Colorado’s Focus on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workforce

Staff participating in a virtual video call.

Staff participating in a virtual video call. SHUTTERSTOCK

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | Through ongoing conversations, strategic development and measurable goals, Colorado is working to increase equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the state government workforce.

We are living in a moment in our country’s history where Americans, more than ever, are demanding an end to the racial injustice that is entrenched and ubiquitous in our society. More Americans have opened their minds to the impact of inequitable government systems on our neighbors. This presents us with an opportunity to take action and make meaningful changes in the way we do business and build our workforces.

As public servants, we’re most effective when our workforce resembles the communities they serve. Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis developed his governing philosophy around building a “Colorado for All.” This philosophy stretches across all areas related to policy, legislative priorities and executive action. The international movement against racism over the past several months has amplified our need to address inequalities in our workplaces. As Colorado’s state personnel director and chief administrator, I am charged with incorporating that philosophy by improving equity, diversity and inclusion efforts across our state agencies.

Our employees have communicated through engagement surveys and listening sessions that they want a more inclusive workplace. We listened to what they said and, now, we’re turning what we heard into action.

To increase our efforts around equity, diversity and inclusion in Colorado’s state workforce, we are taking a multi-pronged approach to examine where inequalities exist and identify solutions to eliminate disparities across the talent lifecycle.

To jump start our efforts, Gov. Polis created a cabinet-level working group that develops solutions to systemic inequities in the state workforce that we can implement based on agency needs. As a result, Colorado agencies are reviewing their talent selection requirements. This includes shifting our emphasis to skills-based hiring rather than solely focusing on experience and credentials. Skills-based practices not only help with talent acquisition but also with retention, workforce diversity and morale.

We are also reexamining our recruitment strategies to increase engagement with underrepresented communities and exploring several interventions, including:

  • Using an equity lens to establish new standards and guidance for job announcements and position descriptions to remove barriers and foster inclusion;
  • Providing training to HR professionals and leaders on authentic community engagement with an eye to talent pipelining;
  • Conducting implicit bias training for all hiring panels; and
  • Recruiting hiring panels with a diversity of experiences and perspectives and considering the inclusion of community partners.

Additionally, our Division of Human Resources has developed and will deploy training to existing employees and leaders across state government designed to provide common understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion terms, historical context and simple interventions for disrupting bias.

As leaders, we have the ability and responsibility to identify and implement changes that address the unique challenges of the communities we serve surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion. We’re doing that in Colorado, but we know we don’t have all the answers. That’s why I’m engaging with my counterparts across the country in a variety of virtual engagements including the National Association of State Chief Administrator’s thought leadership series as a way to continue learning and identifying solutions to usher in the change we desire.  

We are still at the beginning of our journey to create a more inclusive workforce. These efforts require long-term, ongoing strategies and conversations. In addition, we are also creating accountability measures so that we can consistently assess our progress and ensure our employees are able to bring their true selves to the workplace and grow in their careers.

Equity, diversity and inclusion will remain a focus of Colorado state government for years to come. But this moment is an opportunity for us all to ensure our state workforces reflect the communities we serve and tear down the systems that have systematically hindered the ability of people of color to progress in our society.

Kara Veitch is Colorado’s State Personnel Director and Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Personnel & Administration.

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