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Bringing Diversity to the Table in Municipalities





Over the past couple of months I have been speaking with folks working on the HR side of the Municipal sector about Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). The common response is that this is the “new thing” in HR and that they know it’s relevant but don’t know what it means to them in Municipalities. The good news is, it’s already here and CAOs are already working on it.

According to the Canadian Municipal Chief Administrative Officer Survey 2018 (STRATEGYCORP, 2018) while several of the issues that are top of mind for Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) are related to D&I, they think of it in other contexts. In this article I attempt to translate how these issues connect to D&I.


CAOs across Canada were asked:

WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON FOR CANADA’S CAOS AND THEIR COMMUNITIES?


The report includes both summary trends, direct quotes and recommendations by the authors, STRATEGYCORP. Of these, there are six significant topics that relate to D&I.


1 - Disruption: CAO’s said that the digital media is shifting the shape of retail and, therefore, reducing the tax base to municipalities. Disruption is positive as well, has these same media provide the opportunity to bring in marginalized people in their communities. This is where innovation comes into the picture.


2 - Digital technologies: The digital divide brings to light a generational bias. The report mentions that smaller municipalities are facing real challenges in attracting skilled labour. As is the case globally, it’s the younger people who have been raised on digital technologies. This plight is inter-generational. Smaller communities wrestle with how to include younger people in their employment and in the management of municipalities.


3 - Reconciliation: Relations between First Nations people and non-natives are the closest within municipalities. In September a conference was held in Montreal attended by Municipal mayors and leaders of First Nations communities. The mayors were exposed to issues that they could actually do something about. For example, they learned that in large urban areas, First Nations people often struggle with access to rental units because of the sound of their last names. The meeting inspired initiatives and opened up conversations and a renewal of relations.


4 - Housing affordability and homelessness: Affordable housing and homelessness is a primary issue across Canada. This highlights a key concept in diversity, marginalization. You will find those who perceive themselves as excluded find themselves in the margins of communities and society. It’s key to investigate what keeps them there. Is it structural? Often affordable housing can be addressed through structural means. Some communities have programs to address this issue. Is it caused by the closing of a primary business in the community? Once the structural issue is identified, it can be addressed.


5 - Social media: The report brings to light some of the current discussions on the impact of social media on municipalities. Participants voiced concerns about how social media has increased the number of demands on municipal administrations. However, social media can also be used to further engage and connect citizens. This is a gap that can be addressed through savvy social media design that embraces the needs of the community.

Social media can be used to enhance a sense of belonging in communities. According to the report, some municipalities are creating a social media policy framework to address the digital environments directly. Social media policy may help guide municipalities to a diversity health and provide safeguards against cyber abuse (like bullying).


6 – Human assets: Recruitment is an area that directly addresses diversity. There is a general awareness in the municipal sector that more women are needed, as is greater representation in the community by more young people. Interestingly, the authors recommend “unconventional” initiatives borrowed from the private sector like hiring people responsible for innovation; allowing younger workers to gain more and diverse experience; and allowing older workers to stay-on while gaps are filled. In other words, a managed and evolving recruitment plan can be used to meet the needs of diverse and inclusive communities.


Municipalities are confronting and dealing with D&I issues in significant ways. If you are wondering how to bring D&I to the table, it is already there. I am confident that you have your own examples of how these six issues are being addressed in your community. Let`s connect to create the space to talk about our D&I issues and share ways of addressing them.

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© 2019 by Margot Hovey, PhD