In the quest to provide a more equitable and welcoming workplace, the range of variables can often be so wide that defining the problem is as crucial, if not more so, than crafting a solution. Marquis Miller, the City of Chicago’s chief diversity officer, sees no difficulty in identifying a multitude of issues when it comes to attaining more representative levels of diversity and inclusion.
“We all know Chicago’s history, and that is something that we can’t change,” Miller explains. “It’s something that will constantly be a stigma to the city, but it’s something that, especially with current events and the goings-on in our nation’s capital and across the country, we can learn from.
“I believe that the key to having a focus on building from our true strength as a community,” he adds, “is that we all have our understandings and our own emotions based on our history, but the main deal is to be authentically inclusive going forward.”
A Wide Scope
It has been one of the most challenging times for a role that is relatively new to begin with. Miller is tasked with supporting Chicago’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice as well as the city’s Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore in cultivating and delivering services that address racial and class disparities in employment, income, housing, and economic development throughout Chicago.
“Especially in a global city like Chicago, there is an understanding that the city’s personnel needs to reflect the makeup of its constituents,” Miller says. “As the chief diversity officer, I am empowered to help move the needle toward that reflection of our various communities and make sure that the departments and mayoral administration understand what we’re doing in that regard.”
Miller has also worked to expand the 2018 inclusiveness and diversity framework for the city, with more added emphasis on fortifying opportunities and advancement for job candidates from underrepresented demographics.
His previous experience with the National Minority Supplier Development Council has undoubtedly been beneficial in Miller’s efforts in collaboration with the Department of Procurement Services and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Miller provides ongoing support to the development and implementation of a diverse business inclusion strategy that supports economic equity throughout Chicago’s communities.
A Better Reflection of Chicago
As the city continues to evolve more inclusive practices and opportunities, Miller has evolved his own approach to the CDO position.
“My goals are not simply to boost diversity numbers from X to Y,” he explains. “I want to help this environment reflect the city as well as possible. I want to make sure that our hiring plan, our recruiting practices, and all persons and parties feel comfortable in the workplace and comfortable with the progression of the city and its positions.”
Miller says that for a city competing for talent, cultural climate becomes critically important in attracting candidates who feel that they can bring their entire selves to the role of delivering high-quality services to the city’s residents and visitors.
And while metrics and statistics are paramount for documenting any progress, Miller says the real work of his role comes in creating “the know.” “Positioning yourself with the right people, being strategic, and adding value is critical,” Miller says. “Today, for me, it’s about learning from different people and networking, broadening my reach in the community of practice.”
Creating “the know” starts with normalizing conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion across the community. Once that happens, it enables the organization of internal and external partners to create more diverse networks, help impact areas undergoing economic redevelopment like the Pilsen or Englewood neighborhoods, and help create sustainable growth for far more stakeholders in Chicago.
No Small Task
Miller is well aware of the challenges of his role, but his background in mission-based resource and business development as well as diversity leadership management have helped create a skill set that offers him a unique perspective in the space.
There is no silver bullet to suddenly create more empathy, acceptance, and equity. Miller understands that the long game is the only game. By pairing authentic leadership with a résumé that speaks for itself, Miller is ready for the long haul.
“Diversity and inclusion is hard. Racial equity is even harder,” Miller says. “But I think about what my colleague and friend Connie Lindsey (executive vice president and head of corporate social responsibility at Northern Trust) says: ‘Discover your purpose. Pursue it with passion.’ This is my passion.”
Progress for All
In just three years, Marquis Miller has helped the City of Chicago make meaningful headway when it comes to representation in one of the nation’s most diverse cities. In efforts both big and small, Miller is helping create opportunities for those with diverse backgrounds and experiences. His work includes:
- Providing process improvement ideas and other enhancements through a review of the city’s hiring plan and a DEI operational plan with the Chicago Department of Human Resources
- Partnering and collaborating with Chicago City Council, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, and other city departments to promote new and existing DEI initiatives
- Review and prepare reports on hiring to help identify barriers to DEI and solutions to overcome those barriers
Developing new partnerships that will enhance Chicago’s ability to reach as wide and diverse a population as possible, including face-to-face meetings with fifteen community organization leaders and staff to introduce the DEI framework and plan implementation