Valdosta has long worked to address equity and inclusion within its own workforce, a diverse group of 650 employees from city hall to the fire department.
This year, each one of those 650 participated in a cultural awareness and anti-discrimination training program.
“We all must be committed to keeping the city of Valdosta a great place to work to be successful. This is why I am so proud to put on training programs such as this and look to expand them in the future,” said City Manager Mark Barber. “When an organization is inclusive, it makes it more dynamic, energetic and productive. True inclusion removes all barriers of discrimination and intolerance.”
The training, “Reaching New Heights Together,” focused on defining workplace diversity and inclusion and discussing the value of a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Sheba Phillips, a licensed social worker and owner of Hedera Counseling Center, led the training, giving examples of biases, microaggressions and discrimination, and common scenarios in which they could occur. Phillips also provided employees examples of how the diversity of characteristics, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives can increase an organization’s success.
“The goal of this class may have been to educate staff and make improvements in the workplace, but if the information is absorbed and used, it not only improves the workplace, but it will also improves our interactions with family and friends, and ultimately has an impact on improving our community,” said Valdosta Budget Manager Amy Hall.
The training will not only contribute to an inclusive workplace, but improve the service delivered to all Valdosta residents Deputy City Manager Catherine Ammons said.
“I am a firm believer that it takes all of us here at the city of Valdosta to deliver great service to our wonderful citizens. I also believe it is important that our employees understand we are all different, and because of all of our differences, we collectively are better together,” Ammons said. “It is known that when an organization’s staff feels respected and included, they are motivated to contribute. Cultural competence encourages the acknowledgment and acceptance of differences in appearance, behavior and culture.”
This will not be the last class that Valdosta employees take; more are in the works for the future. Creating an inclusive workplace is an ongoing effort—there’s no clear finish line to be reached.
“The Inclusion/Cultural Awareness training educated Valdosta’s employees on how a diverse workplace can be an attributing factor to the growth, success, and development of a healthy municipality,” said Valdosta Fire Department Lt. Marcus Haynes. “This is imperative because I feel that more can be accomplished and attained when we all are working together.”
This story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.