COMMENTARY: Carney taking wrong road in fighting workplace discrimination

Over the last year, there have been a number of news articles about racial, gender and other types of discrimination in our state of Delaware workforce. Several articles cited the almost half a million dollar external IVY study that gave examples of possible discrimination and areas with opportunities for improvement.

To leave this go unchecked is both disturbing and frustrating. It is disturbing because Gov. John Carney is taking the same failed approach as previous Gov, Jack Markell in hoping the problem will go away over time by paying exorbitant fees for studies and additional personnel that tell us what we already know.

It is frustrating because this unfairly reflects negatively on the management team in our state government overall. There are thousands of state supervisors and managers, of various shapes and shades, who do an outstanding job in promoting a trusting, caring, non-discriminatory work environment for all employees.

Bill Bowden

In fact, these are the overwhelming majority. We should be thankful and applaud their outstanding efforts.

As to be expected, there are some in these positions of authority, that need additional training, support and direction to fulfill their moral and legal obligations as managers. The really bad news is there may be some in management that need to be eliminated from the workforce.

Earlier this year Gov. Carney issued a new executive order that is a “single, uniform [anti-discrimination] policy, which will be the controlling standard for all executive branch agencies.” While providing a uniform approach is helpful, it is only a gesture if there are no consequences for not abiding by it.

A very thorough Executive Order No. 8 issued by previous Gov. Markell in 2009 already says this type of behavior will not be tolerated and “will be vigorously enforced by the governor.”

Apparently, some agency organizations didn’t get the message. The focus should be: “why aren’t all of the over 3,000 supervisors and managers following these directives?”

The Ivy study and the governor’s action plan called for multiple actions to continue the work to ensure all employees work in an inclusive, non-discriminatory workplace. These earlier suggestions included the establishment of a new cabinet position, the establishment of a Chief Diversity Officer, and the issuance of a new executive order proclaiming that these types of behavior will not be tolerated.

It also provided that the new governor would talk with the agency heads to make sure they understand why this is the right thing to do.

I would suggest that the majority of these actions (while not harmful) are not what is needed. What is needed is for the governor to embrace the fact that he is the “chief diversity officer” and the “chief executive officer” and needs to hold all employees accountable to follow the state’s policies/procedures as spelled out in Executive Order No. 8 that has been in effect for about 10 years.

There are already many mandatory state policies and procedures in place to help guide the workforce in making sure that we have a trusting, caring, inclusive and non-discriminatory workplace.

When this all flared up several years ago, a member of the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council suggested supervisors and their employees need to do a better job of talking with each other. I agree and I would strongly suggest that Gov. Carney hold each Cabinet secretaries accountable to complete an immediate review of their organizations to determine how well they are complying with requirements that are already in place to drive these conversations.

Relevant performance measures need to be established at all levels of the state government (including the governor.) These measurements will help the state’s management team and the governor identify opportunities for improvement, track implementation on an ongoing basis, and identify and work groups where corrective action needs to be put in place.

Some measurement examples (but not limited to) are:

• What percentage of their employees had meaningful performance reviews at the end of last year?

• What percentage of employees had meaningful performance plans established?

• What percentage of employees are currently on performance improvement plans?

• How many employees were given an opportunity to provide input into their training and development plan?

• What percentage of employees disagreed with their assessment?

• How many employees filed a discrimination complaint? How many are resolved or unaddressed?

• What is the number of unresolved discrimination claims from last year?

• How many employee complaints were filed with the Federal EEOC? What is the current status of any and all open grievances?

Another area the governor should pursue to help move this forward would be to identify those organizations within state government that are ”Islands of Excellence” where employee development and management are being handled in exceptional ways.

He and his team should learn from these and work to have all organizations see how they can possibly adopt the successful methods.

Over my career in the private sector, I have worked for a number of successful chief executive officers and none of them would have addressed this problem in the manner currently being pursued.

We certainly don’t need another study, we don’t need a new Cabinet secretary, we don’t need a chief diversity officer and we don’t need to continue this wait and hope strategy. We need all state employees to feel they work in a trusting, caring environment where their ideas and actions are valued.

It is both morally and legally an imperative. We need Gov. Carney to accept his responsibilities as the CEO, get involved, and start leading the state workforce by taking action to resolve this.

Bill Bowden, of Wilmington, is a retired Verizon Delaware executive, past president of the Delaware Quality Award, and served for eight years in state government as the executive director of Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information

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