Web Brown, director of the Colorado Office of Health Equity, speaks at the signing of an executive order advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in state workplaces. (Gov. Jared Polis Facebook)
An executive order advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in Colorado government — originally scheduled for March but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — was issued Aug. 27 by Gov. Jared Polis.
The order directs the Department of Personnel and Administration, or DPA, to develop policy promoting equity in state hiring and compensation practices; implement training for state employees; create a process for agencies to report their progress on improving diversity, equity and inclusion; set accessibility standards for people with disabilities and non-English speakers; and address inequities in the process through which state agencies select contractors.
“Whether you’re descended from eastern European 20th-century immigrants who fled eastern Europe for religious prosecution like me,” Polis said at the signing, “whether you’re the son or daughter of immigrants from Latin America, whether you’re descended from people who were brutally forced to come to our country, or whether you’re descended from our Indigenous residents, or you’re a son or daughter of the American Revolution — we all deserve to be seen, to be heard and to be included.”
DPA added questions on workplace equity to its employee engagement survey in 2019, Kara Veitch, the department’s executive director, said at the signing.
“More than 16,000 state employees responded, but only 50.7(%) saw leadership support of equity, diversity and inclusion,” Veitch said. “We can do better. We must do better.”
Efforts to develop the executive order — along with a policy that advances equitable treatment for state employees of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities and immigration status — began in early 2019, said John Bartley, deputy director of DPA’s human resources division.
That’s the same year state legislators passed a bill requiring DPA to study disparities in the state procurement process that exclude “historically underutilized” businesses from obtaining state contracts. The report was supposed to be finalized by December of this year and posted on the Minority Business Office website, but it’s uncertain if that timeline will hold amid the pandemic.
However, it’s clear that state officials believe disparities exist in the contracting process, whether or not the report has been finished. The executive order explicitly says DPA should use the findings of that study to “guide agencies in addressing systemic inequities posed by contracting barriers.”
Web Brown, director of the Colorado Office of Health Equity, explained that diversity, equity and inclusion each play a unique role in dismantling barriers to opportunity for people from different backgrounds.
“Diversity is about having people from all different backgrounds in our workplaces, but diversity in and of itself is not enough, because we can be diverse by accident,” he said at the signing. “Each of us diversified this space simply by being here (with) no intention involved.
“That’s where inclusion comes in, because inclusion is about what we do with our diversity. It’s about making sure those folks from different backgrounds feel welcomed, supported and valued. And finally, equity is about ensuring that everyone has what they need in order to thrive in these spaces.”
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