City seeks ‘diversity champions’

Amid tight budgets, Minneapolis tries new strategies to diversify workforce

In the next five years, every Minneapolis city department is expected to have "a diversity champion."

A diversity champion would improve recruitment strategies and the work environment for all employees, said Human Resources (HR) Director Pam French.

"It may show up in things like mentor programs and support networks for women and people of color, [similar to] the Black Police Officers Association or the Women's Firefighter Association,"

she said. "But they can be department-sponsored."

French said two-thirds of those on the city's eligible-to-be-hired list are women and people of color. However, two-thirds of hires are white males.

Why?

"I can't answer that for you," she said.

HR's draft five-year business plan makes increasing diversity its top priority, so that the city "is recognized locally as an employer that honors and embraces diversity."

Setting goals

The city employs 5,500 workers and has annual personnel costs of $362 million, French said.

The city's HR department does not hire people; individual city departments do. HR administers benefits and works with other departments to "hire, develop and retain an excellent workforce," its mission statement says.

HR will be stretched to perform its duties, however. The city's five-year budget projects a departmental increase from $5.2 million in 2003 to $6.2 million in 2008 -- but that is $600,000 below anticipated inflation increases for status-quo services.

As a result, French expects to cut her 55-person staff by nine positions, or by 16 percent in the next five years.

Despite the staff cuts, HR's draft five-year plan targets these diversity gains

by 2008:

– Women, from 30 percent of the current workforce to 35 percent.

– Minorities, from 25 percent of the current workforce currently to 30 percent.

– People with disabilities, from 5 percent of the current workforce to 10 percent.

"The city of Minneapolis is changing, and it is changing rapidly," French said. "The information we have is that the percentage of people of color in the city right now is 37 percent."

Mayor R.T. Rybak said the Public Works and Police departments were the least diverse. Rybak, City Council President Paul Ostrow and Councilmember Barret Lane (13th Ward) have expressed some skepticism that French could accomplish all of her draft goals, including diversity, within her five-year budget.

"We have some idea what we are going

to accomplish in the next five years as opposed to what we are not going to get done," Lane said.

Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) said the city had its spending priorities in the wrong place.

"Bricks and mortar continue to outweigh people. That's backward," said Johnson Lee, who represents downtown's North Loop as well as the part of the Northside. "You have to place your value on your best capital assets. This is one of the most important departments in the city."

French still must provide her final business plan to the City Council.

Flexibility on a budget?

HR departments take their share of criticism (just read a Dilbert comic strip). However, French points to the 2003 health insurance overhaul as a major accomplishment -- one done with labor that saved the city money and workers out-of-pocket expenses.

French would like to explore other issues with labor, such as the looming worker shortage as the Baby Boomers retire, she said. She wants to position the city to be an employer of choice for younger workers, the so-called Gen-Xers.

"They are looking for more flexibility and more creativity, less rigidity and bureaucracy," French said. "Are there ways we can offer different kinds of entry-level hiring packages that give people more flexibility? Maybe you start with less pay and have more vacation?"

However, fewer bodies in HR mean less time to do strategic planning, she said. Remaining workers would focus instead on near-term essentials -- contract negotiations, benefits administration and technical support to

managers.

"We have not approached the unions about having additional labor-management committees," she said. "We do not know what kind of resources we

will have."

The Human Resources' five-year plan said the department could investigate

"outsourcing" as a way to save money -- "with potential for strain in labor/management relations," if the city contracts out union jobs.

The city could outsource benefits administration and/or harassment investigations, the department's business plan said. It also suggests elimination of noncore services such as those used by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Minneapolis Library Board and Youth Coordinating Board.

Other possible cuts include:

– Revisiting benefits used by few employees, such as life insurance, bus passes and short-term disability insurance.

– Eliminating employee recognition

programs.

– Ending administrative work for employee memberships in Northwest Athletic Club.