There are many layers to what makes an organization’s working environment diverse, equitable, and inclusive. For the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, multiple initiatives underway support its vision of becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace, starting with retooling its recruiting and hiring practices. From proactively recruiting a more diverse applicant pool, to helping address unconscious bias for hiring managers and ensuring a welcoming environment where employees can discuss race and diversity.
Starting with Culture
The SFPUC is working under a mayoral and commission directive to reimagine cultural values and set expectations. Catherine Spaulding, power deputy manager, added that SFPUC is “gearing towards an employee engagement model of organizational change.” Multiple staff-led subcommittees are dedicated to: empowering employees to learn about racial equity in a safe space; supporting an advisory panel made up of representatives with a variety of racial backgrounds; and using an equity screen before program implementation to prioritize support for low-income and historically marginalized communities.
The utility shares and tracks related efforts with all employees, and welcomes feedback on these efforts. Barbara Hale, SFPUC Power Enterprise’s leader, regularly participates in such staff activities to reinforce their importance.
Ashlye Wright, management assistant at SFPUC, said that staff had identified the need for better efforts to recruitment diversity. Wright noted that some positions had not typically seen a diverse applicant pool. She said that the human resources department is building out a “drop-off rate tool” to measure the demographics of applicants throughout the hiring process.
The SFPUC is also revaluating where the utility recruits to bring in a more diverse applicant pool — such as dedicated outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and to diversity-focused professional associations and job boards. During interviews, interviewers from Power Enterprise will also begin to ask applicants about diversity and equity issues.
“We want to show our candidates that we are a welcoming, diverse and inclusive place to work, and we want to identify people who have those competencies to work here,” Wright added. Part of that effort is ensuring that interview panelists are diverse – and trained to help remove subconscious bias and address “group think” leanings.
“There were fair and unbiased hiring standards and processes in place before, but we needed to do more,” Spaulding said. The city’s new Office of Racial Equity, for example, is working on collecting data so city departments can show progress. “The employment lifecycle program gives us the chance to support, track, and communicate out important milestones and make sure that all staff are receiving the same feedback and opportunities,” said Jonathan Pettey, SFPUC Power Enterprise’s organizational development manager.
He said new employees have regular manager check-ins to speak about role objectives and to consider constructive feedback. The utility is working to increase equity in promotion opportunities by more proactively communicating job opportunities to all employees. A new SFPUC employee newsletter centralizes promotional opportunities, training and development, and support programs and may help inform more targeted training for specific types of roles.
Spaulding said the SFPUC has also focused on more robust apprenticeship programs. “We want to ensure we are recruiting and hiring from a diverse pool” of applicants earlier, she said. Part of that effort is reevaluating job requirements. “We are revisiting minimum qualifications to make sure they are appropriate,” she added, calling it counterproductive to limit progress towards greater equity by keeping unnecessary restrictions. As one example, the SFPUC is looking to substitute work experience for educational history where appropriate.
The pay scale at public power utilities also continues to be a challenge. Pettey said the SFPUC is working with the city to reevaluate salary ranges by benchmarking compensation against other local utilities. “We want to create job pathways to our external communities through local high schools and elementary schools to get kids excited about this industry,” he said.