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Podcast: Equity and Workforce Diversity with Nefertiri Sickout, Philadelphia, PA

Posted on January 1, 2021


Nefertiri Sickout - GovLove

Nefertiri Sickout

Nefertiri Sickout
Acting Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer
City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
LinkedIn | Twitter


Building an inclusive government. Nefertiri Sickout, the Acting Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, joined the podcast to talk about the work of advancing equity and improving the diversity of the City’s workforce. She shared how the City has changed specific hiring practices and methods to improve the diversity of candidates and how the City is working to improve the diversity of businesses that participate in the procurement process. She also shared her career path into local government and how COVID-19 and the protests in 2020 impacted her work.

Host: Ben Kittelson

 

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Learn More

The People Behind the Movement: Nefertiri Sickout

Philadelphia Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Website

Cultivating Inclusive Procurement in Philadelphia

Philadelphia to revise procurement polices to support minority-owned businesses

How Philadelphia plans to advance racial equity in the civil service sector

Why the City of Philadelphia formed the new Mayor’s Office on People with Disabilities

 

Episode Transcription

 

Ben Kittelson  00:00

Coming at you from Jacksonville, Florida. This is Gov Love, a podcast about local government brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittelson, consultant at the Novac Consulting Group and Gov Love co-host. We’ve got a great episode for today we’re talking equity in local government and taking a trip to Philadelphia. So before we get into today’s episode, the best way to support Gov Love is by becoming an ELGL. member. You’ll jail is a professional association engaging the brightest minds in government. You can learn more about ELGL at  ELGL.org. Now let me introduce today’s guest. Nefertiri Sickout is the Acting Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer for the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She’s been a part of the city’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion since 2016. And prior to joining the city, she worked as an attorney for pepper Hamilton LLP. She has her Juris Doctor from Villanova and bachelor’s from Clark Atlanta University. With that, Nefertiri, Welcome to Gov Love, thank you so much for joining us

Nefertiri Sickout  01:10

Hi Ben! Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here.

Ben Kittelson  01:14

Yeah, we’re excited. So we have a tradition on the podcast to let our guests get warmed up a little bit help our listeners get to know you that we do a lightning round to get started. So for you, my first question, what was the first concert that you went to?

Nefertiri Sickout  01:30

So I actually just cannot recall the first concert I went to but, but I can share with you the last two concerts that I’ve attended still, which was some time ago. So yeah. I saw Erykah Badu here in Philadelphia, I think that was in 2018. And she was great and awesome. And then I saw shad day in concert here in Philadelphia as well. And that was much earlier, I can’t quite recall when but maybe it was 2012. And she was wonderful. So I don’t get out to concerts too often. But those were the last two I attended. Awesome, awesome. Yeah, I didn’t get a concert very often either. But that’s something I really want to come back after the pandemic. Definitely, I mean, music is just, you know, a great way to convene, and just enjoy one another. With the pandemic, it’s just hard to imagine what that will look like, you know, going forward.

Ben Kittelson  02:38

So my next question for you, what book are you reading?

Nefertiri Sickout  02:43

So I have a two year old, she turned two in November. And reading is not really a luxury that I get to enjoy. And so I’m, I’m taking a look at my nightstand to see what what I’ve been trying to be. And I actually have a book called Strength To Love. It’s written by Martin Luther King, Jr. and I just completed a couple of chapters in it, but I just don’t get to read a lot. But it’s actually a great book, a compilation of his sermons that he gave during the civil rights era, and in the bus boycotts. And he, he was reluctant to put some of his greatest sermons into a book, because he said that his sermons were meant for ears that are hearing and not for eyes that are reading just so inspirational in terms of his principles regarding love and, and non violence, you know, at a time when, you know, the nation was greatly divided similarly to how things are now, unfortunately. And so he agreed to put his sermons in written form into this book. And so it’s not a large book. It’s about 160 pages and his wife, Coretta Scott King said that, you know, this was one of the books that people have said that really changed their lives and so I love to get through it all but but just chapter by chapter, so wanted to share that with you.

