Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force updates council on findings
Lake Oswego's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force has been hard at work, holding discussions with various groups of community members over the past couple months to determine barriers that prevent a person from serving on one of the city's boards or commissions, or for applying to work at the city.
The task force held virtual focus group conversations and online surveys from August to October with a focus on five areas: boards and commissions, community engagement, youth engagement, human resources and facilities and programs. Within each, the task force members documented common themes they discovered, reports from people and an analysis that included demographic data of the participants.
One issue was low participation, relative to the city's population. There were 59 people who participated in the focus groups and 161 who filled out online surveys. The task force said the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires most likely impacted the participation rate.
"When the DEI Task Force began their work in January 2020, the plan was to use word of mouth, in addition to traditional advertising, to recruit people to participate in the focus groups. The limits to in-person meetings and gatherings greatly prohibited the ability of the DEI Task Force members to connect with people and encourage their participation," the staff report read. "In addition, the move to a virtual format was new to some and potentially created a less safe space in which they could participate. Virtual formats limit methods of engagement, and for a
topic that is traumatic to some members of the community, they may have chosen to opt out of participating."
The focus groups began at the end of August, just before wildfires devastated local communities.
"People who signed up to participate in the virtual focus groups canceled as they could not make the time to participate because they were busy helping others or otherwise preparing to evacuate," the staff report read.
While there were factors that impacted the task force's focus groups, the group still thought the analysis provided an accurate snapshot of the issues at hand.
The group's facilitator, Bill de la Cruz, said the work was not designed to be conclusive, and that it's just the foundation for what should be a much deeper conversation.
"This really is a journey that we're on and this is the first step," de la Cruz said.
In the boards and commissions category, common themes were bias and increasing engagement. People reported suspected bias during past interviews, feelings of exclusion on boards and commissions, and lack of child care among the barriers for engagement.
For community engagement, common themes were challenges to engagement, inclusion and systemic change, and accountability and relationship building. People said town halls and meetings could be more relational and less transactional. Others reported that the city should integrate language, visual and audio disability access into outreach practices.
Common themes surrounding youth engagement included polarization, culture and accountability. Youth or their parents reported a lack of opportunities for middle schoolers, and that there were varying degrees of people's understandings of racial issues.
For human resources, people reported that the internal culture was inclusive but very "white," as well as the lack of a DEI hiring or retention strategy and lack of housing and transportation options.
In the last category, people reported that the city's facilities and programs did not feel welcoming to the BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) community. They said they lacked cultural diversity and only focused on certain ages, incomes and two-parent households.
"This is the beginning of a journey. It's the beginning of a process. This is not meant to solve problems or create a city pure of anti-racism overnight," said Council President Jackie Manz. "I appreciate how much you spoke around that subject. I think it's ... important for our citizens and myself to understand that."
Councilor John Wendland said he would like the DEI task force's recommendations to be presented in an order that reflects prioritization and would like to see recommendations on how the city can work with the Lake Oswego School District to combine their efforts.
The DEI Task Force will present its final recommendations before the council in December.
Click here to read more about the findings.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.