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September 19, 2022

On diversity & inclusion, City of Worcester resists change and suffers from lack of communication, report finds

Photo | Timothy Doyle Worcester City Hall

A report commissioned from Quincy’s Letterman White Consulting LLC by the City of Worcester, paints a grim picture of the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of the city government.

“There is clearly no developed set of Worcester values that promote DEI/RE,” stated the report released publicly Friday as part of the agenda for the City Council’s meeting on Tuesday.

The report lays out in greater detail the issues laid out by the City’s most recent chief diversity officer, Stephanie Williams, when she resigned her position in March, saying City leadership treated diversity and inclusion as an extracurricular activity.

“Diversity, equity, inclusion focused positions have proven exhausting, particularly when organizations are not ready,” Williams said in her resignation letter.

Williams was the third CDO in Worcester since the position was created in 2016, and she was in the role for just over a year. 

Acting City Manager Eric Batista told WBJ he did not want to hire a new CDO until the results of the audit were received and new structures were put into place in order to make diversity efforts successful.

The Racial Equity Audit Report from Letterman White Consulting was ordered as part of the February 2021 Executive Order to Assess and Address Institutional and Structural Racism by the City.

The departments of Human Resources and Health and Human Services were the focus of the study. LWC conducted a series of interviews and focus groups as well as a poll of 70 employees, from which 41 responses were received.

Some workers feel that DEI issues are not a priority and not taken seriously, the report found. Participants reported being understaffed, not allowing time to address DEI issues.

The report addresses the need for psychological readiness in creating a culture of racial equity. One thing needed for this is a strong dislike of the status quo in relation to racial equity, it said.

“Resistance to change is ingrained in the City workforce culture,” the report said.

The City workers feel a push-back if they challenge the status quo. There is an apprehension that if one group gains, then another will lose, rather than a feeling of equity benefitting all. This leads to a fear among workers to speak out.

“The psychological safety for People of Color is low. ‘People of color are afraid to get together because it is perceived that they are plotting against authority,’” states the report.

Some people who did not respond to the poll feared reprisal, LWC said. The majority of the workers who responded to the poll were new to the job, with 21 of 41 respondents working for the city for two years or less. 

The report cites a lack of communication on the topic of DEI.

“There is little messaging to internal and external stakeholders about the current situation regarding racial equity, current efforts to assess and publicly report on racial equity in HR and HHS, or future plans to address racial inequities, improve diversity at all levels, and create a strong culture of equity and inclusion,” the report said.

Workers reported finding out about Williams’ departure as CDO from media outlets, rather than from their superiors.

The report, with its findings and recommendations, will be formally presented to the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

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