Ben Kittelson  04:28

Awesome. Are you reading anything to your to your two year old? That’s piqued their interest lately?

Nefertiri Sickout  04:34

My two year old? Yeah. The Five little dots, Five Little Monkeys. The first book of words, you know, all of those great traditional stories. It’s, you know, nothing more more thought provoking than that at this time. We have good books of you know, women leaders and African American leaders, but we just haven’t dived into that yet. 

Ben Kittelson  05:06

There’s time.

Nefertiri Sickout  05:07

Definitely.

Ben Kittelson  05:10

And then are you watching or bingeing any TV right now?

Nefertiri Sickout  05:14

I’m not, I am not, I love to try to get in a movie, you know, here and there. I saw Antebellum over the the holiday in November, and that was with Jeanelle Monae. And it was actually a really good film. I won’t give any clues away, but it was it was good. So not sure what other movies I have on my watch list. But I enjoyed that one.

Ben Kittelson  05:43

The last lightning round question for you: where do you go for inspiration?

Nefertiri Sickout  05:47

I am a nature person, I love nature. And trees, you know, grass, birds, clouds, sunshine. So I don’t get to get out, you know, too much. Being in a city and especially having my daughter now, but um, my husband and I will go to the beach when we can in New Jersey, New Jersey’s coast. But otherwise, I’ll just try to get out, you know, to a grassy area that is quiet and calm and, and just relax. But I you know, unfortunately, I need to improve on my work life balance, because I haven’t done that in quite a while.

Ben Kittelson  06:33

Ya, I understand. And now, with the working from home, it’s even, it’s even harder to maintain that balance.

Nefertiri Sickout  06:39

It Is. Unfortunately, it really is. Because it there’s just, you know, an uninterrupted access, so to speak, always can, you know, flip on your computer and work and so, but hopefully, you know, this year has just been really intense. And hopefully 2021 will lighten up a bit and we can, you know, in some ways, start to have more balance, I say that, but even as I say that I think about there’s a great, you know, portion of our community that has been destabilized by the pandemic and is, you know, worse off. And so things are not going to lighten up for them. You know, which makes, which makes it you know, rightfully difficult to try to still find that, that balance when you’re, you know, a public servant, and you’re in service to the community.

Ben Kittelson  07:42

We’re kind of diving into the meat of our conversation. But I gave it a little bit of a bio at the beginning. But for I’m always interested in how folks kind of ended up in local government and kind of in their, in this career. Because one thing we talked about ELGL and we’ve covered a little bit on on the podcast is that there’s not there’s not a single career path into local government. And there are so many different jobs within the field that there’s so many ways in. So for you, how did you end up in kind of the position you’re in today?

