Gov. Polis announces diversity executive order

Gov. Jared Polis announces an executive order to promote diversity and inclusion in the state's workforce on Aug. 27, 2020.

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order on Thursday that laid out a series of steps to foster diversity, inclusion and equity in the state’s workforce.

“Our state government is one of the largest employers in the state, over 30,000 people,” Polis said during a press conference at the Governor’s Residence. “Inherently the public sector has a higher standard and we want to be a model for the private sector.”

The executive order has multiple components: it establishes a universal policy to guide state agencies, requires mandatory implicit bias training, creates a tool to measure progress, and addresses systemic inequities in the state’s procurement process.

Finally, it develops statewide standards of accessibility for government buildings, systems and materials that address people's language and ability needs.

The order directs agencies to accomplish these reforms within their existing budgets, and to work with the Office of State Planning and Budgeting if they require additional resources.

Web Brown, director of the Office of Health Equity, said that the administration had originally intended to sign the order in March, but COVID-19 forced a delay.

“Diversity in and of itself is not enough, because we can be diverse by accident,” he explained. “Each of us diversified this space by being here. There was no intention involved. That’s where inclusion comes in. Because inclusion is about what we do with our diversity.”

State Personnel Director Kara Veitch said a 2019 employee survey that engaged more than 16,000 of the state’s workers found that only 51% of respondents saw leadership support the principles outlined in the order.

“We will change the way we select talent and implement solutions to barriers to employment. We will move toward skills-based hiring practices to recruit and retain a capable workforce,” she described. “And we will adopt a universal policy bringing an equity lens to hiring, compensation and retention.”

The state’s fiscal year 2018-2019 workforce report showed an approximately-$9,000 salary gap between the government’s white and Asian employees and its Black and Hispanic workers. Even for new hires, with the exception of roughly equal salaries in administrative occupations, white and Asian workers tended to earn more from the start.

A report from The Denver Post last year found the turnover rate in state government has grown to 14.5%, owing to a combination of low pay, overtime demands and morale issues. Earlier this year, Polis signed a bill to grant state workers collective bargaining power.

Correction: The percentage of state employees who observed leadership support for diversity, equity and inclusion is 51%, rather than the lesser number previously reported.

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