On My Mind-Workforce Development Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
In last month’s Journal, I shared an update on our REDI efforts closing with this vision: “We want to create an organization and society that is just and equitable, where we see people as individuals, value cultural differences, and speak out against injustice.” As I reflect on our purpose, “Breaking the spirit of poverty through the dignity of work,” and reflect on the critical work we are called to do on equity and inclusion, I am regularly asking myself:
• Are we consistently and proactively making progress?
• How do we identify inequitable practices? And what will we do about them when we do?
• Who is being excluded, and how might we create a culture of inclusion?
• How do we measure our impact today and in the future?
As I think about these questions, it confirmed my belief that expanding our knowledge is the fuel for this journey. Each of us must explore, learn, reflect, and act. Regardless of where you are at within your journey, I want to share insights from two articles I read recently, Racism and Workforce Development and Zero-Exclusion: Leave No Jobseeker Behind. Both examine the system we operate within and solidify my belief that REDI work is Workforce Development work.
Racism and Workforce Development
As workforce development professionals at Career Path Services, we want to ensure that everyone who wants to work has an opportunity to access meaningful employment, not just a “job.” I recently read this thought-provoking article that Marissa Turner shared; thanks, Marissa
The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta released the first article in a series on Racism and Workforce Development. The article discusses the ecosystem of interconnected services and programs that prepare and place workers into careers. Workforce development has been recognized for its role in connecting people to opportunity and employers to talent, operating from a perceived belief of “race neutrality” and “universalism,” if everyone has equal access and opportunity. But that denies race and racism’s role in limiting access and opportunity for Black, Indigenous, and (other non-Black) people of Color (BIPOC
The author shares the history of the public workforce development system, which started in 1933 with the Wagner-Peyser Act, developed using a meritocracy framework. The Act benefitted white workers and actively excluded the Black Workforce. The Social Security Act of 1935 was designed as a pension program for the elderly and unemployment insurance for displaced workers. At the urging of white Southern politicians, the Social Security Act excluded agriculture and domestic workers, further limiting opportunity for Blacks and other People of Color. The author shares details on The Fair Labor Standards Act and then CETA, JTPA, WIA, and WIOA, which all continued to decentralize, downsize, and focus on poverty rather than race-specific strategies.
What is the problem with that? It assumes that everyone is starting from a level playing field. Stated more directly, “when all of us in the ecosystem continue to design and implement—or ignore or enable—race-neutral programming, we are maintaining and sustaining racism and economic oppression.”
The article closes with five core areas for examination:
• How we talk about our work (the narratives that are perpetuated across the field).
• How we do our work (service delivery and program design that blames the individual rather than the system).
• The policy framework we operate in (race-neutral policies that have created the current context and widened wealth gaps).
• How we work with employers (positioning “employers as king” while silencing workers).
• How we work with funders/philanthropy (positioning funders as “all-powerful and all-knowing,” often reinforcing existing power dynamics, notions of superiority and inferiority, and determining who has value and who does not).
There is a lot to unpack here. As we dig into this work, we must recognize that the laws and policies were structured to benefit some, but not all. Attempts to equalize have had limited success but have not ended practices that exclude certain groups. Policies like Priority of Service are designed to help but are we reaching and engaging those populations? It is essential that we continually utilize and evaluate who is receiving services and ask ourselves, “Who are we missing?”.
Many of us are familiar with Chris Warland, Associate Director for Field Building, National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity, and highly respect his expertise. In his blog Zero-Exclusion: Leave No Jobseeker Behind, Chris describes a zero-exclusion approach like this: making an honest effort to connect every job seeker with employment, regardless of the barriers they face. It means deciding to structure services in a way that is accessible and effective for every job seeker. We must identify and address the ways people are or can be excluded from services.
Zero-Exclusion means that we are making an honest effort to get to a yes, even when a customer has significant barriers. It means redefining “work-ready,” ensuring we are being good stewards with our resources and getting to the people who could most benefit from them. It means utilizing an equity approach, assessing the individual’s needs, and building solutions that meet their specific needs.
As I read the article, I could not help but reflect on our ARM model, the 2nd tier of eligibility we used for years.
• Appropriate-Are our services appropriate to meet the customer’s needs? This sentiment would often get reversed to, is the customer appropriate for the program?
• Receptive-Is the customer receptive to taking the steps needed for success? It can be subjective without tools to assess properly, and even then, our own perceptions and prejudices affect our assessments.
• Most in need-This one intended to ensure access.
Now I must ask myself, did this well-intended practice increase access or has it become a screening out tool due to performance requirements? Did it create another set of hoops for people to jump through to prove they were ready and would follow through?
Please don’t get me wrong; I understand the tension of meeting contractual performance and know that you also live in it. The laws and system established performance measures to ensure good stewardship with federal resources. Still, they can also lead to inequitable practices and enroll those most likely to get a positive outcome. While it will require systems-level attention in the national, state, and local areas to make the necessary changes, this does not prevent us from using a zero-exclusion process to design and build programs now. We are already starting to do just that through mobility mentoring, essential skill development, trauma-informed practices, and formalized assessment processes. As we continue to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of our inclusion practices, what if we:
• Assumed employability of all?
• Assumed that people were motivated?
• Understood how trauma and structural barriers affect job seeker’s behavior and performance?
• Used assessments to screen in identify barriers and determine service needs?
• Eliminated exclusionary policies, rules, and practices?
You are crucial to this effort. To bring our vision to life, we each need to commit to doing individual heartwork, bringing a willingness to learn, examining our own biases, and being curious and interested in how other people see the world. This work is challenging, it may be uncomfortable, and it is essential.
These are the things that are on my mind and that of the REDI Team- Amy Trosine, Kayci Loftus, Nate Mazzuca, and me. The time is coming for us to move from learning to action, and we are ready for your input. Amy provided a comprehensive update of REDI efforts and accomplishments. If you haven’t read it, you can find it in teams or our website.
In May, a couple of REDI members will be visiting your teams and sharing our Equity Assessment results. The goal is to hear from you on the identified initiatives. You will have the opportunity to weigh in on the organization’s direction and objectives, to explore and ask questions. We want to hear your ideas on how we will fulfill our purpose and create a world where everyone has access and opportunities to connect with meaningful work, support their families, and enrich their communities.
Can you imagine a world where there is human solidarity, where every human being is valued, where poverty no longer exists? It begins with me, and it begins with you. It is hard work, demanding work. I thank you for joining me on the journey.
My Learning Links
Here are some things I am reading or listening to this month:
Building a People-Centered Infrastructure Plan
Exploring Racial Economic Equity in Workforce Development
Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery
Five Things the Public Workforce Should Do Now
Stop Asian Hate-Claire Lew
A Bit of Optimism-Simon Sinek Podcast
The Infinite Game-Simon Sinek
Get Out of Your Head with Infinity Song’s “Outside Myself”
Board Meeting April 22, 11:15-1:30
May Team visits to introduce REDI
April is National Poetry Month. I share with you The Miracle of Morning by Amanda Gorman.
“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.” Maya Angelou
stay resilient ~ seek beauty ~ keep hope ~ give kindness
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