For the first time since 2011, Southampton’s Affirmative Action Task Force has a full-time officer, and he’s got some big ideas.
Juan Becerra, along with the task force’s chairwoman Minerva Perez and other members, presented trends and statistics, and ideas for increasing and maintaining diversity within the town.
According to Perez, executive director of OLA of Eastern Long Island, from 2014 to 2019, of the nearly 500 town employees, approximately 17 percent were or are non-white, and of the current 470 town employees, 44 hold a position considered mid-to-high-level management, and only 10 percent of those positions, or four employees, are held by a person of color.
“We’re studying trends and statistics with human resources to determine where affirmative action gaps exist,” the chairwoman said. “All department heads show a general interest in broadening their understanding and hiring diverse candidates.”
She added, “Our goal is to provide actionable recommendations to present to the town board that would positively affect not only hiring practices but retention, promotion, and diversity in management through local outreach to change the perception that civil service is a mythically-closed shop. The town has been really accepting of this. This has been a labor of love, and together we can achieve great things for our town and its residents.”
Perez told Supervisor Jay Schneiderman the combination of the current board’s support and the progress the task force has made in collecting data and generating new ideas are the beginnings of a positive trajectory. Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera credits Perez’s nearly 10-year stint at the helm.
“They’re very passionate about what they do,” Becerra said of the task force. “And Minerva, she’s been a great teacher. I’ve learned a lot.”
Becerra, who joined the task force three years ago, is also the human resources liaison and provides sexual harassment prevention training. He said the group has been looking at data to see not only where the town currently stands with diversity and inclusion — interviewing department heads and doing traditional outreach through meetings with schools and community groups — but figuring out ways in which the town can increase those numbers. He came out with several ideas as ways in doing so:
1. Have the town work with the task force to create bi-monthly videos with Sea-TV spotlighting various departments, conducting interviews with diverse workforce and department heads, encouraging more participation, and test taking to build a larger candidate pool.
2. Add a section to the town website that links civil service test preparation sites and frequently asked questions.
3. Create local school competition or link up with youth bureaus on teen initiatives to spread a peer-to-peer message.
4. Have a larger Facebook presence.
5. Work with the task force to have three to four community meetings on-site for Becerra to answer questions about civil service. These meetings would be decentralized — held at various locations across the East End to ensure access for all residents — while meetings could also be broadcasted on Sea-TV or Facebook Live.
“We want to create vibrant PR demonstrating the town’s embracement, utilizing technology and new media to highlight and share possible career paths and opportunities with the town, understanding civil service testing, and demystifying the process,” Becerra said. “Even for us it’s a complicated world, so for those on the outside, it’s even more complicated. These new initiatives will help us more broadly communicate.”
The task force received a line of funding this year to help some of these projects take shape through recruitment, development, and promotion advancement, and future initiatives. Perez pointed to targeted online postings of open positions; civil service information and test prep workshops in collaboration with union, BOCES, and high schools biannually; and active partnerships with guidance counselors discussing the positives and opportunity of working in government and how to present that to students. She said task force member John Wyche, who also sits on the Eastern Suffolk BOCES board, helps open up doors for students as well.
“We especially want to get students to see that even if they don’t go on to college, there’s opportunity to build a career and progress in that way,” Becerra said. “That it’s an option.”
“There’s a lot of benefits, intrinsic and otherwise, to government,” Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said. “It’s serving the people.”
Another way the task force wants to help is to partner with local community groups to find ways to raise funds to help those who cannot afford to take the civil service test, and make sure civil servants know of tests available to help with promotions.
“This can help us tap into talent that may otherwise not be able to work for us,” Schiavoni said.
Councilman John Bouvier said he was pleased to hear the group was also interested in “demystifying” the process, saying he thinks that’s a big part of gaining interest. He said the town will be giving Town Hall tours to better highlight what goes on inside government, and what the work entails.
“Some kids are repelled,” he said. “They’re unsure, they’re uncertain, and that helping hand can make a huge difference.”
Becerra said the task force will also continue to provide yearly training that not only reaffirms standings but builds on the previous year’s training and dialogue. He said working with the same outside company each year can help do that. Future initiatives include looking to gain a better understanding of the disciplinary process, gathering more data to analyze patterns, and explore hiring a professional to analyze salaries.
“We want our workforce to be reflective of our community and we want to be inclusive of all members of our community,” Schneiderman said. “We want to keep moving the needle in the right direction.”