First in a series of stories from the Spring 2019 Inclusion Magazine.
WATERLOO — Recruiting a diverse staff and maintaining that diversity requires an intentional approach.
For companies or organizations that do make efforts to hire employees who improve racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in their workplace, there can still be problems with retaining those staff members. That might come down to offensive words or actions from colleagues or a lack of support from supervisors following such incidents.
Kingsley Botchway II, chief officer of human resources and equity for Waterloo Community Schools, said employers should be “continually making sure those barriers don’t pop up.”
“How are you valuing your current staff members that have a diverse background?” asked Botchway. “Are you being intentional with providing a differentiated level of support?
“If you really are about inclusion, what documented steps have you taken to address more inclusive issues?” he added.
While there is racial and ethnic diversity across the Cedar Valley — particularly in Waterloo — Iowa’s population is overwhelmingly white. When a person of color moves into a community, he or she may have certain needs or wants that are different from the majority population.
Botchway, who is black, grew up and graduated from college in South Carolina. Upon arriving at the University of Iowa 11 years ago to earn a law degree, he wanted to know “where can I get a haircut, where can I find products I need.” Botchway noted that in some cases a person who struggles to fulfill such basic preferences may not stick around very long for the job.
“Where you recruit matters,” he said. Going out of state to fill a position in the Cedar Valley requires certain considerations. Botchway suggested looking to major metropolitan areas across the Midwest like Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha or St. Louis may be better than plucking someone from a place like San Diego in another geographic region.
If someone does come from another part of the country, though, they need to understand “what it means to be in the Midwest,” he said. “How are you articulating (that) and preparing them?” Even when someone ends up in a more diverse community like the Cedar Valley, “they may travel to other places and they need to know what to expect.”
Botchway came to the Waterloo Schools last summer after working in human resources for the Iowa City school district. He was hired to replace Bev Smith, who retired in the fall.
“For me, Waterloo Schools was very transparent about what they have to offer and there was a commitment,” he said. “There is a strong commitment to actually achieve diversity. Dr. Smith has done a phenomenal job over the years.”
As hiring season approaches, Botchway said he’ll turn to the network he has developed over the years to get job openings to diverse applicants. He’ll also look at ways to be more flexible in the hiring process to ensure the district doesn’t miss out on opportunities to maintain or increase its employee diversity.
Those goals vary depending on the company or organization, but Botchway said the district has a clear mandate.
“We have a diverse population of students, we need a diverse population of staff,” he noted. Fostering racial and ethnic diversity among school employees is important even if a district’s students are “95 percent white,” added Botchway, because many are likely to encounter people later in life who look different from them.
Just over half of district students, or 52.3 percent, were non-white last year — black, Hispanic, multi-racial, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American.
“I want the staff to actually mirror that. It shows our ability to be successful,” said Botchway, “that we’re able to achieve and actualize diversity.”
Waterloo Schools’ employee diversity hasn’t reached that point.
However, the staff includes people of color in significant numbers for some categories of employees. Among central office administrators, that included 32 percent of the staff and, in district schools, 39 percent of assistant principals during the last fiscal year. A total of 27 percent of support staff were also people of color.
Where the district comes up the shortest on racial/ethnic minority staff is its largest employee group — teachers. Only 7 percent of district teachers were not white last year.
“Which is obviously not ideal,” said Botchway. Still, he added, it’s better than having fewer teachers of color or none at all.
The district remains unbalanced by gender, as well, with a much higher number of women than men in the classroom and the opposite situation when it comes to administrators. “We have an abundance of male administrators,” he said.
Botchway also looks at ways to maintain and increase the actual number of employees that help to make the district a more diverse workplace.
“The way I need to focus on the intentionality is to focus on the number,” he said. “The number isn’t to set a quota, but to be realistic about expectations. We’re going to hire the best person but with an eye towards that racial/ethnic diversity, that gender diversity across the spectrum.”