| Q&A with Peggy C. Ross, Affirmative Action Director, State of Oregon
What are the primary duties of the staff of the Governor’s Affirmative Action Office (GAAO)?
|Governor's Affirmative Action Office staff, from left: Katherine Manglona-Santos, program manager; Peggy C. Ross, director; and Joy Howard, administration.
Governor Kulongoski appointed me as the Affirmative Action Director to monitor affirmative action programs in all state agencies and to implement the public policy ORS 243.305 through the following directives:
Ensure the rights of all persons to work and advance on the basis of merit, ability, and potential with strong emphasis on women, people of color, people with disabilities, and other protected classes.
Review and discuss the affirmative action plans and affirmative action goals with agencies to identify resources for improving, if needed, the hiring and developmental opportunities of underrepresented persons.
Coordinate with the Department of Administrative Services the development and presentation of trainings designed to improve the skills and competency necessary to effectively manage affirmative action and diversity issues.
Provide tools to enable the State to mitigate the effects of the past and present discrimination, intended or unintended, on the basis of race, religion, national origin, age, sex, marital status or disabilities.
Create a workplace environment that is more welcoming, safe, stable and accessible so we can attract a more diverse applicant pool. We can achieve this by being more aware and inclusive through the use of diverse art, media publication and signage.
How does your previous professional background prepare you for your current role?
Life before government, I owned my own consulting firm where the primary objectives were cultural/climate assessment, training, outreach services, coaching, and business development for corporations of all sizes, non-profits and government entities. Provided project management, training, and consulting services, as an official service provider, for Oregon’s Minority/Women/Emerging Small Businesses (M/W/ESBs) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs). This was done through specializing in building effective relationships between employers and employees, and between businesses and communities by fostering a climate of cooperation, understanding and respect.
Is affirmative action still necessary in Oregon?
Yes. First, affirmative action is still necessary because of the lack of equality. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity (2007), Caucasian males typically earn significantly more than women and minorities and women make 71 cents less when compared to their male counterpart. Without the assistance of affirmative action, women and minorities will continue to fall behind in the workforce. To keep affirmative action alive in state employment, our workforce must be willing to create equality and welcome its diverse demographics in order to effectively remove the chains of oppression from women, minorities, people with disabilities, and other protected classes.
Second, affirmative action is needed to create a diverse and progressive workforce in state employment. Affirmative action allows people from different races, cultures and backgrounds to interact in the workplace. Diverse opinions, experiences, backgrounds, talents, aspirations and perspectives will create an intellectual exchange and exploration of growth opportunities for all state employees.
From an economic standpoint, why does affirmative action and diversity make sense here in state government?
Diversity must be aligned with the strategic business plan of any state agency because in its broadest definition, diversity is about hiring and retaining the best professionals who possess different knowledge, skills, abilities, competencies and creativity. These professionals then partner to execute the state agency’s strategy, a strategy designed to deliver extraordinary customer service and foster existing and potential customer relationships. Diversity, employee retention, customer growth, and reducing the cost of doing business are all interdependent.
Cost containment, customer retention and market growth round out the compelling reasons why building and executing a comprehensive retention strategy is paramount to the success of state government. After all, we are in the business to serve the people!
What are your top priorities?
Again, my priorities are to follow the directives of Governor Kulongoski. He says all the time, “that it’s the right of every person to work and advance on the basis of merit, ability and potential.” This is why he wants us to have a strong emphasis on the recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion of women, people of color and people with disabilities.
What programs are working well for the state’s Affirmative Action office?
In conjunction with state agencies, we have focused our efforts to develop programs that include data discrimination analysis, exit interview surveys, and other projects to create a welcoming, safe environment to reflect the growing and changing diverse population. The following are examples of some of these programs:
Cultural Competency Assessment/Implementation Services Program: This is a proactive management strategy designed to identify best practices and reduce any discriminatory behaviors that may exist. Addressing and achieving cultural competency is an on-going journey, not a destination. Through an RFP process two consultants were identified to conduct the cultural competency assessment and implement this program. What we’re continuing to do is to make our workplace a welcoming environment and make the state of Oregon “Employer of Choice.”
