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Daughter of Cuban exiles translates city's diversity plan into action

By Doug Snover

July 15, 2006

Rosa Inchausti puts a face on Tempe City Hall’s diversity program. Hired four years ago as the city's first diversity director, the 38-year-old daughter of Cuban exiles and now south Tempe resident is a prime example of the kind of workplace Tempe is working to promote.

Inchausti's first language is Spanish. In the home of her parents, Cuban exiles seeking freedom from oppression, English was rarely heard, even after the family moved from Miami to Los Angeles when she was a girl.

After graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Inchausti went on to receive a master’s degree in counseling education from Northern Arizona University. She joined the Tempe city staff as a bilingual marriage therapist in the city’s Social Services Office before taking on the diversity role.

Timing of the new job was no coincidence. It followed a discrimination lawsuit filed by minority employees and an Arizona Attorney General’s investigation into alleged workplace discrimination. Inchausti, it seems apparent, was the ideal candidate.

In his Weekly Thought to city employees, City Manager Will Manley wrote:

“Of particular significance is the fact that Rosa has extensive experience in two important aspects of human relations work: individual counseling and focus group work.

“Her educational background and professional experience uniquely qualify her to meet the challenge of our current organizational needs. One of the most critical findings in our recent diversity audit is the unfortunate fact that 20 percent of the employees in our work force feel that there is no safe place in the City to go with serious work problems.

“From the interview forums, Rosa created a comfort level with managers and employees alike. She is clearly someone whom people feel comfortable going to with problems. That comfort level will be increased by the fact that Rosa will report directly to me.  Her office on the second floor of the pyramid will be the organizational ‘safe haven’ that we have lacked in the past.”

Tempe now has three “safe havens,” actually, Inchausti notes: Her office, the City Attorney’s office and the Human Resources office.

To illustrate the success of those safe havens, Inchausti points to the number of EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaints filed by city employees against the city: In 2000, 36 complaints were filed. In 2005, there were three and, so far in 2006, there has been only one.

Importantly, none of the 16 EEOC complaints filed against the city since 2002 has been substantiated, Inchausti stresses.

A follow-up audit conducted in 2005 generally praised the city’s efforts to understand and promote workplace diversity.

To place Inchausti's job in perspective, Tempe city government has 1,683 employees. Some 1,235 of them are White. Three hundred and thirty are Hispanic, the rest African American, Native American, Asian or “other” backgrounds. Approximately 538 of the city’s employees are female.

About 76 percent of the city’s department managers and deputy managers are White; 16 percent are Hispanic.

Of the 265 city employees promoted in recent years, 175 (66 percent) have been White and 70 (26 percent) Hispanic. Ninety-two of the 265 promotions since 2003 have gone to women.

Compared to earlier days, the conclusions suggest progress.

An independent audit of the city’s workforce in 2001 concluded that minority employees felt excluded from promotional opportunities under a “Good Old Boy” system that held power in several city departments. Some of those surveyed said they were not included in decision-making, were denied promotions, and had no “safe haven” inside the city where they could air their complaints without fear of retaliation.

A lot has changed since Inchausti took over.

“We’ve accomplished a lot over four years,” said Inchausti, who recently reviewed her division’s accomplishments for members of the Tempe City Council.

Seventy-four percent of the city workers surveyed for the 2005 follow-up audit said they were satisfied with their employer, up from 70 percent in the first audit.

City employees’ favorable impressions of the Tempe Public Works Division (the focus of the discrimination lawsuit) and Human Resources Office “have increased substantially since 2001,” the audit found.

“The combination of a newly created Diversity Office, Tempe Learning Center and newly created Diversity Steering Committee provides tools to assist managers in developing good management skills, a safe haven for dissatisfied employees, and oversight and input by a city-wide employee representative panel.

“These organizational changes have provided a message that regardless of an employee’s background or experience they are valued individuals, creating a higher morale among our workforce. This in turn has greatly benefited our customers -- our community,” Inchausti wrote in a article entitled, “How diversity benefits municipalities” that was published this year by the American Public Works Association.

“Besides higher employee morale and higher productivity, this focus on the diversity of the workforce has created an atmosphere where the diverse demands of the changing population are routinely solved by the diverse experiences and backgrounds of the empowered City workforce. As has been shown over and over again, the motto of the city’s Diversity Department is true, ‘with diversity comes strength.’ An empowered and motivated workforce has created higher customer satisfaction and productivity,” she wrote.

All is not perfect for Tempe’s city employees, however.

The follow-up audit in 2005 found that more than a quarter (28 percent) of city employees “have seen, heard of, or experienced inappropriate treatment in the past year.”

That percentage is up slightly from 26 percent in 2001.

Auditors found the most complaints of inappropriate treatment in Development Services, Water Utilities, Public Works and Financial Services areas, with the lowest number of reports in the Fire, Information Technology and Community Services areas.

Inchausti ties a healthy diversity program to employee morale.

“At the end of our day, we go home to significant others, family, friends or pets that are generally happy to see us,” she wrote in the APWA article. “Most of us don’t enjoy spending time in places where we are not wanted. … “

“[H]ow do we communicate to our employees that we are glad they are part of the daily struggle? At the City of Tempe, our focus on diversity has created a work environment where feedback is bidirectional with workers and management, discrimination is not tolerated and workforce diversity is encouraged and managed. Where conflicts arise, systems are in place that help resolve issues and create a welcoming workplace.”

“Thanks to the creation of a safe haven for employees, training for managers, and conflict resolution tools for all, the City is a safer and less stressful place to work,” Inchausti wrote for the APWA article.

“From personal experience, I can tell you that one stress migraine headache per week at the office can contribute to countless hours of missed work time, clouded judgment and low morale. While no concrete studies have been performed, I can guarantee fewer sick days, happier workers and a safer environment from having effective tools in place to reduce and handle conflicts between a diverse workforce.”

Manley, in his “Weekly Thought” had an even simpler suggestion:

“I have a modest thought, an idea that everyone can follow. It’s a concept that can totally transform our organization, and it doesn’t cost a penny. It consists of three words … simple human kindness. All the management philosophies and all the organizational theories in the world do not add up to those three words. It’s a concept that cuts across all departments, all levels of the organization chart, and all points on the diversity spectrum. It’s contagious and can spread very quickly.”

“When I listen to the different sides of various workplace disputes I always come to one conclusion. If we would all just make an extra effort to be kinder to each other many of our problems will go away. I am as guilty as anyone about being swept up by the emotion of the moment. What a happier place this would be if we could all learn the knack of stepping back, taking a deep breath, and just trying to be more understanding of each other. A pat on the back, a nice note in the file, a pleasant e-mail, a kind word … these little things make a huge difference.”

Kinds words or not, Grupo Acción, a coalition of Tempe residents and former city employees, has prepared its own report for the Tempe City Council that reportedly contradicts the city’s view that workplace conditions are improving.

Those concerns are expected to be heard by the City Council in the next few months.


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