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Diversity and equity team created to encourage inclusion

RIVER FALLS – During the Tuesday, Dec. 14 River Falls City Council meeting, Assistant City Administrator Jason Stroud updated council members on the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. He gave an in-depth presentation about what can be expected from the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Team.

The city has had staff members exploring options for different DEI type efforts and programs for a couple of years.

“I think the regional and national events of 2020 and the ensuing social equity movement served as a catalyst for those efforts and staff really wanted to roll up their sleeves and see what we could do as we look to our own organization,” said Stroud.

Stroud emphasized the “Why?” of these efforts and team that highlights DEI. For example, diversity of people also means diversity of ideas, perspectives and input. DEI can increase employees’ sense of belonging, while inclusivity is more important than ever. Stroud said staff feel DEI is “living our values.”

“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do, it can be good for our service delivery and employee morale and retention,” Stroud said. “Welcoming and encouraging diversity of gender, race, nationality, creed, sexuality and anything else means a wealth of ideas, perspectives and inputs that we may not have thought of otherwise.”

The DEI team defined the terms as follows: Diversity is defined broadly to encompass the range of human characteristics and experiences that comprises an individual’s personality, knowledge, reactions, and perspectives. Diversity can include, but is not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, generational aspects, social class, physical ability or attributes, veteran status, educational background, work status, family status, religious or ethical values system, national origin, professional experiences, and political beliefs.

Equity provides for fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Action around equity requires the understanding of root causes of disparities, while taking positive steps in removing barriers to promote access and inclusion.

Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can feel and be welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate The goal of including DEI into the city’s workplace is to encourage employees to feel comfortable as their whole selves in the workplace as well as increasing community engagement.

“It is also worth mentioning that employer efforts for inclusivity are even more important now as our workforce is not as physically connected given the increased opportunities for remote work,” said Stroud.

The DEI team was formed in 2021 to help

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encourage and bring awareness to the topics of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within the city. This team meets monthly and the members represent different departments across City Hall.

“This employee collaborative creates a space for intentional conversations about DEI topics for personal and professional growth and opportunities for reflection of practice and progress,” Stroud said.

Throughout 2021, the city took time forming the team and discussing its goals, vision, overall purpose and what they wanted to accomplish going forward. The DEI team framework and three initial goals were included in the agenda packet and are available on the city’s website.

“It is important to recognize that this framework is not intended to be the end point or culmination, rather it’s the starting point for our journey,” said Stroud.

The three team goals listed during the meeting include: 1. Develop and increase self and organizational awareness related to the value and importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.

2. Ensure programs, policies and procedures are in place to build, develop and foster a welcoming and inclusive culture.

3. Include diversity, equity and inclusion considerations as a priority when delivering municipal services and conducting business interactions.

The next steps for the DEI team are to strategize and develop ways to achieve the goals they have set for themselves. They hope to do this with employee surveys, new additional DEI related trainings and to reassess their internal policies and programs to align themselves more with a “DEI lens.”

DEI Team members include Karen Bergstrom, Chair Ellen Redrich, Jaime Issac, Tanya Misselt, Kathryn Paquet, Beth Posel, Jon Smits and Stroud. The city council approved a resolution supporting the DEI Team’s framework and goals, which build off the city’s 2007 resolution which declared inclusivity a fundamental aspect of the city.

December 21, 2021