Affirmative Action Workgroup: GAAO convenes a monthly workgroup with State’s Affirmative Action Representatives to encourage resource sharing and to design education and awareness strategies. The workgroup continues to educate and share methods and resources to reduce discrimination, enhance recruitment and retention of the protected classes, and identify patterns of complaints and or concerns that are occurring within the agencies and share solutions.
Exit Interview Survey: In collaboration with the Departments of Administrative Services (DAS), and Department of Justice (DOJ) we developed an “Exit Interview” survey tool through SurveyMonkey.com to be used by all agencies. This is an important tracking measurement and comparison tool for state government.
Art Collaboration Program from OYA’s, Youth Correctional Facilities: We are collaborating with OYA to use the artwork from the youth to assist in the creation of a welcoming environment in State agencies on a rotational basis. The youth will have an opportunity to create and showcase their artwork in various mediums.
GAAO has received diverse artwork from Oregon Youth Authority’s (OYA’s) MacLaren School to showcase in our office.
Community Outreach Engagements: The GAAO continues to build trust within local and national communities by working and developing key relationships with private, public, academic and faith-based organizations, ethnic chambers, Tribes and other communities to improve outreach. These relationships allow the Governor’s Affirmative Action staff to speak at their meetings, encourage these groups to apply for jobs at the state, and join State Boards and Commissions.
What do you see the most pressing issues facing communities of color?
As far as the workplace goes, it is accessing the state job announcements, filling out the PD100, managing to get the position, go through a detailed orientation process on arrival at agencies and this is repeated after a few months on the job, receiving the tools necessary to perform the job well, and then establishing a connection for advancement opportunities.
What aspect of your work do you find most challenging?
One of the most challenging aspects is that I know within each state agency there are a number of hidden gems. There are a number of employees that go unnoticed and who have skills and talents that have not been recognized by their supervisors. If these are acknowledge these employees would then be given opportunities to explore other roles within the agency and have the ability to move upward.
One of the ways to identify these hidden gems is to look at the employees that have been with the agency for awhile and have remained in the same position. Identify them, speak to them about their hopes, dreams and aspirations and see if there is an upward opportunity for them, and if they are interested in moving up the agency ladder. If no action is taken, agencies will miss the opportunity to develop these employees as future leaders.
Another challenging aspect of my position is when there are programs that work and are not known by others. We encourage agencies to really use the programs that are working as a bragging tool and to share their best practices with other agencies and eliminate the reinvention of the wheel. There also are programs that work and are not utilized to their full potential to recruit a diverse applicant pool and retain and promote women, people of color, people with disabilities and other protected classes.
What are you most proud of?
To see the hidden gems in our workplaces grow and advance. Some employees haven’t had a chance to really shine, and our work is helping them advance and be promoted. We’re also proud of agency directors who have worked with our office on retention and promotion issues, to ensure that they keep talented workers they were about to loose.
Watching the work of the Affirmative Action Workgroup is rewarding. Their input helps our office identify where we need to put emphasis on trainings and other activities. In addition to various outreach efforts, we engage in “in-reach” – that is, to improve internal mechanism and address disparity on many levels within an agency. This has led us to see positive work from affirmative action representatives from state agencies by sharing their best practices at the affirmative action workgroup.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
Our office does not only handle complaints and or concerns but our office been instrumental in putting effective retention strategies by working with agency directors, HR managers and supervisors to ensure that we do not loose talented employees, being proactive in providing resources for applicants who are looking for position within state government.
Seeing people grow. Learning more about the different cultures I encounter. It’s rewarding to see results from some of our programs, and know that they really do work. People want to do the right thing, and it’s great to see more and more people who are beginning to look at things differently and to put them into positive action. We must take this journey to overcome the challenges by following our own mantra "Affirmative Action Works - Diversity Enriches - Cultural Competent Leadership Stabilizes."