Nefertiri Sickout  08:11

Definitely, I won’t give you the long story, I’ll give you the short, it was definitely a, you know, winded path, I’ve always been interested in a career that would allow me to have systemic influence in terms of impacting the trajectory of children born into poverty. It’s just, you know, I’ve always felt that where you where are born and who you are born to, should not really impact the trajectory of your life, you know, especially children born into communities of low wealth, and resources, similar to the to the community that I was born into well raised, and I should say. I was I was born in New York, raised in Atlanta. But I had a very loving family that sheltered me from a lot of the statistics associated growing up in a low income, low resource, wealth community and, and so forth. And so I, but that imprinted on me at a very young age. So I went to Clark Atlanta University, got my bachelor’s in psychology and really thought I wanted to become a psychologist, you know, focusing on child development and, and how to improve child outcomes, particularly of those who are living in poverty. winded up going to George Washington University in DC and getting a master’s in infant special education really focused in on the impact of poverty on children’s development. And again, I really wanted my PhD so I ended up getting a second master’s degree at Teachers College in New York and I had intended on doing a PhD, but after I finished that one year, I was exposed to policy and how Child and Family Policy can really impact poverty and children’s outcomes. So thinking about, you know, the the tax structure and thinking about parenting education programs and Headstart and all of these federal, you know, initiatives that are designed to improve the outcomes of children living in poverty. And so having experienced that, I decided to kind of revert and not not do the PhD track. And then I just worked in a community for about eight years, focused on child welfare, child development, early childhood education, and so forth. And long story short, I, after working in the community for about eight years, I still wasn’t getting the traction that I really wanted in terms of systemic influence. And so I decided to go to law school and pile on a little more debt, a lot more debt. But it was worth it, I went to Villanova came out in 2009. And then I had the opportunity to work at a large law firm practicing commercial litigation. And I never, ever thought I’d be in a large, you know, corporate law firm practicing commercial litigation, but I instinctively knew that, that experience would just really help me in terms of making me a better advocate, you know, for better outcomes, you know, for children and families who were worse off. And so I stayed there for eight years, and then decided, you know, that it was time to leave, because I didn’t want to really try to pursue that partnership track. And there happened to be an opening in a mayor’s office here in the city of Philadelphia, Mayor Kenny created the first ever Office of Diversity and Inclusion in 2016, and picked the first Chief Diversity and Inclusion officer, Nolan Atkinson. And Nolan is an attorney who practiced law for years and has a significant legacy. And there was an opening and I applied and, had the opportunity to join him in the mayor’s office to really build out the agenda of the office. And so that’s how I transitioned into local government. And it’s just been a fascinating, amazing, great experience, hard work, very difficult work requires a ton of patience, and a ton of, of tenacity, you know, in terms of really sticking to your, your agenda and pushing it for it. But it’s just been a really great experience.

Ben Kittelson  12:59

With your kind of interest and background in like, Children and Family work, like is there, I don’t wanna step on, you know, at the rest of our conversation, but it’s there, that’s worked into the Office of Diversity, Equity inclusion, or have you got to do that within the city of Philadelphia?

Nefertiri Sickout  13:15

you know, I haven’t done it in the way that I thought I would, I mean, children are my passion, because they are, you know, they, they, the experiences that they have, really have such a profound impact on the rest of their life. And so I just feel like we can, you know, keep them protected and keep them safe, then we are, you know, we are creating generations that that will only benefit society, you know, going forward, and to the extent that they aren’t kept safe, and they are harmed, you know, that’s our future as well. And so, I haven’t been able to actually have that direct impact on children the way that I’ve always wanted to, but I but I have been able to work at a more systemic level in terms of thinking about how do we address the institutional barriers, that that impact the quality of community outcomes. And so through that work, they they are the, you know, beneficiary of that work in and their parents, so, you know, focusing on disparities in employment outcomes, or education outcomes or health outcomes, you know, Criminal Justice outcomes and the way that the government impacts these outcomes, ultimately, is for the benefit of the community and our children, you know, so that that’s where I am now.

Ben Kittelson  14:58

Well, I think the important part when you talk to folks that work in diversity inclusion offices is like, you can have such an impact at this level that like impacts these departments that might be doing the day to day of working with children, or, you know, doing parks work or street maintenance, but you have this, like more policy level impact that kind of touches all these different areas, which is, which is cool.

Nefertiri Sickout  15:21

Yeah, being in this position, in some ways, it’s hard to see the direct impact and be able to measure, you know, the, the impact of your work and, and the difference that you’re making, it’s kind of hard to sometimes draw that close Nexus and so you have to really just stay focused on the the purpose of the work, and in seeing change happen on our on a, you know, a different pace and at a different scale. And also realize that, you know, you may not, you may not be in the position to actually see the benefit of all your work, it could be someone else there at some point, but knowing that, you know, you’re a part of the journey to to push the government forward to more equitable outcomes for our communities, the work that we’re doing, is building off the work that was done by, you know, leaders, who came before us and other actions, and build enough of, you know, their work. And so it’s just continuing that work.

Ben Kittelson  16:36

Well, you mentioned kind of coming on as the office was being formed in Philadelphia. So what was that like kind of setting up the direction and vision for this work before? You know, getting to create something new, I guess, in a, in a in a big organization like the city of Philadelphia?

