Diversity in Hiring
Friday, July 1, 2022
by: Sheriff Patrick W. McDermott

Section: Guest Editorial

Sheriff Patrick W. McDermott

When I first took office in January of 2021, I wanted to make sure the department I was leading reflected the diversity of the people whom we served. As the Sheriff of a county that contains 28 towns and cities and stretches from the southern edge of Boston down to the Rhode Island border, the communities we serve are made up of a wide variety of people with differing interests, backgrounds, experiences, and lifestyles. It was important to me that the women and men who comprise the Norfolk County Sheriff ’s Office reflect this diversity in our ranks.

More than a Catchphrase
This wasn’t simply a justice issue for me—it was an issue of public safety. Diversity is more than just a catchphrase when it comes to corrections. Diversity is essential to the goal of rehabilitation and working to meet justice-involved individuals where they are. And efforts to integrate with the communities we serve are made smoother when our staff  can find common ground with the people who live and work in those communities.

In our pursuit to put together a team that reflects the diversity of our county, I’ve also asked my staff to push our definition of diversity—or at least to reconsider why diversity matters in hiring. In terms of identity, diversity matters. It matters because race, gender, age, sexual orientation, class status, disability, and more are important considerations when our staff  interact with community members and justice-involved individuals alike. It’s important that the makeup of our staff reflects these populations as an important first step in building trust.

When you know that someone shares similar experiences in the world to you, it’s simply that much easier to trust them. (It’s also important to note that the population within our facility is not the same as the population of the larger county, which makes it even more important that our correctional staff ’s diversity reflects both populations.)  But when I asked my staff  to push our definition of diversity, it was because I didn’t want our focus on diversity to be simply about optics. Diversity is important not only because of how your organization appears; it’s important because of what your organization and the people who work in it do.

Diversity at the Norfolk County Sheriff ’s Office also means diversity of interests, experiences, and training. When you assemble a team who comes from a wide range of backgrounds, not only do you get a new mix of identities, but you also get an invaluable range of personal experiences and interests that can be priceless when faced with the need to solve new problems (or even old problems in new ways).

A Deep Pool of Staff
Our push to promote diversity in our ranks means that we have a team with a breadth of experiences and talents that has already paid dividends. On our staff, we have farmers, former professors, crafters, background actors, doulas, TSA supervisors, community organizers, nonprofit leaders, and more. On paper, it might seem like we’ve got the makings for a quirky three-camera sitcom. But this diversity of interests and experiences also means that when we are faced with new problems, we have a wide array of personal and professional experiences to draw from in order to come up with novel solutions. Indeed, I look at each problem as a “new problem” that requires a “new solution,” because we need to constantly look for better ways to achieve our goals.
It also means that we have a deep pool of communities we can tap into when we need help or want to engage in our work differently. We now have relationships with urban farming professionals, academics, nonprofits, advocacy groups, and more that we have been able to use to engage with the communities we serve, provide opportunities to our justice-involved population, and tackle problems that might arise in new, fresh, and exciting ways. We’re doing this not by asking employees to leave their identities and backgrounds at home when they come to work but by encouraging them to see those histories as important to the work they do at the Sheriff ’s Office. When staff  feel seen and appreciated for who they are, they’re able to do better work, which not only serves our mission of public safety at the Norfolk County Sheriff ’s Office but makes for a better all-around climate in our organization.

A Meaningful Journey
This also means that we had to work to ensure that our employees feel supported while on the job. When prioritizing diversity in hiring, you cannot simply tokenize applicants and expect them to fill a checkbox in your organization. If your workplace isn’t designed to accommodate and support a diverse employee base, then those employees who come from under-represented backgrounds simply aren’t going to stick around. But if you see diversity (of both identity and experience) as a strength, as something to promote and support past the hiring process, then not only will you have happier employees, but you’ll have a stronger organization that can withstand any inevitable storms that may come.
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