Employee workgroup takes on equity challenges

This article is by Corinne Easter, Administrative Specialist with the King County Office of Risk Management Services

When thinking about Equity and Social Justice (ESJ), most people immediately think about age, ethnicity, and gender. Fewer people look deeper and realize that job classification can also be an ESJ issue. Shawn Abernethy, Human Resources Manager for the Department of Executive Services (DES) has been leading a group focused on just that: equity within workgroups.

Shawn summarizes their 2018 action items by saying, “In 2018, we have been focused on three main goals. We are building an equitable and inclusive workplace culture, building a more racially diverse and culturally responsive workforce at all levels, and creating equitable employee development and access to opportunities.”

Pictured: Left to right are Robert James, Jennifer Irwin, Shawn Abernethy, Christina Davidson, Miesha Vaughn, Sandy Treibel and Cecelia Hayes.

From the team, Supported Employment Program Manager Christina Davidson, Senior Human Resources Analyst Robert James and Claims Investigator, Miesha Vaughn have taken the lead on these three goals. Christina and Miesha created several focus groups to engage employees in classifications that have limited access to training due to alternative work schedules, all day fieldwork or continuous customer-facing positions. A second group, led by Miesha, evaluated the effectiveness of mentorship programs as an avenue to work towards career goals. The third group, led by Robert, worked with DES human resources staff and individuals from the Human Resources Division to help visualize workforce demographics, recruitment data, and identify disparities in diverse hires.

Why is it important to focus on workforce equity? Miesha answered this by saying, “Everyone should have equal access to learning and development. We have a lot of untapped talent out there and people deserve the opportunity to develop it.” Three members of the focus group committee also answered this question. Jeff Steuby, Lead Transit Custodian, said, “It’s important to be a voice for front-line employees, and give them permission to be proactive about their careers.”

Pictured: From left to right are Saybre Locke and Jeff Steuby.

Saybre Locke, Custodian for the Facilities and Management Division, added, “By telling our own stories at the focus groups, we created a ‘safe space’ for employees to engage in honest dialogue.”

Michael Rheubottom, Rail Station Custodian, continued, “We were in the field talking to real people. What surprised me was that the different positions and trades didn’t matter, we were all experiencing the same issues.”

Caroline Whalen, Director of the Department of Executive Services, reflects on her team’s work by saying, “I’ve learned a lot from reading Stephen Covey’s books on management and leadership and he said, ‘Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.’  King County’s goal to have county management reflect our community demographics aligns with this management principle.”

“DES has a remarkable Workforce team helping us to reach this goal, she continued. “I appreciate their approach that began by listening to employees who have jobs in the lower salary ranges to get their ideas and creating development plans that help those employees achieve their career goals.”

With about half of these projects completed, Miesha and Christina plan on publishing their focus group findings in the next few weeks, while the mentorship pilot that ended in July will have participant data analyzed for relevant information and themes. Similarly, Robert’s group is still collecting data, and he will see what can be done with it to help different groups advance into management positions.

The positive feedback and reception of this group’s work re-enforces the importance of King County’s Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan. Providing employees with equitable work groups and a supportive environment is necessary for career development. This workgroup will continue its work through 2022.