Nefertiri Sickout  16:52

Yes, we actually had a few few, really primary areas that we were focused on. One was the diversity of the of the workforce, the workforce that reflects the communities that we serve, so that was a, a mandate and a charge of our mayor. Another one was really looking at the robust participation of diverse business owners in doing business with the city on city contracts, and and making sure that we are cultivating an environment that allows for more robust participation on contracts. And then we also had a significant focus on the community of people with disabilities who are 16% of our population here in the city, as well as our Office of LGBT affairs and looking at LGBTQ+ community, and how do we create more equitable policies and programs for for that community as well. So we were really building out the office, building out our strategy to have a more exempt and, I’m sorry, a more inclusive workforce. But we focus more on the exempt side, which is the side that isn’t subject to the civil service regulations and serve at the pleasure in the will of the mayor. And we’ve had some progress in actually diversifying the exempt workforce, we’ve moved the numbers in terms of our employees who are Asian, Hispanic or Latino in the exempt workforce, which is wonderful because they were underrepresented in terms of their representation in the community. I do want to say it’s not a one for one, you know, ratio, but to the extent that our community in the city is about 65%, diverse, you know, we do want to see a significant diversity in our workforce in not just diversity in numbers also in in leadership positions. You know, thinking about workforce equity, you’re thinking about the diversity of positions across functions and across leadership levels. And, you know, we still have a lot more work to do there. We actually put in our fiscal year 20 FY 20 annual workforce diversity report, which which will show increase percentage of Asian and Hispanic and Latino employees. However, there’s still a lot more work to do especially with hiring of African American residents and historically marginalized groups, including people with disabilities and people who are in the LGBTQ+ community and that work will require more intentional efforts around diverse recruitment. Recruitment is a is a significant or can be a significant barrier to more equitable representation, it takes a lot of intentionality to make sure that your recruitment strategy is inclusive. And then also looking at barriers in the hiring process, including, you know, the type of test that we give, or how we write job specifications and things of that nature. And, you know, we’ve done a good amount of work for people with disabilities in terms of making sure that our facilities are more accessible, and, and also with our LGBTQ+ community. And so I don’t mean to be too long winded, but just you know, in terms of the the work with the focus on increasing participation, about diverse businesses, I can tell you a little bit more about that as well, if you like, but I’ll stop there.

Ben Kittelson  21:09

Yeah, definitely want to ask about that. But the, so you mentioned like kind of how important recruitment and kind of assessing the hiring process were. Were there any changes that y’all made to make the recruitment process more inclusive and make the hiring process a little more accessible for folks? Or do you have any examples that you could share? Maybe for other local governments out there trying to make improvements in their workforce diversity?

Nefertiri Sickout  21:32

Yes, so broadly, and generally, what we’ve done is we have required that all departments come up with an annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion workforce plan. And then we meet with departments, quarterly on their plans it made. For smaller departments, we meet with them a little less often, but we’re asking them to do you know, forecast their hires for for the year, and then identify their, you know, diverse recruitment strategy around those hires, and also set for strategies around building a inclusive department culture. And then we are, you know, committed to providing more support to departments around that work, we have also, the mayor’s office is partnering with our Office of Human Resources. The Office of Human Resources meets with the major departments twice a year to do their planning workforce planning for the civil service sector. And so it’s very important for the work not to be in a silo. And so by partnering with the Office of Human Resources, we’ll be better able to really institutionalize best practices around planning for and building a more diverse workforce in an inclusive department culture. To be more granular, some some of the things that we’ve done also is looking at specific positions that have significant under representation within the position and thinking about, for example, we had a project with a position in the Department of Parks and Recreation. And when you look at this particular position, at the top, it was roughly, I think, 80%, white. And as I mentioned, we’re populous as a City of about 65% of color. And when you look at the position at the lower level, and in the positions leading up to the highest one, they were about 60 to 70%, comprised of white employees, which again, is not not a concern in and of itself. But But when you have this, you know, community that you’re serving in the community isn’t reflected in your employees, you know that that is a concern. And so one of the things that the Commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department did, she looked at that specific position and she did three things, she did more targeted recruitment, she changed the job specification to be more inclusive of the type of degrees that would make one eligible to apply to that position. So that the degrees weren’t just pulling from our local universities that that tend to have a majority white student body but could also pull from universities that were traditionally more diverse. And then she also changed the exam from a written exam to an oral exam and changing it to an oral exam resulted in actually everyone passing the exam and people of color doing better on on the exam, and and having more opportunity to actually interview for the position. It’s just really important because if the bottom position, which is the open position, if that position isn’t diverse, there’s only a promotional opportunity, then you’re not going to get diversity up the ranks because your lower class isn’t diverse. And so what we’re doing is looking across the city at positions that are that have promotional opportunity, opportunity and significant underrepresentation and thinking about how, how can we apply an equity lens and really identify what are the barriers here? Are the barriers really tied to our recruitment strategy or our testing strategy or application strategy? and identifying where people of color and other marginalized groups are falling out of the hiring process, and then doing more targeted strategies to to address the issues? You know, it can be by position, but then thinking about how do we how do we institutionalize that so that work goes beyond the the Kenny administration?

