Everyone is accountable for promoting D&I at Salt Lake County Government

Salt Lake County Government in Utah is in the fast lane on the D&I journey, so much so that it is seen as the go-to resource.

As well as instilling an inclusive culture within Salt Lake County Government’s 4,500 employees, it supports other public bodies and private sector companies in setting up their own D&I initiatives.

In the driving seat is Emma E. Houston who firmly believes that “it’s crucial for those of us who can advocate to use our voices and open the door to being more inclusive.” And, since being appointed Director of D&I in 2016, she has done precisely that.

Ahead of her talk at the upcoming D&I Practitioners Summit on 26th March in San Francisco, Houston explains why everyone is accountable, through words, deeds and actions, for creating a diverse and inclusive culture.

D&I training

She was raised by her parents in Dallas, Texas, to understand how to be a successful adult. This inspired her passion for working in the field of D&I and equity.

In her role as Director of D&I, Houston is responsible for ensuring that every new hire has D&I training as part of their onboarding process. In addition, employees are rated on their behaviour as part of their performance improvement plan.

“There are specific guidelines in each employee’s performance appraisal that relates to behaviour and serving with integrity and excellence,” she explains. “Where individuals are not meeting that criteria, supervisors have the opportunity to help self-correct those individuals and offer opportunities for them to develop their leadership skills.”

Employees and their managers are held accountable, the idea being that, if they treat each other respectfully that will extend to how they treat customers. Teams within Salt Lake County’s operations – which extends to various satellite offices, libraries, public works, recreation and other services – create their own D&I plan within a set template.

Houston is particularly proud of the D&I high-performance training programme for directors, managers and supervisors because, she says, “our administration believes that it starts with leadership and, whatever the culture is, the leaders mirror that.”


Involving the wider community

Her responsibilities extend to the wider community. D&I training programmes are offered to other public sector organisations and the private sector. Other initiatives include an annual Mayor’s diversity dinner where 300-400 local people from all backgrounds get together in groups of 10 to discuss D&I and how they will instil it within their communities.

There’s also a council on diversity affairs that involves community representatives from various demographics and cultures and Houston is also working with the local disability centre and the LGBTQ+ community. Salt Lake County supports the annual YWCA national initative Stand Against Racism event where local communities are invited to listen and talk to panellists who have experienced racist behaviour.

Tips for starting the D&I journey

For those organisations yet to begin the D&I journey, Houston recommends starting with the mission. She says: “What does the mission say you are doing and are you living, breathing and walking that mission?”

The next step is to identify any exclusionary practices. For example, if it’s common for a leader to yell or raise their voice to an employee, that person will feel undervalued and, as a result, underperform.

To combat exclusion, organisations are encouraged to create a safe spaces so that everyone “feels valued, respected and wanted, that they can bring their authentic self to the table and that their voices are being heard.

“We, as individuals are accountable for our words, our deeds and actions. How we interact with individuals who may have a different approach, may have a different idea or perspective, who may come from a different culture, language or race.

“If we have created safe spaces to have conversations with the intent of celebrating diversity and being inclusive, we are all holding each other accountable. It’s how we treat each other as human beings; it’s as simple as that.”

To hear more from Emma E. Houston, why not join her at the DiversityQ D&I Practitioners Summit on 26th March in San Francisco or subscribe to the DiversityQ newsletter for further updates.

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