UD grad working to change view of DEI in Springfield

Pictured is Karen Graves. Photo courtesy of the City of Springfield.

TJ Thompson | Contributing Writer

Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have had a negative connotation since companies have started implementing them in the past few years. The city of Springfield’s new strategic engagement manager is making strides in her community to change the perception.

Karen Graves became Springfield’s strategic engagement manager in early 2023. For the past 19 years, she has been working as the assistant to the city manager for public affairs for the city of Lebanon. She graduated from Wright State University with a degree in mass communications and a minor in French. She earned her master’s in communications from the University of Dayton.

You may be asking yourself, what does a strategic engagement manager do? 

“An average day really consists of meeting needs that are already set, programs that we already have established that we work on on a continual basis,” Graves said. Whether it is setting up interviews for the city’s podcasts that are posted twice a month, posting to social media, publishing the newsletter to keep residents involved, or continuing to grow the IDEAS initiative. 

The IDEAS initiative was started before Graves took over her role. But since she has been there, she has been able to broaden the program. IDEAS is an acronym for inclusion, diversity, equity, and awareness in Springfield. The city started this program as a way to bring the organization closer together. 

Graves has made it so that all branches of the city government feel more included. She also talked about the city’s ongoing battle to retain jobs. 

“So this was just a way I think for the city to make everybody feel more included and to also really laser focus in on that retention piece because like with any industry right now, struggling to not only track, but keep the ones [employees] they have,” she said.

Graves said she changed the name from DEI to IDEAS to try and get away from the stigma that DEI has around it. 

“I rebranded it and that is why it’s now IDEAS. DEI can sometimes have a little bit of stigma around it,” she said. “People think it’s training. So, I think by rebranding it to IDEAS that gives it something a little more tangible. I think just the acronym itself speaks to what the mission is. You know, we want to hear everyone’s ideas.”

“Chief Chat,” a podcast Graves started when she was hired, features the city’s police and fire chiefs who talk about public safety issues. 

“I think it’s created engagement,” Graves said. “It’s a way to get them out in the community where they can talk about things that kind of gives like a little authenticity and it just gives the community a chance to sort of see their leadership in a different light.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion might have recently become a part of Karen Graves’ job title, but she is far from unfamiliar with the program. Graves has been on the diversity council at the Dayton Art Institute for 10 years and she has always had passion for projects in the space. 

“It is just a fundamental right,” she said in answering why she is so passionate about DEI initiatives. “You know, like it’s just a real no-brainer. I think I have been so personally fortunate to be affected in such a positive way in my personal development through the people I’ve met who are of minority groups that I don’t even know who I would be if I had not.”

Graves might be new to the Springfield area and its people, but she is passionate about continuing to bring positive change to the city.

“When I got here, I was just charmed by the downtown,” she said. “I was like, ‘wow, this is lovely.’ The people have the spirit of cooperation and volunteerism, and the collaboration is the strongest here that I have ever worked with.”

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