Ben Kittelson  26:02

Yeah, well, that’s such a good point that like even like small changes about how the test is administered, or what types of degrees you’re, you would accept as like, meeting the minimum qualifications can have this huge impact.

Nefertiri Sickout  26:15

It really does.

Ben Kittelson  26:17

And you may not even think about it as like the hiring manager, like, it’s just the way the positions always been, you know, the position description has always been the qualifications have always been, and if you don’t think of it from that lens, you miss out on folks.

Nefertiri Sickout  26:31

Absolutely, absolutely. It just changing that test for written exam to an oral exam, you know, had a tremendous impact, people of color went from 10 to 12%, of the of the top 10 applicant pool to be 60%, of the Top 10 applicant pool, you know, which raises your your probability of getting a qualified, diverse candidate, because here we have a rule too. So you have to pick from, you know, a list of candidates that in terms of how they tested on the exam, but it does have significant tremendous implications. I mean, written exams can be a barrier, to be honest with you, me myself, I just could not score well, on the the Graduate Record Examination, I think that’s what it’s called, the GRE, whatever it is. Yeah, and I also just scored poorly on the LSAT. I doubt if I was even in the, you know, whatever it was in the bottom, bottom quartile, just couldn’t do well, but actually being in law school, I did great. And being in a law firm I did wonderful, but I think had it not been for my body of experience, I may not have been admitted to law school, but there are, you know, institutional barriers that just don’t work well for for people of color. And when you think about equity, you know, you’re really thinking about how do you identify those barriers, and, and, you know, address them so that you have more equitable outcomes, which has been part of the work that, you know, going forward of the office where we had, you know, that intense build out in the in the second term of the Kenny administration in the second and in the first term. Now that we are in the second term, we are really, you know, creating an infrastructure and a more intentional platform to address institutional barriers at the department level and create more equitable outcomes.

Ben Kittelson  28:39

Very cool. When you mentioned the kind of diversifying the businesses they work with the city works with through the procurement process, what what has worked and what kind of changes have y’all made to that kind of process to improve the, to apply an equity lens to it. Yeah, Yeah. I think that’s a fascinating, like area for for this kind of, like, work to, like focus on and honestly, it’s that kind of diversity and equity lens on, you know, what businesses are you working with, because, yeah, you can have such an impact on the community by, you know, changing, changing some of those companies that get those big contracts from from cities.

