By Dr. Camille Broussard Wise | Special to The OBSERVER
OPINION – I have spent most of my career working in government, including more than 20 years in the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco, with a focus on equity and making our systems work for everyone. I’ve worked with five mayors on city and countywide initiatives involving social services delivery, program and policy development, and task forces addressing inequities created by racism, classism, homophobia, and sexism.
Sacramento County, where I live, declared that racism is a public health crisis in 2020 – a good first step. Recently, the county followed up that declaration by publishing a job listing for a Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer.
As the job description currently reads, I don’t think I’m even eligible to be considered for the position. Why? Because I have never worked as a Human Resources Manager for Sacramento County or another human resources (HR) or labor relations office.
It’s quite frustrating to see this heavy focus on HR experience – and not DEI experience – for a DEI Officer position. Just look at the job description – you’ll see many HR capabilities listed but hardly any mention of DEI.
I have demonstrated DEI expertise through extensive academic studies and professional work. I’ve published research and recommendations on the organizational barriers to career advancement for historically marginalized professionals. I’ve taught administrators and educators how to embed equity in their organizations. I’ve provided executive leaders and entrepreneurs with DEI assessments and action plans. Most importantly, I have lived experience as a person harmed by systemic “isms and phobias.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. I have no interest in applying for the DEI officer position. I love running my own consulting firm, where I teach diverse women professionals and entrepreneurs how to uplevel their pay, power, and peace despite the systemic foolery they face.
But I know we have a very deep bench of local talent in Sacramento. There are plenty of equally qualified, proven DEI change agents who SHOULD apply and be considered. Many of them won’t even be able to get through the screening process. I’m big mad about it and you should be, too.
Here’s what the County got wrong and how to make it right.
They made this a human resources position when it shouldn’t be. HR is only one aspect of DEI. To place this position anywhere but at the right hand of the seat of power at the County – as an executive policy advisor – is to hobble it from the start. This position needs autonomy, authority, and the ability to hold people accountable to be effective.
Sacramento County: You should work with local equity advocates and experts to develop appropriate qualifications for a Chief DEI Officer position. If you need to create a brand new civil service classification to create the position and that takes more time, so be it. Be deliberate and intentional to get it right.
If you continue the current recruitment process, you will need patience. The City of Sacramento listed their DEI Manager position multiple times before filling the position in 2018.
If your outreach doesn’t net a dynamic equity change agent who understands this community’s challenges with systemic racism, and not just HR, revise and repost the position. Don’t settle until you find someone with the appropriate expertise to make systems change both internally to the County as a workforce, and externally to disrupt inequities experienced by the community.
DEI goes far beyond recruitment and retention of employees; beyond implicit bias training, beyond assuming that our current state is neutral. Our current systems cause harm, and we need a systemic and community-informed approach to transform our systems. We have to
reverse engineer equity. The siloed thinking and processes we have used in the past to address workforce and community needs, such as making DEI an HR function, inadvertently perpetuate the very inequities and barriers we are trying to remove.
Start with the change the community wants to see, then work backwards to identify an appropriate process and change agent. In other words…this ain’t it!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Camille Broussard Wise is founder and CEO of Wise Leadership Consulting.