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Study calls for diversity action plan in state workplaces

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By Kathy Canavan

The study Gov. Jack Markell ordered to gauge racism in state workplaces calls for a new cabinet-level diversity officer, a cabinet-level human resources director and a summit on racism.

The $468,275 study also calls for grading managers on how inclusive they are, more diversity training,  tracking whether members of certain groups are hired, internal and external marketing campaigns to share the state’s stance on diversity, and an assessment of the quality of services the state delivers to residents of different demographic groups.

Gov. John Carney

Gov. John Carney said he will create a cabinet-level human resources post.

All the deadlines tied to the report’s recommendations fall during the administration of Gov. John C. Carney Jr., who faced a $350 million budget shortfall as he was inaugurated last week.

“How the recommendations get implemented will be up to the next administration, and I want to provide a blueprint without tying their hands,” Markell said. “The report provided deep analysis of the current state of our workforce, making it clear we must continue our commitment to ensuring a welcoming and supportive environment for all our employees and I continue to believe we should be concerned by the complaints that were brought forward.”

Markell ordered the study after the NAACP and African-American ministers marched on his office last February to protest alleged racism among state employees. Ivy Planning Group, a woman-owned and minority-owned firm from Rockville, Md., was paid $468,275 plus travel expenses for it last year.

Although there are three separate organizations in place to counter racism within state government, the study found they all “face challenges.” The Governor’s Council on Equal Employment Opportunity was not designed to drive change, it said. The Office of Anti-Discrimination doesn’t have sufficient resources to resolve complaints and most state employees don’t know it exists, it said. The report’s take on the state human resources office was: “The complexity of the human resources system and the placement of human resources management impact the human resources professional’s ability to be efficient and effective.”

Although the percentage of people of color among the state’s 16,486 employees mirrors the state population, the study showed people of color are hired and promoted less frequently, disciplined more, fired more often and they file more workplace grievances. The number of people of color who were “involuntarily separated” was almost double the number of white employees.

James Collins

James Collins, secetary of the Department of Technology heads the Governor’s Council.

“Some of the lower-level positions have very rigid policies on attendance and timeliness because they’re providing health care and oversight of inmates. If those policies are violated, that results in involuntary separation,” said James Collins, chairman of the Governor’s Council on Equal Employment Opportunity.

“The report really tries to get to some of the root causes of why we are where we are, and it tries to lay out a path forward,” Collins said. “It will certainly be up to the next administration as to the how.”

In response to the report, Carney said: “I take concerns about discrimination very seriously and will take steps as governor to combat discrimination across state government, including working with the General Assembly to create a cabinet-level personnel office to focus on these issues.”

Collins said the number of people of color in state government has kept pace with the population, but there are some areas of “chronic underrepresentation” when you drill down into departments. He said the report keys in on some issues that are “not going to just organically revise themselves.”

He said strategic direction is necessary to change them: “If you apply to the state, you’re more likely to get hired if you are not a person of color. One of the things that affects this is the pipeline. If the state looks where it always looks, advertises where it always advertises, it’s going to get what it’s always gotten.”

Janet Crenshaw Smith

Janet Crenshaw Smith’s study made recommendations to make state workplaces more diverse and more inclusive.

Janet Crenshaw Smith, president of Ivy Planning, said some issues could be solved with better training and communications. Referring to the fact that black employees file almost twice as many grievances as white employees, she said, “You don’t have to turn everything into a grievance. Things that could be addressed with a conversation are turned into a grievance,” she said.

In her introduction to the report, Smith wrote: “Our work has revealed that it is difficult to ignore the important role that history and the systemic impact of racism plays in how people experience the world. That history creates distrust, cynicism and anger. “It also creates a sense of helplessness and hopelessness “¦ almost implying that nothing can be done.”

She also quoted Markell’s 2016 state-of-the-state address in the report: “The recognition of the discriminatory sins of prior generations also presents an opportunity to reflect on whether we have learned history’s lessons- whether we are living up to our core values of opportunity and equality for all people.”

Armed with 5,699 returned surveys and the results of interviews and 110 internal focus groups with employees, the study found more white and Hispanic employees said they have good relations with people of different races on their team than Asians or African-Americans. More whites and Asian said they have had good opportunities for promotions than blacks and Hispanics did.

The 151-page report said some managers are implementing best practices in diversity, but diversity and inclusion are not consistent priorities across state agencies.

The focus group subjects were 59 percent people of color. The online survey was sent to 14,068 employees, but 68 percent of the 5,699 respondents were white.

Smith, in her report, proposed at least one change that was shot down immediately – classes that would prepare only members of protected classes for applying for promotions. “The firm wanted people of color. Our response was if we’re going to put them in place, they have to be for all employees,” Collins said.

Michael A. Bagan

Michael A. Bagan is executive director of AFSCME.

Michael A. Begatto, executive director of Delaware Public Employees Council 81 AFSCME, said union members have far more complaints against the state than against other governmental entities such as New Castle County, and the majority of complaints are race and gender related. 

View of racial progress depends on your race

A Pew Research Center survey shows 64 percent of blacks believe blacks are treated less fairly than whites in the workplace, but a survey of whites showed only 22 percent of white workers believe that.

Seventy-five percent of black workers said lower quality schools are a major reason blacks may have a harder time getting ahead than whites, and 70 percent said racial discrimination is a major reason why blacks may have a harder time getting ahead than whites, but only 36 percent of whites agreed. Whites believed blacks may have a harder time because of family instability (55 percent), lower quality schools (53 percent), lack of good role models (51 percent), lack of jobs (45 percent) and lack of motivation to work hard (43 percent).

Eight years after President Barack Obama’s election, only 8 percent of blacks and 38 percent of whites believe the country has made the changes needed to give black equal rights, according to Pew’s The Nation in Black and White survey, released in June. 

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