Nefertiri Sickout  28:59

We do a few things. One, we we were a part of a grant from living cities and inclusive procurement opportunity that was just wonderful living cities has been very supportive of this work. There have been a few you know, technical assistance providers, including Race Forward, GARE, Government Alliance on Race and Equity and a few others that have just given us the the the support to really understand how to apply an equity lens. And so a few things we did is we hired a consultant to do a review of our institutional policies and procedures impacting our procurement program specifically focused on diverse business owners and Brian, he identified a number of systemic issues that were really impacting our outcomes. And so we took some of that information to to really develop a more systemic strategy, I can identify a few things. One thing that we’ve done is we’re requiring all departments now to forecast their eligible contracts for the upcoming year. And then work in partnership with them to make sure that we are connected, connecting them to diverse business owners and thinking about, you know, their the opportunity for them to contract with with diverse business owners, you know, departments tend to know what they’re going to spend on for the upcoming fiscal year. And if you forecast that, then you have a better opportunity to plan more intentionally from the beginning. And then think about how you’re also going to do targeted outreach and engagement around those upcoming contracts to have more inclusive outcomes. Our Office of Economic Opportunity, created a joint I’m sorry, a mentor protege program, actually, were they were working with some majority contracting firms and having them partner with diverse owners who, who have smaller capacity, so that the majority, contractors can build the capacity and mentor the smaller firms with the expectation that, you know, this will actually help to prime the smaller firms, smaller, diverse business business owners for, for the ability to take on Creative contracts. And so that’s one of the things that, that we’ve done. So just really thinking about, also how we wanted to, streamlining the contracting process. I think we had about four different platforms that vendors had to add in order to look for contracts. And so we aggregated the the different entry points to one web page, just so that could be one platform to really go through and see, you know, what, what the city, what city opportunities may be of interest for vendors, but there’s a ton of more work to do, there’s so much to do. One of the big things that we often hear from vendors is their inability to get financing in their need for bonding. And in being able to access, you know, a capital, like, that is a huge barrier for diverse firms. And so there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done there. So we’re just really kind of, you know, moving moving to work along making progress, but definitely have a lot more to do.  Yeah, the economic outcomes in and thinking about, um, you know, where, where our economic dollars are going, you know, in terms of spend without diverse business businesses, here in the city. I mean, it’s a, it’s really a way to support economic growth in the city, to support jobs in the city. And so to the extent that we don’t have a robust, you know, diverse businesses, we we, you know, we are, we are limited in our ability to support economic growth for for all businesses in our city. And so this has been something that that is really near and dear to Mayor Kenny’s hearts, you know, but there are there are just historical and structural barriers that really impact the financial capacity of our firms, you know, and so, thinking more strategically and intentionally about addressing those institutional barriers on the financing side is required.

Ben Kittelson  34:25

Well, in kind of preparing for this interview, I read that the mayor had named a steering committee and internal work group and I think the hopefully I get the name of it right. But it’s like Pathways to Reform Transformation, Reconciliation. What is that work? And I assume that came out of kind of the protests and from the summer, can you can you tell our listeners kind of what that is and kind of where where that’s going?

Nefertiri Sickout  34:50

Yes, yes. You’re right that did, the Reconciliation Steering Committee for sure. It did come out of the the murder of George Floyd. There’s past summer, which was just horrific and the, you know, the social activism and protests surrounding, surrounding George Floyd. You know, the the Steering Committee really had a significant focus on police reform and thinking through, you know, how to make sure that our, our policing was was, you know, safe in how to, you know, think about the community’s relationship with the police and the police use of force. And other other just been in, you know, other issues of concern around around equity and around racism and things of, you know, things of that nature. And so, police reform was the most significant focusing teams to be. And there definitely been some, some work in terms of, you know, looking at how the police interact with residents who have disabilities, or who have mental health needs, which tends to happen more, you know, more than we realize, thinking about the diversity of the police force, and, and, and the police relationship with the community. I it’s just really significant work. And I can follow up with more detail, one, that there’s a there’s another component focused on the economic outcomes of some of the work that I’ve already mentioned around equitable procurement. So there’s a subcommittee focused on that. There’s also a subcommittee focused on public landmarks and and, you know, thinking about all of the work that’s been done on, you know, the names of statutes in public map landmarks, in you know, those who have passed that that really don’t reflect where we want to go for it, and renaming these statues and so forth. So there’s work been done on that. And then there’s also a subcommittee focused on an equitable response to the pandemic. So, you know, we also focus on issues that arise. So like, right now thinking about the vaccine and equitable distribution of the vaccine. So we use this Steering Committee to help provide guidance and input in terms of our, our strategies, as they impact the community.

