As the City of Clarksville cultivates a diverse, and inclusive workforce, the initiatives of the City’s Gas & Water Department to that end are being applauded.
Gas & Water General Manager Mark Riggins met with Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts not long after ascending to the department’s top position, to talk about creating a diversity initiative for the department. Mayor Pitts had already been, and continues to be, sharply focused on achieving diversity and inclusivity throughout Clarksville city government.
Riggins said that, a survey conducted by Michelle Lowe within the Gas & Water Department had the goal of gaining a better understanding of how employees viewed their work environment, particularly as it pertained to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
“We learned through that process about some concerns that employees had,” Riggins said.
Lowe, then the Montgomery County Government DEI training officer, is now the City’s DEI officer in the Human Resources Department.
“At that time, the composition of our department was about 90 percent caucasian, mostly male,” Riggins said.
Through meetings with various, key representatives of local minority groups, and other stakeholders and advisors, Riggins said he and his department learned ways to overcome some issues and obstacles within the department that were standing in the way of achieving greater diversity and inclusion.
“There were some concerns being expressed through meetings with local minority groups that some people from other races and ethnicities didn’t feel welcome within the walls of our offices. That was an epiphany for me, and it really concerned me,” Riggins said.
Gas & Water has since created an Inclusion, Equity and Belonging Committee, along with its four other, pre-existing employee teams. Riggins said the makeup of that committee, itself, is widely diverse, and that’s by design. “We want the broadest range of viewpoints possible, to be shared during this committee’s discussions.”
Already, Gas & Water is making inroads with diversity in the hiring process, and the strategy is based on reaching the widest audience possible in the application and interview process.
“As always, we are looking for the best candidates to fill any vacant positions we have in Gas & Water. That hasn’t changed,” Riggins said, “but the way to achieve greater diversity in that process, we feel, is to reach out to the community and strive for a more-diverse job applicant pool. We are taking more steps to make sure everyone, everywhere, knows about our job openings,” he said.
“That means race, gender, and all forms of ethnicity. You do this, in part, by getting out into the community and talking to people in every geographic and demographic sector, and letting them know what jobs you have available. And as a result, we are indeed getting that greater diversity in the pool of applicants. That’s a step in the right direction," Riggins added.
Michelle Lowe said the Inclusion, Equity and Belonging Committee has received in-depth IEB training, to ensure that it is equipped and comfortable talking about the importance of IEB in the workplace.
“The initial training included a close look at how a lack of Inclusion, Equity or Belonging can impact and undermine an organization and create serious employee retention problems,” Lowe said.
In early May, the committee attended a two-day Strategic Planning, Training and Team-Building retreat conducted by topic expert Dr. Rubin Cockrell.
Dr. Cockrell reinforced the training that committee members had already received, and provided direction and structure for the committee. Training topics included, “How to Address Biases in the Workplace; How to Build a Diverse, Purpose-Driven Organization,” and more, Lowe said.
Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said the efforts made by Riggins and the Gas & Water IEB Committee supported by Lowe’s expertise, dovetail into the City’s broader efforts to foster diversity and inclusion.
“Mark Riggins and his entire team have shown great leadership by instituting the necessary principles of diversity and inclusion that we expect of every department in City government. The Gas & Water Department is to be commended for working to create a welcoming environment for everyone,” Mayor Pitts said.
Riggins said exploring ways to achieve IEB goals is an ongoing, and enduring process, and for the City as a whole, Mayor Pitts said the commitment continues to gain positive momentum.