In early 2021, research data from the Women in Leadership Project identified a lack of women in leadership positions in state and local government.
One of the barriers that was identified was Utah women’s ability to compete for leadership positions due to limited formal education, said Kerri Rugg, Orem’s Human Resources director.
In response to the barriers identified in the research data along with the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Plan, the city administration created a Women in Leadership scholarship which allows female employees the opportunity to apply for up to $5,000 annually paid directly to their school of choice in their name.
According to Steven Downs, deputy city manager, Orem’s two-year Equal Employment Opportunity Plan was adopted Dec. 21, 2020, by City Manager Jamie Davidson. By July 2021, the inaugural Women in Leadership scholarship was awarded to the first eight female city employees.
“This effort allowed these women to attend the college of their choice in hopes they will be prepared to compete for future leadership opportunities with the city. The scholarship recipients are paired with a current leader in the organization to be their mentor,” Downs said.
This month, the city hired Emma Hoole as Orem’s first diversity officer. This position is responsible for ensuring that the EEOP is adhered to as well as promoting new ways to increase the city’s diversity efforts. One of Hoole’s first assignments was to create a new employee committee on equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging to help in moving these efforts forward. The committee is focused on new ways to educate, diversify and unite others within the organization and in the community, according to Downs.
About the Diversity team
The Employee Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Team had its first meeting Jan. 18, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The official vision of the team is: “The City of Orem believes in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging for all employees and the community we serve.”
“I am beyond excited for this opportunity to be a part of something that has so much potential to strengthen the City of Orem and bring people together,” Hoole said.
As HR director, Rugg is all-in for this employee opportunity.
“The city is committed to equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion in its employment practices, program operations and service delivery systems,” she said. “With the hiring of a diversity officer, I am confident that we will continue to provide a welcoming work environment for all current and future employees. We are all working to build a better Orem where all are welcome and appreciated.”
City council member Debby Lauret helped to mentor Tara Calencia, a 13-year veteran with the city, in the new scholarship program.
“I wasn’t there studying with her but to give her the confidence and to know that she would be a valuable asset and being a (nontraditional) student who has experience in the police department would be a great value to her class and to her instructors,” Lauret said. “Maybe I was just a cheerleader. … I feel so proud of who she has become. I thought it was valuable for her personally and gave her the confidence she needed.”
Julie Heckert, a library staff member, said the scholarship helped relieve stress she felt about taking money away from her family to pay for schooling.
“It is nice to have the opportunity as a woman and a nontraditional student to have the opportunity to apply for a scholarship and be considered,” she said. “I was very pleased and surprised when I was awarded a scholarship.”
Kyra Wright, an associate engineer with the city, said she has been a minority in almost every organization she has been a part of. Feeling out of place or inadequate is not a foreign feeling to her.
“When I read about the city creating a diversity team, I was instantly drawn to the idea and was intrigued at the thought of people gathering and exchanging ideas on how we can help other employees and people in the city to feel included, welcomed and needed ,” Wright said. “I joined the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Team with the hope of supporting anyone who may have also felt out of place and also to learn about other cultures. Sharing our experiences can help others see from a different perspective. I feel blessed to be a part of a city that acknowledges and embraces diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Together we can add value to the culture of the city. I am excited to see the changes that await in our efforts to make Orem a better place.”