Ben Kittelson  37:50

Well, I’m curious, what’s, what’s this kind of last, you know, six, eight months been like, for you and your office, because I talked to some folks that work in equity and inclusion offices, late in the summer, and, you know, the, the protests after the murder of George Floyd and kind of the energy was still at a pretty good height and pretty, you know, it was like, there was a lot of focus on it. What’s been, you know, since then, like, has that has had this the energy kind of sustain itself Philadelphia? Or has, what is have you been able to kind of capture that or what’s it been like for you?

Nefertiri Sickout  38:28

I think that it’s definitely been a grind, it’s been very intense. You know, the, the community that we serve, and I just use the community, you know, just broadly but the the community that we serve in thinking about this equity work, they they are still heavily impacted, I think, by systemic injustice, you know, even I mean, even more so, when you think about the pandemic and the the disproportionate, you know, health impact and economic impact of the pandemic, in terms of, you know, in terms of the death rates, and job loss or unemployment claims, you know, and so, even though the fire may not be as intense as it looked this past July, it’s still a slow burn, you know, or a greater burn in terms of, you know, how the community may, you know, be experiencing the, the impact of the, of the pandemic, right, there’s, there’s, you can’t let your foot off the gas. You have to keep your foot on the gas in terms of where are you driving with respect to improving outcomes. economic outcomes, the health outcomes, you know, in making sure that, you know, you’re stabilizing the community, the rental assistance work that we’ve been doing, getting the rental dollars to, you know, to those who are at risk of being evicted, and making sure that we’re getting food, you know, to our community, and that we are, one of the biggest parts of the work has been digital equity, you know, thinking about the fact that everything or so much hasn’t gone online, since the pandemic, and if you don’t have access to the internet, or have a computer at home, you cannot access resources, you can’t, you can’t get a job, you know, you you are just significantly limited in your ability to be self sufficient. And so there’s been a huge focus on making sure that we have equitable digital access here in the city of Philadelphia and getting the community online, there’s been a lot of work there also, in terms of, you know, trying to build that trust with the community so that even though we have this service, the community actually takes advantage of it, because there’s a, you know, mistrust, and broken trust. And, you know, and so, you know, people may not always take advantage of resources, just just, you know, even thinking about the vaccinations, and, you know, just because you offer, it doesn’t mean people are going to take it, you know, so really thinking about what what do we need to do to be more targeted in our outreach and our engagement to make sure that the services that we’re provided is is is being received, you know, equitably by the community. And so, there’s still a huge focus on, on on certain basic needs that we want to meet in terms of digital equity and, and education, you know, food security, rental security. So there’s some core areas and then with that, we also want to make sure that we’re focused on our departments being more equitable in the way that they are providing services. And so part of the work in the second term, all departments are going to complete a racial equity assessment and racial equity action plan. And so we’re phasing it in over the rest of the Mayor’s second term with the FY 21 cohort of departments, about 10 departments focused on the the equity assessment and doing an equity action plan. So really thinking through, you know, how do we budget? How does the department budget with an equity lens, procure services? How do they, you know, deliver high priority services with an equity lens? And then what does their community engagement look like? And so, you know, how how this shows up at the departments will look different in terms of the Commerce Department, or the health department or the Department of licenses and inspections, but each department touches upon the community in a certain way. And so really for for the, the department to think through, you know, what, what’s the you know, the the core set of, I guess, disparities, that, that is within their scope of business, and what what could be the most impactful and powerful contribution that each department can make in terms of, you know, being more more targeted and intentional in addressing those disparities and having more equitable outcomes, all of that with all that within a climate of reduced revenue? You know, in a right, and budget reductions, you know, at the same time that the community need is increasing. We have decreased revenues in and more limited budget expenditures, and how do we be, you know, really think about equity within this budget climate as well. There’s recently a participatory budgeting project launched by our budget office and in the planning commission, where city residents are going to, for the first time be able to vote on how the city spends its capital dollars. And we’ll have the opportunity go on what how we spend $1 million in capital practice, you know, so there’s there’s just been such tremendous progress made, you know, over over the first term and into the second term, but, again, when you you know, sitting here, within this policy space in thinking about how the pandemic showed up, and what are the current needs of our community, sometimes the gap can still feel so big, you know, and you can’t really rest and And give yourself any type of pat on the back, because there there are people who are still hurting, you know, and, and so that’s kind of my, you know, my focus in and then also really thinking about how do we build the capacity and support of our, of our colleagues to be able to do this work because it’s hard, you know it to, to shift from, you know, the normal, traditional way that we do business and think about what an equity lens means and how do we disaggregate data? And how do we have identified equitable measures? And how do we hold ourselves accountable? You know, it’s, it’s not easy, especially when you’re grinding to, to really meet the needs of the community through day to day work, you know, and then sort of layer an equity lens on top of that, is, it’s not easy, you know, but it’s necessary, it is absolutely necessary.

