Survey taps into Santa Rosa employees’ perceptions of diversity issues

About half of all Santa Rosa employees took the survey. They span the city’s departments, various demographic groups and experience levels.|

More than two-thirds of Santa Rosa city staff who participated in a recent survey are comfortable talking about diversity with coworkers, though they’re more divided on whether city departments are taking concrete action to improve workplace equity.

When looking at improving the diversity of senior leadership within the city, where 70% of executive staff are white and 60% are female, only about a third of surveyed employees said they agreed Santa Rosa is committed to the effort.

Among fire and police personnel, workers were more likely to agree with statements that indicate their departments meet the mark on hiring and recruitment efforts of historically underrepresented groups compared to statements that suggest changes need to be made, a sampling of the Santa Rosa Fire and Santa Rosa Police departments found.

The data was compiled by Seed Collaborative, an Inglewood-based consulting firm hired by Santa Rosa in December to develop a citywide equity plan as it seeks to ensure equal treatment, opportunities and representation for all regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other identifying factors. It was based on a voluntary survey taken by 525 city employees, or just over half of the city’s total workforce, spanning various departments, demographic groups and experience levels. Participants had the option to take the survey anonymously.

The survey results, which were presented to the Santa Rosa City Council late last month, were also paired with summaries of the main themes identified by Seed Collaborative in one-on-one interviews about diversity, equity and inclusion with a cross section of city staff, including police and fire department personnel, as well as part of the Santa Rosa City Council and community leaders.

Among the top-line items were that some women reported experiencing acts of exclusion, inappropriate jokes or comments, or microaggressions — commonplace slights that are sometimes unintentional and cause harm to members of marginalized groups.

External factors like the lack of diversity within the city itself — where more than two-thirds of residents are white — and the region’s high housing costs intensified recruitment and hiring challenges, Seed Collaborative found.

While perspectives of diversity, equity and inclusion were positive among city staff in general, understanding and satisfaction of departmental diversity, equity and inclusion practices and policies varied, the consultants said.

“Micro-cultures develop and as a result, diversity, equity and inclusion is playing out relative to how all those different (organizational) cultures are operating,” said Seed Collaborative co-founder Evan Holland during last month’s city council presentation.

Both the survey results and the interview takeaways will serve as the foundation for the next phase in the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion project, which will take shape with the formation of three task forces — one that will look at the city as a whole and two others focused the city’s police

Those groups will be tasked with identifying areas of highest priority based on the survey and interview data, and then making recommendations on how to address those issues, whether it be through changes in city policy, practices or funding, said Santa Rosa Equity Officer Socorro Shiels, who is part of the core city team working with Seed Collaborative on the project.

Ultimately, the task forces’ recommendations will be used to create an equity plan that will go before the Santa Rosa City Council for approval, something that could happen as early as the summer, Shiels said.

“That next step of the task forces is really going to be critical, as the employees say what is going to be acceptable and what is going to be the road map moving forward,” Shiels said.

The survey data shared late last month shows Santa Rosa employees generally feel the city sees diversity, equity and inclusion issues as important, and encourages them to feel comfortable talking about the topic, though there’s less cohesion among staff on whether city initiatives to address the issue are taking place, or if they’re working.

Among the questions asked of every employee taking the survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they agreed that employees are encouraged to participate in diversity, equity and inclusion training, though less than a third said their departments had gone through related-coaching that had a “meaningful, insightful” or positive impact on their departments.

Half of the people asked about the latter question indicated they neither agreed or disagreed with the statement and the remaining 18% disagreed.

Inquiries about recruitment, hiring, development and promotion saw a similar trend for respondents, excluding those working within the city’s fire and police department ranks.

Only 39% of those respondents agreed with the statement: “There is a career development path for all employees in the City of Santa Rosa.” A third said they agreed that the city actively seeks a diverse candidate pool when hiring.

When asked if they feel supported in their own career growth within the city, 61% said they were, the survey data showed.

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Victoria Fleming said those responses made sense in the broader context of the city’s priorities over the last few years, in which responding and recovering from back-to-back wildfires have taken precedent.

“We’ve been response mode rather than proactive mode for too long,” Fleming said. “I suppose I’m not that surprised to hear that folks feel the (diversity, equity and inclusion) action that has been taken hasn’t been particularly effective.”

The survey results included breakouts for the city’s police and fire departments, two entities that face specific challenges when it comes to hiring diverse employees.

When each agency was asked whether the current evaluation process for new hires was fair and equitable, 77% of police respondents and 72% of fire respondents said it was. A majority of respondents agreed that their respective departments was doing enough to recruit and attract female and Hispanic or Latino candidates, the survey results showed.

But when asked if reforms were needed to increase the diversity of new hires, and whether the department needs to adopt significant changes in its recruitment strategy to accomplish the same goal, a majority of firefighters and police said they disagreed those changes were needed.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Rainer Navarro, the city’s first Latino police chief, earlier this year joined a national pledge to boost his department’s recruiting class to at least 30% women by the year 2030. At the end of 2020, female officers made up about 7% of sworn staff. Navarro was not available for comment about the survey results Friday.

Santa Rosa Fire Chief Scott Westrope said some of the responses indicating change was not needed could have to do with the fact that the people who responded have already gone through the hiring process, and therefore have seen how the system works.

“As a leader, I have to look at that differently and pull the lens way back,” Westrope said. “Can we be better and are we attracting the local talent? We draw diversity, but we draw diversity from outside of the community in Sonoma County. How do we bring it back in?”

As part of the review of the fire department, the task force will look through a recruitment and diversity strategic plan that the department developed in 2019 to address challenges in recruitment, as well as a lack of diverse employees within its ranks, Westrope said.

While most of the strategies developed in the plan, including a more robust outreach and engagement program and a Women in the Fire Service day event, are already in the works, he and other staff working on the project are looking forward to getting feedback, Westrope said.

“This plan is a living document,” Westrope said. “If we need to change it based on what Seed (Collaborative) sees or what the staff sees, we’re going to.”

The City of Santa Rosa contract with Seed Collaborative, signed Dec. 15, cost $402,680, city documents show.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   


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