Breckenridge staff survey, listening session provides insights on equity
Breckenridge created a Social Equity Advisory Commission last year, and officials are diving into data collected through a survey of town employees to get a better sense of how the town could improve its internal practices.
In April, Monica Williams, executive producer with The Equity Project, presented the results of a survey her company conducted among employees in September last year, asking respondents about inclusivity, leadership and the work environment in town.
The survey was sent to employees across various departments within the town and received responses from 113 individuals, or 30% of those who received it.
Williams highlighted themes that emerged in the survey process, including a hierarchical structure that exists within the town that is creating a divisive culture where employee experiences differ based on their position. Williams said staff members feel like they contribute a lot of hard work, but department heads get all the credit with little appreciation for lower-level staff.
Employees also said there are limited opportunities for professional development and advancement. Staff members feel this is exacerbated by financial power dynamics that exist between more senior, salaried leaders and hourly employees. Williams said this creates an inequitable work environment, which can lead to animosity and resentment.
Williams said employees also feel it is difficult to raise concerns, and some don’t feel comfortable communicating with and confronting leaders. She said there is a perception that leadership is closed off to new ideas or processes. Williams also said staff members are in need of a break after a stressful year, and some employees reported feeling heavier scrutiny and a perception of mistrust in a remote work environment.
The last theme is that town employees are all on different pages. Some people said the town’s current equity efforts are perfect, while others said more needs to be done.
Williams noted that much of this feedback isn’t directly related to race or gender diversity, but it shows how position and hierarchy can impact people’s experiences. Commission chairperson Alexandria Carns noted in the meeting that if someone is thriving with the current conditions they won’t want anything to change.
Williams also presented a summary of a listening session with town officials and stakeholder groups in the community. An estimated 50-60 people attended the session.
Williams said one of the issues raised in the effort that stood out most was whether Breckenridge is a town for locals or for those who come to visit. Other barriers presented included a lack of diverse representation among public officials, a lack of diversity in major local attractions like skiing, unequal job opportunities and high costs of living.
Using the listening session as a starting point, officials came up with a list of priority areas that would advance social equity in the community.
“I loved what was talked about around this, and that is not just being inclusive of the dominant community, but what would it look like if we joined other communities that were in the minority,” Williams said. “So we’re not asking someone to fit into our culture, but we’re also learning and being involved with their culture.”
Williams said an essential part of this process is to build authentic, trusting relationships to establish a diverse community in a nonperformative way.
Attendees to the listening session also discussed what town leaders could do to advance social equity in an ideal world. Ideas included addressing the issue at every council meeting, capping short-term rentals, providing live Spanish translations of council meetings and setting aside council seats for minority communities.
Listening session attendees also discussed what a re-imagined Breckenridge might look like. One idea was the town could do something bold, like posting signage to note that the town is inclusive and encourages all races and ethnicities to come to the town. Commission members also discussed putting up signs in different languages.
Carns said everybody who comes to visit takes pictures with the sign welcoming visitors to Breckenridge, and having other languages is “a profound message.”
Williams said signs in the town being welcoming isn’t as important as the experiences those visiting the town have.
“You don’t want it to say welcome to Breckenridge in different languages, and then when people actually come they don’t feel welcome,” she said.
Commission members said welcoming others is the responsibility of the locals, including restaurants and retail shop workers.
“What (the survey) kind of revealed is there’s this animosity,” Carns said. “You’re not going to really be welcoming to a tourism population if you feel like you can’t even afford your living situation. It’s going to be addressing a lot of different issues before people are authentically embracing our tourism demographic as well.”
Williams went on to outline higher-level recommendations for the commission and Town Council. These included creating a racial equity blueprint, or a strategic plan, that will incorporate communities of color and evaluate policies and practices with regard to town employees.
Commission member Jason Smith noted that it’s important for any new entity — business or commission — to have a cohesive mission.
“Until we agree on what our mission is, it’s going to be hard to stay on track,” he said.
Williams said the next steps for the town include communication and validation of issues presented in the staff survey, commitments from leadership to take action, followed by concrete efforts to improve equity, diversity and inclusion.
The Social Equity Advisory Commission meets the third Monday of each month. Its next meeting is set to take place over Zoom Monday, June 21.
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