Gilbert's official face should match that of its citizenry - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Gilbert's official face should match that of its citizenry

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Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2005 6:23 pm | Updated: 9:02 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Statistics sometimes can be misleading, but a survey of the ethnic and gender makeup of Gilbert Town Hall management reveals a distinct and troubling lack of diversity.

The survey findings, compiled by the town's Human Relations Commission, should add impetus to the panel's call for the mayor and Town Council to hire a diversity director.

The Tribune's Sara Thorson reported the survey found that only 28 of Gilbert's 162 directors, managers and supervisors are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and only 39 are women. Commission Chairwoman Tami Smull points out that while Gilbert's population is about 20 percent minority, town management is only 14 percent minority; and although women comprise more than half the town's population, they only fill 24 percent of management positions.

The solution is not to set quotas or juggle hiring and promotion standards for certain groups. The proper way to address the discrepancy is to install a trained diversity director in the town's Human Resources Department who will broaden the town's hiring pool, including coordinating outreach programs, and ensure every qualified town employee has opportunities for advancement.

Several commission members have pointed out that a qualified diversity director won't come cheap. This is an important position, especially for a community that has struggled with issues of discrimination in the past. The ugly episode a few years ago with the Devil Dogs white supremacist gang re-emerged in the recent town elections.

Gilbert's town and school officials dealt forthrightly with the Devil Dogs problem, but only after several agonizing months of denial and minimizing. There may be a tendency today to assume the issue has been resolved and Gilbert doesn't need to take additional steps to ensure not only that bias is detected and addressed quickly and effectively, but that hiring and promotion practices are as fair as they can and should be.

The findings of the recent Human Relations Commission survey would indicate otherwise. This gap between the face of Gilbert's population and the face of its municipal management must not be minimized. It must be dealt with in a systematic manner that follows the best practices of other East Valley municipalities and public institutions.

While qualified diversity directors cost money, this need not bust Gilbert's budget. Rather, sound human resources practices that ensure equal opportunity for all should be part of the department's essential functions — not an appendage. One possible solution would be to train an existing employee to be the diversity director; another would be to hire such a qualified employee as part of a reorganization or through the normal attrition process.

Having a diversity director should not be looked upon as merely an exercise in political correctness, or to indemnify the town against discrimination claims. Instead, it must be intended to do what is right: ensuring equal opportunity.

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