Steamboat Springs surveying employees about diversity, equity, inclusion |

Steamboat Springs surveying employees about diversity, equity, inclusion

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Nearly five months after Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously voted to spend $30,000 to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion expert to audit the city and develop strategies on how to diversify its staff, a survey has been sent to all employees asking them to rank their happiness level with diversity in the city.

The survey is anonymous and asks employees to use a numerical system to rank how they feel they’re being treated by supervisors and colleagues, as well as their overall perceptions of diversity and inclusion in the city.

“We just really want to make sure we respect diversity here and that we have an inclusive environment that is open to feedback where our employees feel like they have a voice and have a seat at the table,” said Wendy Kuhlman, human resources and risk manager for the city. “This is a big topic nationwide, and we wanted to sort of be on the forefront of it.”

Council included the cost of the audit, which is being conducted by Maria Velasco, founder and CEO of Boulder-based Beyond Inclusion Group, in its 2020 budget, but due to budget cuts made when COVID-19 hit, the city made the decision to push the process to 2021. While the audit was planned before the police killing of George Floyd, council members said the national conversations around diversity sparked by Floyd’s death brought the topic of diversity to the forefront of their minds.

“We know that a lot went on last summer that inspired other organizations to start looking into (diversity, equity and inclusion) work,” said council member Lisel Petis, who co-chaired the initiative. “I’m very happy that all seven of us have realized it’s a priority.”

The survey was sent two weeks ago, and city employees have another week to complete it. Once the survey is closed, Velasco will compile the results and help the city develop a plan to address weaknesses in its diversity efforts.

“This is not an initiative,” City Manager Gary Suiter said. “This is an organizational transformation.”

Suiter said the city also hopes to work with schools and children in town to address racism from a young age.

“This intervention needs to happen with children,” he said. “Discrimination, bias and bigotry are taught; you aren’t born with them.”

Council member Sonja Macys, who is co-chairing the initiative with Petis, said they should work on themselves first and figure out how they can work toward building a more inclusive city even before the survey results are released.

“Having grown up in the deep south, I saw far more racism than anyone ever should,” Macys said. “I wanted to see if we could pull something off to make an ongoing effort to have a transformation for the city.”

As for specific measures the city can implement, Petis and Macys said they’ve discussed implicit bias trainings, translators in meetings to make it easier for Spanish-speaking residents to share their concerns with council and tools for council members to intervene in harmful situations.

“This is a process,” Petis said. “This is only a beginning. This is not going to fix us. These are just initial ideas that we thought we could do pretty quickly and then work with the consultant to implement.”

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