practice of promoting from within.
“If there are already one, two, three logical successors lined up based on hiring prior to any diversity and inclusion plan, we could be talking about 40 years before we’d see any change,” MacShane said. And if well-qualified job candidates cannot see a path to promotion, they are less likely to want to join the city government.
Unfortunately, Mayor O’Connor seemed to downplay the difficulties the city faces regarding this challenge.
“Do I think there’s a way to make it happen? Absolutely,” he said. “Because we have to make it happen.”
Hope is not a plan, Mr. Mayor. As Bowie warned the aldermen: “Diversity and inclusion is not organically grown. It takes concerted effort and consistent work to make this happen.”
Recruiting a diverse workforce is hard work. You cannot just wait for qualified women and minorities to show up; you have to go out and find them, and persuade them to join your organization.