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State employees convene to confront race, advance equity


Gov. Jay Inslee opened the Governor’s Equity Summit in Tacoma on Wednesday, a convention of state employees to reduce barriers to state services. Connie McCloud, a Puyallup tribal elder, delivered an opening blessing.

Nearly 1,000 state employees gathered in-person and virtually on Wednesday to join the Governor’s Equity Summit, a training session to challenge norms and systems that might create barriers to state services, employment, contracting, and education.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law in 2020 the creation of a new Office of Equity. Its mission is to work across agencies to diminish barriers and attack disparities. Inslee appointed Dr. Karen Johnson to lead the office, which is the first of its kind in the nation.

“We can set a standard for other states to follow,” said Johnson during the summit. “We can center the voice of those that have been left out and left behind.”

State employees listened to guest speakers like Philip Jacobs, author of “The Elephant in the Room.” In his book, Jacobs attests that it is easy to have big conversations about equity, but tougher to have small conversations about specific things that need to change. Employees also heard about the value of belonging, and embracing individual differences to nurture a sense of welcome for all at the workplace.

State agencies are required to publish and implement a Pro-Equity Anti-Racism (PEAR) playbook to eliminate barriers to government services and inequities based on race, gender, and other characteristics.

“Equity is done on purpose. It’s intentional. It’s a practice,” said Inslee. “The PEAR playbook is an active influence on the way we do business. We’re accountable to be our best.”