City Council votes to hire firm to guide diversity policy plans

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 21, 2021


STERLING HEIGHTS — The city of Sterling Heights has picked a consulting firm to help in guiding its diversity policies for city administrators and workers.

During the May 4 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the City Council unanimously agreed as part of its consent agenda to authorize a first-year expenditure of $64,000 on a consulting firm to help put together a new city diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, master plan.

City Manager Mark Vanderpool explained the purpose behind the plan, referring to the city’s 2030 Visioning Plan’s vision statement, which declares a goal of being inclusive.

Vanderpool said championing diversity — cultural, racial and religious — contributes to quality of life, and he predicted that new census data will likely show more diversity among residents. Black residents should exceed 10% of Sterling Heights’ population; the Asian demographic will likely increase, as well; and the slice of residents who were born in other countries should approach 30%, he predicted.

“The city must continue to lead by example,” Vanderpool said. “You can see that diversity just pays huge dividends to the community — not only to support and grow our local economy, but just to create a more enriching experience in Sterling Heights and a higher quality of life.”

While Vanderpool referenced the city’s multiple boards and commissions that deal with race, ethnicity and diversity, he said the next step is to develop its own DEI strategic plan for its administrators and employees.

The process is expected to cover policies related to the city’s staffing and training. The city operates 21 departments and over 600 employees.

Vanderpool added that the city’s staff has Muslims, Chaldeans and people of diverse races, and he said such a strategic plan should nurture, retain and grow that workforce. He said the DEI consulting process will, among other things, review city policies for possible updates and additions, perform a cultural competency assessment, and develop DEI-related plans for communication, implementation and accountability.

“This is not a plan that sits on the shelf,” Vanderpool added. “It’s a plan that has to become a living document and actuated forevermore. It’s a best practice to continue fostering an inclusive work environment to address the needs of an ever-growing workforce.”

To formulate these plans, the city weighed eight candidate agencies for the consulting job and ended up hiring Life’s Journey Training and Consulting, based in Oak Park. Vanderpool said the agency’s lead person, Darlene King, is affiliated with the Michigan Diversity Council and is the liaison with Sterling Heights’ African American Coalition.

According to Life’s Journey’s packet to the city, the firm states that the 21st century demands “organizational and cultural shifts” in order for growth to happen.

“(Life’s Journey’s) vision is to empower people to be change agents in our society through great training and development,” the agency states. “Life’s Journey is an agency passionate and proud, thriving for a more educated society to achieve a more unified world.”

In an email interview, King explained how her firm’s approach to DEI consulting is unique.

“Members of the firm have been engaged in this work since its inception in the mid-’90s when the work was just about diversity only,” she said. “We have seen it evolve from diversity to inclusion, adding equity, and now social and racial justice. There are very few firms who can provide testimony regarding this level of longevity in the space.”

She said that diversity and inclusion best practices, while not changing altogether, have “morphed into a more concentrated focus” upon equity.

“The climate of the country in the past year has brought to light the enormous disparities relative to equity, social and racial justice issues and that equality is not equity,” she said. “The work in itself is a journey, constant, growing and fluid.”  

After the May 4 meeting, Vanderpool expounded on how a shift has occurred in the past decade with how organizations view diversity and inclusion.

“Back in 2011, things like ‘unconscious bias’ were only discussed in academia, but now they are commonplace in businesses and organizations,” he said.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion practices have moved from being driven by compliance to being something that adds real, authentic value to the organization. That’s why DE&I initiatives are no longer something done on the side, but something that is central to the way an organization operates or ‘does business.’”

City officials expect the first two phases of the DEI planning process to wrap up in a year or so, though the city aims to keep building upon an eventual master plan.

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