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San Diego's Race And Equity Office Now Has A Leader

Kim Desmond at the City Administration Building Plaza, July 1, 2021.
Chida Warren-Darby
Kim Desmond at the City Administration Building Plaza, July 1, 2021.
Kim Desmond, the city of San Diego’s first Chief Race and Equity Officer, began her new role leading the city’s Office of Race and Equity this week. One of her biggest challenges is making sure that everyone understand what equity means and the how to infuse it into every aspect of local government.

Kim Desmond, the city of San Diego’s first Chief Race and Equity Officer, began her new role this week.

She'll be leading the city’s Office of Race and Equity, which was established by the City Council last year after the death of George Floyd brought renewed attention to issues of racial justice and inequality.

RELATED: San Diego City Council Votes To Establish Office Of Race And Equity

San Diego’s Race And Equity Office Now Has A Leader
Listen to this story by Cristina Kim.

Desmond is tasked with recognizing and addressing systemic bias and providing support to elected officials, city staffers and the San Diego Police Department on creating equitable policies.

For her first 100 days on the job, Desmond has outlined three key priorities:

  • Building a racial and social justice learning and development academy for city employees to learn about systemic racism.
  • Community outreach to the city’s various communities through town halls and listening sessions.
  • Work with city leaders to review budget decisions to ensure equitable outcomes.

Mayor Todd Gloria said the city selected Desmond because of her success as Denver’s chief equity officer, where she recently helped change the municipal code to stop discrimination against protective hairstyles.

“It’s not just talking about equity for the sake of talking about equity. This is about getting stuff done,” said Gloria.

San Diego’s first pay equity study was released in March, and found city employees of color made on average 20.8% less than white employees in 2019. Because of that disparity, Gloria believes one area that needs immediate attention is the city’s hiring and compensation practices.

RELATED: Study Of San Diego City Employees Finds Women, People Of Color Receive Lower Pay

Desmond, who started on Monday, knows one issue she must tackle is making sure everyone understands what equity means.

“The hardest thing I would say is also creating a space where everybody understands the work, that everybody understands how we define equity and what it means to lead in that way and be inclusive as city employees,” Desmond said.

According to Desmond, equity is about making sure individuals and neighborhoods have access to the resources they need to “live their best lives” and having a deep understanding that different neighborhoods have different needs.

She understands that there are people who might be critical or wary of her work and the creation of the Office of Race and Equity. But she said she’s prepared to do the work to gain their trust.

“To the folks who are questioning this work, I would say to them, when one of us is thriving, all of us are thriving,” Desmond said. “It’s about caring that in our neighborhoods there may be different needs and you want someone to respond to your needs.”

Desmond’s ultimate goal for San Diego’s Office of Race and Equity is to establish a culture and infrastructure that will endure, even when a new mayor is elected.

“We’re going to carry the water and then when it gets to the part where it’s time for us to stop, we’re going to make sure the water continues,” Desmond said.

Video: San Diego’s Race And Equity Office Now Has A Leader