Bruce Greenfield, a white man, contacted the Register after reading the newspaper’s Aug. 11 special report spotlighting the lack of diversity at these two city departments.
The city’s police and fire departments have become less diverse today compared to the 1990s and 2000s, when more blacks, Hispanics and other races worked as full-time officers or firefighters. The makeup of the city, meanwhile, has become more diverse, with the non-white population increasing from 25 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2010, according to U.S. Census data.
Only a handful of minorities and women work for either department.
Greenfield serves as representative for Columbus-based Diversity Matters, a consulting firm specializing in diversity. The city of Sandusky is among the company’s clients.
The Register asked Greenfield for his opinions on the demographics at the Sandusky police and fire departments, as well as his general insight on improving race ratios in workplaces.
Q: Do you believe it’s an issue if there are fewer minorities and women working in the Sandusky fire and police departments today, compared to 10 and 20 years ago?
BG: The issue of diversity, specifically ethnic minorities and women, in safety services is not unique to Sandusky. (But) yes, it’s a concern when the numbers are moving in the wrong direction.
Diversity in an organization gives you a diversity of prospectives, which leads to better decisions and actions. Then, it’s about performance and results. With safety services in particular, interacting with co-workers from different backgrounds will help members of the force deal with different cultural groups in the community.
Q: What can an employer do to attract a more diverse pool of job candidates?
BG: Attracting a more diverse pool of candidates requires reaching out to them, providing them with a pathway to success.
For example, we have been working with a large contractor to create a program in which apprenticeship candidates are identified from under-represented groups, provided with a laptop computer and Internet service to access e-books they need to prepare for the apprentice exam and linked with an online mentor to assist them in the process.
This is a far cry from recruiting at churches and softball games.
Q: What can the community do — especially the minority community — to build a stronger base of minority job applicants in this area?
BG: There’s no catch-all solution, and my colleagues and I haven’t studied the situation here enough to make statements about what should be done.
Right now, there are more questions than answers, what has and has not been tried, etc. To a certain extent, it’s not different than any other business wanting to attract people to Sandusky. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from Cedar Point, Kalahari and the Chesapeake Lofts.
Q: Is there a disconnect between white employees and minority employees, or employees of different sexes, when it comes to addressing diversity issues in the workplace?
BG: Those in the majority frequently don’t see the problem. These individuals may be doing everything they can to get along with everyone, respect everyone and foster good relations. But they can’t know what it’s like to be the only one in the room.
Q: What can employers and employees do to ensure minority voices are heard in the workplace — the voices of minority employees on staff, as well as the voices of the people in the community who have a stake in the agency?
BG: Our safety forces must change along with our communities in order to ensure that the needs, cultures and languages of all community members are regarded in order to ensure the safety of our first responders as well as the community.
We must continue the dialogue around the diversity issue. All of us, not just those in the minority, should take every opportunity to educate co-workers. Don’t be oversensitive, and be respectful, but let people know when:
• A line has been crossed.
• Why the joke wasn’t funny.
• Why the comment was inappropriate or disrespectful.
• Why the person acted a certain way.
The real need on the individual level is to promote respect and communication. For the institution or organization, it is to create permanent culture change that removes unnecessary barriers to recruiting and retaining minority officers.