Natick Town Administrator Jamie Errickson told the Select Board in March that hiring the town’s first chief diversity officer (CDO) wouldn’t be happening “right around the corner” despite the availability of funding and the board’s desire to make it happen.
“With all of our job positions we’re finding that the applicant pool is pretty slim. It’s not unique to the chief diversity officer…” Errickson said in March. “A lot of towns are finding for CDO-type positions, and they’re titled differently in every town, that it’s taken especially long for some towns to find applicants that are qualified for the job.”
Six months since that meeting, we figure we’re well past the corner Errickson mentioned and at a good time to check on the town’s search.
Summer of 2020
During the summer and fall of 2020 following George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and the protests that took place locally and across the country, Natick and other communities vowed to take steps toward ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in all they do.
Natick celebrated its selection for a coveted Racial Equity Municipal Action Plan (REMAP) grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and its partners as a way to create a DEI roadmap. Separately, local clergy urged the town that June to form a DEI committee, and in July the Select Board indeed called for the creation of an 11-member Equity Task Force. There was no shortage of candidates, and Natick had momentum.
The Task Force did its work throughout the end of 2020 and into 2021, when it requested a consultant to help with its research and to no one’s surprise, recommended formation of a standing DEI committee. Task force member Guimel DeCarvalho said during the Select Board meeting at which the recommendation was delivered that the committee would not be tasked with doing it all—that the Council on Aging, Sustainability Committee, and other groups would also be natural partners “by default.” She added: “Equity encompasses everything.”
The recommendation for a committee followed the Select Board’s assertion over the summer of 2021 that it would sponsor a Fall Town Meeting article that would pave the way for Natick to hire its first chief diversity officer. Board member Paul Joseph said “If we want to demonstrate our sincerity about addressing this issue there’s no greater way to make a statement than hire somebody at that level.” (The Board wound up recommending no action at Town Meeting because American Rescue Plan money had become available to fund the position.)
The challenges begin
While Natick appeared well positioned heading into this year to take the steps its leaders and many in the community supported, challenges have surfaced.
Finding enough good candidates for the standing 7-member committee that the task force recommended proved to be a tough task. The Select Board decided in March to hold off filling out the committee—the roster page on the town website remains blank— until after a chief diversity officer was in place or in three months, whichever happened first. The thinking was that having such a leader in place might attract a strong pool of committee candidates.
Meanwhile, the job description for Natick’s chief diversity officer, dated March 2022, has since been revised to a director of equity, inclusion & outreach, based on community input and that from partner organizations. Errickson said the revised title would better describe the scope of the job, and have a more proactive and inclusive feel to it.
In an email to Natick Report this week, Errickson says Natick has not yet listed the position, but expects to do so “in coming weeks.”
He cites a number of reasons for the delay, including the town’s overall hiring challenges. “[W]e have needed to work through an unusually greater number of job openings this past year, many that we have had to post multiple times to fill. The capacity of our HR staff is limited so our entire recruitment and hiring processes for all positions has been delayed,” he wrote.
Back in March, when the prospects of hiring a full-time CDO anytime soon looked bleak, Select Board member Joseph raised the idea of the town possibly hiring a contractor to fill the role temporarily, in order to address the “urgency” of matters such a town official would handle.
Natick is not unique in struggling to find strong candidates, especially in fields where the private sector can pay more and offer benefits beyond those municipalities can provide.
A quick search for local jobs featuring terms such as “diversity” and “equity” bring up openings at communities such as Boston and Falmouth, big companies like Takeda Pharmaceutical, tech firms, health care outfits, colleges, K-12 schools, and more.
“Nearly all parts of the Town government have been impacted by the increasingly competitive job market and trends, including Police, Fire, DPW, Libraries, Community/Economic Development, Finance, Facilities, Rec & Parks, and others – all of which have open positions at the moment. As is the current experience throughout the economy, there are limited interested/qualified candidates to fill open positions,” Errickson says.
While it remains unclear how long it will take for Natick to hire a director of equity, inclusion & outreach, Errickson points to multiple efforts that will address DEI issues. These include hiring a communications director to help the town better reach the community and eventually work closely with the diversity director (that hiring has been years in the making). The Select Board has also appointed a Town Governance Study Committee to review Natick’s current organizational structure, which Errickson asserts “will have a focus on equity.”
One possible silver lining to Natick’s delay is that it can learn from the experiences other communities have had on their first (or second or third…) go-arounds hiring chief diversity officers. As GBH News reported last month, many communities have had a rough go of it, with rapid turnover and a lack of impact.
A group dubbed the Massachusetts Municipal DEI Coalition has formed to address just such issues and to help municipalities and their DEI administrators share best practices and learn from each other. The coalition has a launch event scheduled for later this month to formally introduce a 2022 DEI Guide.
Natick officials no doubt hope they’ll soon have a dedicated DEI colleague who can join right in.