Responding to the global and community focus on race and equity in 2020, the City of Federal Way hired Erica Azcueta as its first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator this year.
Azcueta has had over 10 years of experience in human services working with vulnerable populations and putting anti-racism and equity at the forefront of all her work.
“My ultimate goal is to work myself out of a job,” said Azcueta, who was hired in April. “My goal is that eventually, the entire city has an equity component in everything that they do so that every single community member we have feels that they are heard, feels that they’re respected, feels that they’re safe in our community and that they know how to access the services that we have.”
To get to that point of actively including equity work in every department, Azcueta said she has to start with an in-depth assessment of departments, programs and public works. Once she understands where the city is at, she said, she can begin to make recommendations.
That work starts with hiring. She has already begun having conversations about equity with hiring managers and talking about incorporating those considerations into recruiting efforts.
“I don’t want to just throw something out there just to have something. If I put a recommendation out that the city is going to do, I really want to make sure that it’s sustainable and that’s actually going to have a significant impact,” Azcueta said. “I also want to make sure that I get our community’s feedback as well. I don’t want to be making recommendations for populations and not get their input.”
Azcueta started off as a case manager working directly with individuals experiencing homelessness and mental health disorders. Even then, she said she noticed inequities in her work, like language barriers preventing people from getting help.
Although she has since moved into program development and more public work focusing on race and equity, Azcueta said her experiences with direct service have remained influential.
“I have been out in the field, I have worked with someone to get them into housing, I have tried to navigate different systems,” Azcueta said. “So I think that understanding what it’s like to support someone in that way has been very helpful on this side of the table.”
After the focus on racial equity in 2020, Azcueta said right now is a great time to be doing this work because there is an abundance of resources and research available.
Azcueta added that it’s important to make sure the tools they use fit the community and that what works in one city might not work in another.
“Your job as a public servant is to serve your entire public. You have to be creative about it and not expect people to come to you, recognizing that we do have populations and community members who don’t trust government, or don’t recognize it, or don’t understand government’s role, and that’s not their job to change your viewpoint. It’s our job to change what we do, to make people feel safer and understand and come to us.”
Azcueta said she plans to get community feedback to help her make recommendations as she goes forward.
“As challenging as this work is, you just don’t give up on it because it is so necessary,” Azcueta said. “When you do see the needle move, it’s very rewarding.”