Summit County partners with The Equity Project to establish diverse, equitable and inclusive practices |

Summit County partners with The Equity Project to establish diverse, equitable and inclusive practices

The $43,500 agreement is to help overhaul the county’s services to make them more accessible to all community members

Summit County is spending $43,500 to partner with The Equity Project, a Denver-based firm that provides consulting services for how to implement equitable practices in an organization. To kick off the collaboration, the Summit Board of County Commissioners held a joint meeting with some of the leaders from The Equity Project on Tuesday, Nov. 9, to discuss goals and potential roadblocks for the future.

To start, the board members outlined their own focuses for why they wanted to partner with The Equity Project and what they hoped to gain from the partnership. Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she’d like to see the county be a leader in its practices and policies. Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she’d like to start by changing how the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion is discussed in general.

“I think often people view (diversity, equity and inclusion) as a pie, and it comes down to the issue of financial resources,” Pogue said. “Money being a finite commodity, often folks view others’ success as taking away from their own. If I can do anything in this conversation, it’s to reframe that pie conversation and to create an environment where everyone can view each other’s success as contributing to their own success.”

Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard pointed out that many of the county’s offices work directly with virtually every community member. He said he’d like county staff to be better equipped with how to create equitable opportunities for those who need county services.

“We know that there are systems, (and) there are frameworks that I think sometimes intentionally — but more often than not in Summit County unintentionally — place certain members in our community at social or economic or other disadvantages,” he said.

Others, such as Summit County Manager Scott Vargo and Assistant County Managers Bentley Henderson and Sarah Vaine, all voiced a desire to understand how the county is creating inequitable challenges. Summit County Director of Communications Nicole Valentine said she’d like to dig into how her team can reach a broader audience to better reflect a wider range of viewpoints.

“We have a lot of goals in terms of our messages, and (I) would love to look at ways that we can frame our messaging differently, different outlets we can use,” Valentine said. “We’re just concerned that we’re really reaching everyone in our community, engaging with them and incorporating feedback.”

Some of the specific, concrete goals include:

  • Building a diverse talent pipeline that creates strong internal candidates for management-level and supervisor positions
  • Examining inequities and gaps in the county’s pay scales
  • Hosting conversations with the external community in a way that doesn’t isolate or threaten different points of view

During the meeting, The Equity Project Executive Producer Monica Williams asked the team to brainstorm unique challenges that might stand in the way of accomplishing some of these goals.

Lawrence pointed out the fact that the board is a government entity trying to make a change which could prove to be an uphill battle.

“I think our external challenges are in the nature of our name: government,” Lawrence said. “We’re a county government, and government often has a negative connotation with people, especially those in marginalized minority communities. We have to overcome that.”

Pogue and Vargo said the national dialogue around diversity, equity and inclusion often turns political and noted that this doesn’t always directly apply to Summit County. Blanchard said he was most worried about getting the entire community, which is made up of individuals coming from very diverse backgrounds, on the same page.

“Being in a mountain resort community, we have a very fluid community,” Blanchard said. “We have folks coming in for one or two seasons or three seasons. We’ve had an influx of a new type of demographic of homeowners coming into the community with ingrained expectations of county government services and levels of services. We have our workforce that is, quite honestly, really struggling to make it happen in this community. All of these different voices we have a responsibility to serve, and it’s constantly changing.”

As for next steps, leaders from The Equity Project will plan to host “foundational” training for county staff to ensure its organization is on the same page with key terminology and the focus for future goals. In December, it’ll begin rolling out an internal employee survey and host interviews. And early next year, it’ll help the county host community forums to identify priorities and benchmarks to meet in the future.

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