Delaware Public Media

Work to centralize state HR staff continues two years after racial equity report

Dec 6, 2018

A group of citizens received an update this week on efforts to address equity, diversity and inclusion issues within state government.

 


The state Department of Human Resources is still in the process of centralizing its staff and bolstering the employee complaint and grievance process, says a state official.

The changes come after an independent review two years ago found inconsistencies among state agencies in policies and priorities surrounding diversity and inclusion. It also found disparate outcomes for certain groups of state employees— from hirings to promotions.

“There was data analysis ... that found adverse impact and significantly different outcomes for some groups across employee lifecycle, meaning from recruitment through promotions and advancement,” said Keith Hunt, who joined the state as its first Chief Diversity Officer last December.

The 2016 report by the IVY Planning Group was commissioned under Gov. Jack Markell in response to allegations of systemic racism within state government by the NAACP and the Delaware Faith in Action group.

“There has been a culture [in state government] that allowed racism and white supremacy and perhaps some other discriminatory practices to fester,” said Delaware Faith in Action’s Rev. Lawrence Livingston.

The NAACP and Delaware Faith in Action conducted state-wide hearings in 2015 about discrimination in State government. According to a report commissioned by the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council of Delaware (IMAC) about the hearings, over 100 minority state employees described experiences including repeated instances of discrimination, unfair treatment, retaliation, and no redress for grievances across government departments and agencies.

Rev. Livingston is a founding member of the Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow, which invited Keith Hunt to present the update at its monthly meeting Monday.

“I feel very positive about Mr. Hunt and his presentation,” said Livingston. “I think it remains to be seen whether it will be allowed to take root and to change the system and the culture.”

Livingston adds that making management practices more consistent is important.“So that if people bring their own prejudices to the workplace, those prejudices cannot be turned into systems of discrimination."

The state Department of Human Resources and the Division of Diversity and Inclusion were created in July 2017. They were among the main recommendations of the report.

Prior to the creation of a dedicated department, HR staff worked separately within various state agencies. Hunt says the State is still in the process of shifting those staff members over to the centralized department, one agency at a time.

Hunt says he is also helping shift the State’s hiring philosophy from “post and pray” to a more proactive “talent acquisition” style of recruitment.

 

One of the 2016 report’s key findings was that “there are aspects of the State’s recruiting and hiring process that may filter out diversity and are not inclusive.”

Hunt says the Department is also working to improve the employee complaints and grievances process “by doing a much more prudent job of investigating what some of those incidents may be. And not just investigating them to resolve them, investigating them to try to get at the root cause of them.”

The report criticized state leaders, managers and employees for using the grievance process to address workplace challenges “instead of exercising sound leadership and management principles.”

Hunt says there are not yet any concrete plans to gather data on employee outcomes to evaluate the state’s progress.

Livingston also notes Delaware Faith in Action has not yet gathered information on employee experiences again in a formal way like the 2015 hearings. “The discussion has not continued at that level.”