Nov. 4, 2022
CWU Leads Coalition Seeking to Develop More Equitable Hiring Practices Statewide
Many employers tout their commitment to creating more equitable opportunities for all, but a variety of factors often stand in the way of these organizations realizing their goals. Thanks to the work of business and higher-education leaders around the state—including representatives from Central Washington University—that dynamic may be about to change.
After receiving initial buy-in from some of Washington’s largest employers—including Starbucks, T-Mobile, Boeing, Costco, and Delta Dental—the Washington Employers for Racial Equity (WERE) organization is now at the precipice of some potentially groundbreaking work that has the potential to level the economic playing field over the next five to 10 years.
Alongside a coalition of more than 80 prominent businesses in Washington, CWU has become one of the driving forces in the effort to create more equity across all employment sectors. With help from former Governor Chris Gregoire and business leaders around the state, Central has joined forces with the University of Washington, Washington State University, and Seattle University on promoting higher ed’s role in the statewide effort to change how our society approaches these longstanding socioeconomic disparities.
Over the past 18 months, the coalition has developed a multi-faceted plan they hope will create tangible change in a system that has been traditionally unbalanced in terms of advancement and equity for BIPOC employees.
CWU College of Business lecturer Andy Parks has contributed his extensive background in emotional intelligence, while the partner institutions have shared their own areas of expertise: business development (UW); mindfulness-based anti-racism programs (WSU); and mentoring programs (Seattle U). The result has been a cooperative effort that has transcended the traditional relationships between competing higher ed institutions.
“This has truly been a team effort, and it’s been great to see everyone pull together for a common cause,” said Parks, who has been working alongside representatives from all four universities to develop a long-term plan that could positively affect the lives of millions. “If any one of us tried to do this individually, it wouldn’t have worked. “But by combining our expertise and taking advantage of everyone’s strengths, we have built something we can all be proud of.”
What is WERE?
WERE is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that has delivered a renewed sense of hope for the economic equality movement statewide since it was formed in 2020. The organization’s overarching belief is that all Washingtonians should have the same opportunities, free from the barriers of racism. Over the past two years, a coalition of employers statewide has united around the goal of supporting Black Washingtonians and building a future rooted in equity for all.
WERE also has partnered with the business schools of Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)-accredited universities in Washington to advance its mission and objectives. The business school coalition is led by a steering committee and two sub-committees: the Pipeline for Black and Indigenous Talent and Supplier Diversity. Sub-committee membership consists of business school deans and DEI advocates from each AACSB university.
Working in conjunction with WERE Executive Director Shirline Wilson, the Pipeline for Black and Indigenous Talent sub-committee identified three focus areas for 2022:
- Create a central repository of DEI support tools and resources that both the business and academic community can easily access;
- Improve the experience and outcomes for both interns of color and their managers; and
- Develop a multi-institutional 12-week Leadership Training initiative for BIPOC employees and their mentors/managers.
Parks believes one of the major benefits of the Leadership Training program—scheduled to begin early next year—is that it will be a platform to share and learn about the lived experiences of others in a safe and mindfulness-based environment. He expects this shared understanding will help build authentic curiosity and empathy among program participants.
“We acknowledge that this isn’t an easy path, and it will require that these current and future leaders step out of their comfort zone,” he said. “The other benefit is that after the training is over, the tools and skills from this course will be used in the organizations in a ‘pay it forward’ model.”
CWU College of Business Dean Jeffrey Stinson commended Central’s three institutional partners for approaching the WERE initiative’s sub-committee work with an open mind. He applauded each participant’s ability to bypass long-established relationship norms between competing universities to introduce a program that could affect the lives of millions of people.
“No one has been proprietary about it,” he said. “Everyone has been willing to sit in the same room and work toward a shared goal. Being able to bring all of these segments together is unique, and I’m proud CWU has taken a leadership role.”
Kandee Cleary, CWU’s vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity, says it’s long past time for Washington employers—including colleges and universities—to address the inequities that have always existed in our economic system.
“People of color face challenges in the workplace that other people don’t, and this program is going to help us address some of the major equity issues our society is dealing with,” Cleary said. “By combining our expertise with that of other institutions, we believe we can help clear a path to success for everyone.”
CWU Takes the Lead
CWU diversity advocate and outreach specialist Andria Keirn spearheaded another major undertaking: the online central repository. She started working on the all-encompassing internet resource last spring as a way of providing all of the coalition members with a shared space to talk about racial equity.
The comprehensive, user-friendly page includes national research and statistics, community of practice areas to advance racial equity in the workplace, a DEI glossary, antiracism resources, accountability resources, and much more.
“We wanted to make sure everyone had the resources they needed so they could take their organizations to the next level,” said Keirn, who focused on four major content areas—hiring and recruitment; retention of Black talent; talent development and promotion; and transitioning from mentorship to sponsorship.
“The idea was to create an accessible page with articles, videos, and podcasts that would relate to every organization’s individual efforts,” she added. “This is very important work, and it’s great to see CWU—and Andy, specifically—take the lead on such an important issue.”
As Stinson noted, the WERE initiative may not have come together so seamlessly if it weren’t for Parks, a person of color who brings a unique combination of corporate executive and higher education faculty experience to the discussion.
“Being able to accomplish everything we have in just 18 months is a true testament to Andy’s commitment and desire to do something, not just talk about it,” Stinson said of Parks, who was a global account director with Coca-Cola before coming to CWU in 2017. “We believe this is the start of something really big, and organizations around the state are going to feel the impact once it takes off.”
Cleary concurred, saying: “Andy was critical in moving this effort forward and it wouldn’t have happened without him.”
Central’s efforts to unite the higher education community have not gone unnoticed by the state WERE office, which was founded in 2020 after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Wilson, WERE’s executive director, commended the involvement of the entire coalition, noting that the work being done by the four higher ed institutions is “completely new.”
“We’ve never done anything like this, and we are very excited about the proposal Andy and the team have put together,” she said. “One of the reasons we were so interested in investing in this program is that we have been wanting to offer transformational initiatives that go beyond anti-bias and anti-racist training.”
Wilson pointed out that workplace DEI initiatives often begin with good intentions, but once the mandatory trainings have been completed, companies tend to fall back into old patterns and return to what they’ve always done.
“We need to figure out how to think in different ways about hiring and talk about some of the habits we continue to see year after year,” she said. “But how do you change cultures and have those difficult conversations? This program gets to the heart of the issue because it encourages growth and development in a group that has been traditionally disenfranchised (African-Americans). To see any real change, we all have to come together and think about how to make Washington state a more equitable place to live and work.”
Wilson has been equally encouraged by the buy-in from the Washington business community, noting that all of the corporations currently expressing interest in the WERE initiative have inquired about it voluntarily.
“Nothing has been thrust upon them,” she said. “They have already identified the problems and have said they want to pay closer attention to them so they can make the changes needed to create a more equitable system for all.”
Media Contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, David.Leder@cwu.edu, 509-963-1518