116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Growing up as a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico, Elizabeth Buch says she developed an innate understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion before beginning a career in that field.
Buch — the city of Cedar Rapids’ newly hired, first-ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manager — said she grew up economically disadvantaged. She saw gaps that formed in the experiences her mother went through as a single parent raising three kids, earning a minimum wage and working multiple jobs — sometimes three at a time.
“It gives you an early-on perspective of diversity, equity, inclusion without even understanding or knowing that it's actually called something … especially on the equity and ensuring that there's an equitable playing field for individuals who are underrepresented or aren't necessarily invited to the table most often,” Buch said.
Through the places she’s lived and the jobs she’s held, Buch said relationships are at the center of any new environment she enters.
She is a Joplin, Mo., native and graduated from high school in Decorah. Buch earned an associate degree in business management from Kirkwood Community College, a bachelor’s in business administration and a master’s in strategic leadership from Mount Mercy University.
Diversity, equity and inclusion “is truly understanding not only the history, but who's here, who's not here and thinking about best practices and trying to pull all those together while maintaining a serious reminder that we're all people, and how can we best relate this to everyone?” Buch said.
She’s worked in this field for about five years at Collins Aerospace and most recently at the nonprofit Urban Dreams as its Cedar Rapids site manager. There, she helped with the city’s partnership to bring underrepresented individuals into the workforce and connect underserved populations with employment opportunities, training and other services.
“I have just this huge drive to connect with people and find commonalities while I'm celebrating our differences,” Buch said. “ … I've been so excited and proud of the conversations I've already had with people here in the city of Cedar Rapids and hearing and seeing how receptive they are and how excited they are to have someone in this position as well.”
With creation of this role, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said he anticipates this work toward becoming diverse, equitable and inclusive as an organization will result in better decisions formed from the consensus of people from diverse backgrounds.
“I want a city organization where everybody feels like they're important and they're included as part of the process of government,” Pomeranz said. “ … I have confidence that working with and supporting Elizabeth, we can be better and we can be stronger, and that we'll do that with new employees as well as the employees we have all feeling like they're part of the city of Cedar Rapids in a critical way.”
As Buch settles into her new position, the first order of business will be examining the city’s internal policies and practices before moving toward an outward focus.
With employment, Buch said a focus on equity will mean ensuring individuals have opportunities to become successful in their city role and feel a true sense of belonging. And to recruit new employees, she said that will involve changing mindsets of how residents associate with the city and showing people they have transferable skills that could lead them “right into the door of working a great job at the city of Cedar Rapids.”
“Anyone who knows DEI and anyone who understands change management knows that you really have to start with yourself — look within and find ways that you can be more filled with perspective or think of ways that you can implement change,” Buch said.
Buch is charged with helping develop a comprehensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy for the city. This will encompass things such as recruitment and human resources policies and procedures with long-term, actionable goals that lead the city toward systemic change.
“We want this to be a standing item, but we also know that true DEI needs to be integrated in every part of organization decision-making and processes and new ventures,” Buch said.
Over time, Buch said, the goal is to create an organization that is more diverse, equitable and inclusive. This means “having representation of those within the city, reflect and deeply relate to the communities that they serve,” as well as inviting employees to the table and putting their ideas in action, she said.
Pomeranz said he believes Cedar Rapids found the right person at the right time in city history to fill this role, and he looks forward to supporting Buch.
“She will have the team of the city behind her as we all work together to improve the diversity and equity of our city organization and community,” Pomeranz said.
Buch and Pomeranz said she and the city team welcome conversations with anyone — any community leader, community organization, nonprofit or others who wish to better extend efforts in this space.
“What I'm really excited about with this role, and I know many people are, is seeing that ripple effect,” Buch said. “With the city of Cedar Rapids, we work for the community, and anything we do we hope creates a better Cedar Rapids for everyone.”
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