What Hamilton is doing to attract more diverse employees

Hamilton’s Diversity & Inclusion Commission and city government is embarking on a variety of programs to help lure minorities and women as employees, and also to mentor them so they elevate through the ranks.

There’s work to be done, says Boyce Swift, who holds the newly created position of diversity and inclusion coordinator within the city’s human resources department.

“Our efforts are more of making sure that we’re breaking down the barriers so that individuals who want to work for the city or get services from the city have that access,” Swift told the Journal-News.

The African-American community has long voiced concerns about difficulties in getting employment within the city government’s 619 staff positions, which includes full- and part-time positions.

“Creating my position was the city’s way of saying, ‘We hear you, and this is something that’s important to us,” Swift said. “I’m excited by the fact it’s a new position, I have a lot of flexibility and have a lot of support. And I’m ready to work with the commission and further our efforts.”

Swift recently outlined for Hamilton City Council efforts by the D&I Commission since it was created in 2015, and plans the commission has this year to help diversify city staff and be more accessible to minority needs in the general public.

Some minorities say the changes have been too slow in coming. They hope to see demonstrated progress soon.

“I think that it’s going to be a good thing,” said the Rev. Michael Reeves Jr., president of the NAACP’s Hamilton, Fairfield and West Chester unit. “But I think that actions speak louder than words. We’ve put a lot of programs together, and a lot of committees, and I think the public wants to see action, versus verbiage.”

“It’s easy to write a story; it’s easy to tell a story; but let’s make one happen,” Reeves said. “I’m sure Boyce will keep them accountable in getting some of those plans implemented.”

“We’ve been talking too long, and there’s too many things in Hamilton that need to be changed,” Reeves said. “I mean, we make excuses about why we don’t hire enough minorities at the school board, at the city.”

Reeves praised city Police Chief Craig Bucheit for his efforts to increase diversity: “We’ve seen more action from the police department than any other department in our city. We need everybody else to do the same. I’m very proud of Chief Bucheit and those that are under his regime, because he’s been a very good leader.”

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As of this month, 95.3 percent of city government’s 619-person workforce was white; 3.4 percent was black; 0.7 percent was Hispanic; and 0.5 percent was Asian-American.

Meanwhile, 80 percent of city staff is male; 20 percent female.

According to the 2010 Census, the city’s population was 84 percent white; 8.5 percent black; 6.4 percent Hispanic; and 0.6 percent Asian-American.

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Bob Harris, a leader of Hamilton’s South East Civic Association, which represents Hamilton’s Second and Fourth Wards, who also is on the D&I Commission, said progress has been too slow: “It’s taken us two years. I think that we’ve focused on the internal employees, and we haven’t made a lot of progress in terms of diversifying the city employment.”

“If the city’s going to put any strength behind what they’re saying about ‘Work here, Play here, and Live here,’ then they’ve got to open that employment up, and make a concerted effort with every opportunity that comes forward to place some minorities in the city employment,” Harris said.

Swift, 25, a University of Toledo graduate with a bachelor’s degree is in communications and economics, with a master’s degree in economics, began with the city as an economic-development fellow, an 11-month program.

At the end of that program, he accepted a position as assistant to the city manager, where he worked about a year before accepting in February the newly created diversity & inclusion coordinator position.

City Manager Joshua Smith said the city is committed to the effort.

“Diversity in the city workplace assists with increased adaptability to issues, better communication with our constituents, and allows for greater perspective on dealing with local issues,” Smith said. “We need to do a better job — top to bottom — with making our organization more diverse and inclusive.”

Smith praised Swift, and the skills he brings to city government because of his graduate degree in economics.

“We covet that skill-set due to our emphasis on data collection and performance measurement,” Smith said, adding Swift “has exhibited great leadership and communication skills while handling a myriad of 311 service requests received by city residents. He certainly is one of our rising stars organizationally.”

Swift recently updated city council on new programs and the city’s efforts to push forward with improvements this year. The programs include such things as increasing efforts to find minority prospective employees, including through the Internet and social media, and offering mentorship and other professional-development programs to help people move upward through city ranks.

For high schoolers, the city this summer will offer EMBARK internships for high schoolers who will be seniors this fall. Students will work in three city-government departments: economic development, geographic information systems, and public works.

The city also is now printing city fliers in Spanish, and offering its employees basic Spanish lessons for employees.

“There’s a disconnect,” Swift said. “We have a lot of services here at the city, and a lot of residents need those resources, or would like those resources. It’s all about educating and informing our citizens on the different services we have, and building that trust so people feel they can communicate with us, and that we care about their everyday lives.”

The city last year surveyed its employees and found three major things.

First, city staff believe the city’s recruitment efforts have a limited reach, and the city has to broaden its searches and announcements of job openings, such as in churches, on bulletin boards and other places where residents spend free time.

Second, city employees “have a sense of color-blindness, so an employee doesn’t want to recognize the fact that you are different, or that you have a different identity,” Swift said. “So I think it’s important for us to create a culture of people being able to identify those different identities, but also appreciate and embrace those different identities.”

Finally, “it seemed that employees had a fear that recruiting for diversity would be lowering our standards, and that’s just not true,” Swift said.

This year, the D&I Commission will ask residents what they perceive as barriers to diversity and inclusion, Swift said.

“I think that’ll be a real key piece on what information we use to move forward on our work,” he said.

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Here are some of Hamilton’s efforts to diversify its workforce and better include minorities in government programs:

  • Boost efforts to reach out to prospective minority employees wherever they can be found, including increased use of the Internet and social media
  • Offer professional development and mentorship programs to help minority employees advance
  • Offer internships through which the city will hire three high-school interns who will be seniors this fall. They will work in three departments: economic development, geographic information systems and public works
  • Distribute city fliers in Spanish and create a basic Spanish language course for employees, particularly those who deal most with the public

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For information about programs or joining the effort, contact Boyce Swift at 513-785-7057 or email boyce.swift@hamilton-oh.gov

Regular meetings of the Diversity & Inclusion Commission typically happen at 6 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month in City Council Chambers, on the street level of 345 High St.

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