Ben Kittelson  46:02

Yeah, I think it’d be fascinating, because, you know, this economic climate, like a lot of cities are in now, the equity pieces is almost more important than it was before and like having the, the courage and the, and the vision to like, you know, keep that work going despite like the, the, you know, the financial realities of, you know, what, what organizations will be facing is, I think it’d be really excited to see what y’all do, and what other kind of cities across the country are able to able to do in this kind of environment.

Nefertiri Sickout  46:35

Yeah, and I would just say, I appreciate that, thank you. And I, I would say, we’re, we’re learning from one another, you know, there’s no model yet recipe for it. It’s, you know, there’s, there’s definitely some best practices, but we are all in this journey together and making progress together, you know, and building off the work that has come before us. And so it’s, it’s, it’s a little unnerving, it’s, you know, you might want to get it right and try to get it perfect, but that’s just unrealistic, when, you know, this is in some ways, kind of your, your first bite at the apple in terms of having a more structured framework and approach, you know, to, to an equity lens in municipal government. And so just giving yourself permission to, to learn, you know, giving yourself permission to, to, you know, figure it out as you go along and not get stuck in the the perfect be the enemy of progress, you know, and so it can definitely feel like, you know, the pressure is on and it should be, you know, given the the need right now, but also understanding that this is a work in progress.

Ben Kittelson  48:00

Well, that’s, I think, probably as good of a place as any to and so we have a traditional last question on Gov Love. If you can be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as the exit music for this episode?

Nefertiri Sickout  48:13

So I wish I could give you a good answer. I, you know, there’s just so much that I haven’t been doing since I’ve become a mother and and which also includes keeping up with the latest music. So I would fall back on a staple, which is my staple is Bob Marley. And so I just maybe I would think, maybe Jammy, Jammin’. And yeah, I would pick something a little bit uplifting and upbeat, but he has so many great songs, but I would choose that one.

Ben Kittelson  48:56

Okay, we’ll get that queued up. So that’s awesome. That ends our episode for today. Neferiti, thank you so much for coming on, talking with me and sharing your expertise. I really appreciate it.

Nefertiri Sickout  49:08

Well, I just appreciate you reaching out and I do appreciate you uplifting this work. And, you know, there’s that quote, each one, teach one, each one, reach one, each one, pull one under the sun, you know, it may not go quite exactly like that. Maybe that’s something you should do is ask people to give a favorite quote, you know, yeah, right. But but but, but I wouldn’t, that just came to me because of the work that you’re doing, you know, in enlightening people and elevating this work and just thank you for that, you know, thank you for for just helping us by, you know, sharing this information and putting this out there for people to be able to utilize and build off of.

Ben Kittelson  49:59

Thank you For for our listeners. Gov Love is brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. You can reach us online at a ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter at the handle @GovLovePodcast. The best way to support Gov Love is by joining ELGL. In 2021 membership it will be $50 for an individual and $25 per student. You can also sign up your whole organization. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to Gove Love on your favorite podcast app and if you’re already subscribed, go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast. Help us spread the word that Gov Love is the go to place for local government stores. With that, thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.


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