The City’s Racial Equity Committee is entering its second year of existence, and while staff admit that the City and broader Santa Monica community still has a lot of work to do, important progress has been made towards six key goals identified by staff.

The Racial Equity Committee is charged with advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and is staffed by Equity and Inclusion Officers from each City department. While DEI work has been a part of City policies for several years, the outcry against systemic racism in 2020 demonstrated the need to double down on these efforts and led to the committee’s establishment.

The committee strives to improve racial equity within all aspects of the City’s work environment including the hiring and recruitment process, staff training, staff interaction with the community, career development and staff wellbeing.

In a Jan. 25 Council meeting, committee co-leaders Delana G. Gbenekama, equity and communications coordinator, and Lisa Parson, special assistant to the city manager for equity and community recovery, provided an update on what the committee accomplished in 2021 and what its new goalposts are for 2022.

Committee members have successfully worked with the HR department to integrate DEI questions into the hiring process, which have already been applied for the positions of City Manager and Police Chief.

Additionally, training on implicit bias and cultural competency have been developed and carried out across City departments. Performance evaluations have direct questions and standards revolving around advancing DEI, which are designed to ensure that employees see this as part of their role with the City.

Part of the committee’s work in the past year has also included interviewing City staff about microaggressions they have experienced during the course of their work. These findings have been used to develop staff trainings on how to identify and interrupt microaggressions as well as how to handle difficult conversations around race, culture or identity.

City Councilmember Kristin McCowan was moved by the internal research conducted on microaggressions and took time during the Council meeting to acknowledge and thank staff.

“I fear that for the majority of staff that submit issues of microaggressions it’s not peer to peer; these are experiences they’re having in the community in their roles as City staff and it breaks my heart,” said McCowan. “I want you to know, for any staff that are listening, that the overwhelming majority of Santa Monica deeply appreciates everything that you do to make this an exceptional city to live in…Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for raising awareness. Thank you for elevating the caliber of what a city staff is capable of.”

On the horizon is the launching of an internal mentoring program that will connect new staff members with experienced staff members for professional and personal development. The goal of the program is to support retention and career advancement for staff of all backgrounds.

In 2022, the committee will be staffed by a fresh group of Equity and Inclusion Officers with a goal of spending more time focusing on specific actions that can be taken within each City department to advance DEI.

“I really applaud that we are identifying those areas that we need to work on,” said Councilmember de la Torre. “The planning department, for example, there isn’t one African American or one Latino Mexican American in the organization right in 2022, and yet this is the department that is making a lot of decisions around development, around gentrification and so forth.”

De la Torre also said that he would like to spend time in 2022 actively engaging with his fellow Councilmembers in conversations around DEI as he believes that change needs to happen from the top down and that this particularly diverse council has a unique opportunity and opportunity to make a difference.

Other upcoming plans for the Racial Equity Committee include making City bathroom signage more gender inclusive, to expand the availability of language interpreters and to translate more City information into languages spoken by the local community.