Once again the City of Asheville is looking westward for help in its plan to achieve greater diversity within its ranks.
The city has retained The Hawkins Company, an executive recruitment firm in Los Angeles, to fill the newly created position of Equity and Inclusion Manager.
It’s the second time in recent weeks that the city has looked westward – far westward – for help. Last month it was discovered that city council had authorized retaining BBC Research & Consulting of Denver, CO, to conduct a racial disparity study of the city’s construction contract awards. The study is expected to cost $330,000.
It is not known how much The Hawkins Company will be charging the city to find and recruit an Equity/Inclusion Manager. Most management recruitment firms charge a percentage – usually somewhere between 20% and 30% – of the hired employee’s first year salary.
The city has not mentioned a salary figure for the position. The salary information search engine Payscale puts the average nationwide salary for an Equity/Inclusion or Diversity Manager at $75,213 per year. That figure does not include benefits. As a rule of thumb, benefit package values for City of Asheville department heads run about 25% of base salary.
Added to the national average figure, that would make the position worth about $100,000 annually and would involve a management recruiter fee of $20,000 to $30,000.
Why Los Angeles?
Within the past decade, “equity and inclusion,” or simply “diversity,” has emerged as a stand-alone management category. Accordingly, many management consultant firms across the U.S. have come to treat it as a specialized recruitment area, on a par with human resources, finance, or legal; many decades-old search companies have added diversity specialists or entire equity/inclusion departments to their team structures. These include such industry kingpins as Robert Half and Stanton Chase, both of which maintain offices in the Carolinas.
The Hawkins Company’s website lists a total of eight similar municipal job searches it is presently conducting. All eight are for cities in California. The firm also lists a total of 76 equity/inclusion manager job searches it has recently completed. Those cities served include Austin, Detroit, Seattle, Richmond, Dallas, New Orleans and Portland. The remaining 69 client cities were all in California.
So why did Asheville city government choose a firm 2,300 miles away to help fill a local position devoted to local personnel issues, given that the firm in question is domiciled and does most of its business in California?
Brett Byers, a senior partner at Hawkins who is in charge of conducting the Asheville job search, demurred when asked what factors, in terms of experience and expertise, may have clinched the deal. “You really need to be talking to the city about that,” she said.
“I have no idea why the Colorado [sic] firm was selected,” Councilman Cecil Bothwell said.
Local applicants lost in the shuffle?
The idea of creating a Department of Equity and Inclusion for Asheville came out of city council’s annual retreat in January, 2016 as one of eight “key focus areas” in the “2036 Vision Plan.” According to the city’s website, monies to finance the department’s startup were set aside as part of “equity efforts” funding in the 2016-2017 city budget.
But there was little movement towards starting the department and filling the director position until early this year.
“Before we advertise for this position,” COA’s website said in January, “ the City would like to hear from the community first. This will help management assess the specific skills necessary for the Equity Manager position to be successful. Community input will be gathered and considered in the development of recruitment materials.”
So the city held a series of “open city hall” public input sessions, after which it announced, in early February, that the manager’s position would now be advertised, through its usual channels, and accordingly the position was posted on the city’s website at that time, with the city also saying it would receive applications through May.
But a local applicant who answered that ad in early March told Asheville Unreported of contacting the city in mid-April – after receiving no acknowledgement — and being told the search was now being conducted by Hawkins.
Byers, of Hawkins, who declined to comment on her firm’s hiring, likewise refused to tell Asheville Unreported when the city’s hand off to Hawkins actually took place. Through acting city communications director Polly McDaniel, AU reached out to City Recruitment Consultant Ashley Fay, asking exactly when the city appointed Hawkins and what the latest deadline is for applications. The city has so far not replied.
So the question becomes: how many other early respondents applied for the equity/inclusion job, and what has become of their applications? Were they forwarded to Hawkins Company for review? Did they include qualified local candidates worthy of at least an interview? Or will the selection process, implemented by an out-of-town firm, likely minimize the odds that area job seekers will be in the running?
Neither The Hawkins Company nor the City of Asheville is saying. Some, in fact, say they’re in the dark.
“Council sets things in place and then Staff follows through. so I have no immediate knowledge of this situation,” Bothwell said.
The applicant who contacted us agreed to be quoted only under anonymity because of business ties to city government and fear of possible reprisal or exclusion from consideration for other openings.
Reviewing Bothwell’s comment, the applicant spoke of “a profound disconnect” between city council and staff – which in general means the city manager’s office – as well as a failure of city government as a whole to comprehend the job it says it wants to do.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck kind of cultural change that the city is promising. But [Bothwell’s] comment implies that city staff and City Council are totally separate entities and that all that has to be done to create social and racial justice in Asheville is for Council to create a decree. Then the City staff will make it so. Don’t trust ‘the staff’ to recognize and repudiate social injustices all of a sudden because City Council has made ‘equity’ their newest buzz word,” the applicant said.
“I believe the way that COA is approaching the hiring of this position is indicative of the fundamental lack of understanding the city has about factors that are contributing to inequality in our region and probably foretells the future failure of the city’s campaign for increased equity,” the applicant added.