From activism to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI,) Lacey Williams has a passion for helping community members and creating a workplace where employees can be their authentic selves. During a month where we celebrate pride and the LGBTQ+ community, she shares her work in DEI and other city initiatives.
The Power of Local Government
In the early part of Williams' career, she worked with community members doing community engagement, outreach, advocacy and activism. She also worked a lot with young people. As the advocacy director of the Latin American Coalition, she started to understand the power of local government. "In the activism sphere, a lot of people don't really understand what government does," says Williams. "And they don't understand divisions between the city, county, school board and even what the state does verses the federal government."
That's when she came to work for the city to develop the
Civic Leadership Academy. This program helps residents understand how local government works. "I believe in activism. I believe in people's power to shape government in the way they need to work for them, but the only way they can do that and be effective advocates is if they understand how government works," says Williams. "I took it up as my charge to be a conduit of information for community members and that's why I work for the city."
From the Civic Leadership Academy, she worked with people across the city organization and got pulled into other projects. Recognizing her talent for community engagement and problem solving, she started to work on the Jumpstart microgrant program connecting back to her work with young people and building bridges across lines of differences.
Full Focus on DEI
In 2019, the
Office of Equity, Mobility & Immigrant Integration was created within the Housing & Neighborhood Services Department. She was invited to join the team, and with DEI being her passion, she wanted DEI to be her full focus.
Williams says, "We have been doing a lot as a city, but they all have been dispersed events or efforts. And it's hard if you're a regular city employee and you're not tapped into this or want to understand what the city's doing about DEI."
One of the first priorities for DEI is to create an equity policy for the City of Charlotte and an action plan. Along with the equity steering team, she helped craft the city's equity vision statement that was also approved by the city manager. That brought together what the city values and what it is committed to doing in terms of DEI.
The next step is research and setting benchmarks for the city. Measurement is important to know how the organization is progressing. It's also looking at city policies and putting a DEI lens to those. Right now, the equity steering team is looking to collect stories about the employee experience through a Sensemaker tool, which will provide information to create a DEI action plan.
Williams says, "I think it's really important for all our employees to feel like they have a workplace where they can be their authentic selves."
That's what the DEI work aims to do.
Progress for LGBTQ+
The city has come a long way for LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts. Charlotte has moved up on the
Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index. The Human Rights Campaign is a national organization that focuses on LGBTQ+ policy and law. They rate corporations and cities for LGBTQ+ inclusiveness and the city got a sizable bump last year. Williams says, "I'm really proud of that. I got to work on that last year."
On the employee benefits side, the city has extended benefits to same sex partners. The city also supported and pushed for a public accommodations bill. "We need to keep pushing and doing things even if they feel symbolic," says Williams.
A few years ago, the Charlotte Communication & Marketing Department designed a rainbow crown logo which was a huge hit in the LGBTQ+ community. "I never thought the city would change their logo for me," says Williams. "You think of those things as being really small, but those are the types of things that create culture, and it signals to your employees that it's okay to be themselves."
The Sensemaker project will help give the city insight on LGBTQ+ employee experiences. Human Resources is also working on LGBTQ+ training to help employees understand the experience of being a part of that community and understand why an inclusive environment is important.
Williams says, "I think we've made strides as a society, but also as a city. I definitely think there's places we can go to make sure that everybody is able to show up as they are."