Civil Rights Policy Unit briefs board on accomplishments from first year

March 24, 2021

From left: Civil Rights Administrator Neisha Saxena; Disability Resource Specialist Ashley Carroll; and Civil Rights Policy Analyst Veronica Cano, Ph.D.
The Civil Rights Policy Unit delivered its first board briefing Tuesday, March 16, shedding light on the massive work happening behind the scenes to translate the County’s equity and accessibility vision into real, concrete policies.

Since forming in February 2020, the three-person team has taken a central role in the greatest workforce equity and accessibility issues facing the County. The unit is charged with bringing disability, equity policy, and civil rights priorities into a uniform strategy, backed up by measurable policies and practices. 

Presenting before the Board, the team outlined a number of accomplishments during a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and a national reckoning on racial and social justice. Despite obstacles presented by the pandemic, the unit has continued to make progress in uplifting the County’s civil rights, equity policy and workforce equity data priorities.

Over the last year, the unit began conducting exit interviews with managers and directors of color voluntarily leaving the County and stay interviews with departmental equity managers. Neisha Saxena, who manages the Civil Rights Policy Unit, said those interviews have underscored the work that must be done to better support managers of color. 

“What we are seeing strongly is what we already know about how important supervisors are to people at all levels of the organization, including at the director level, and how women of color managers, in particular, take on multiple roles and significant bodies of work,” Saxena said. “And all the different pressures on leaders in this organization — especially leaders of color who experience the impacts of societal racism themselves.” 

In its first year, the team has also created an infrastructure for, and supported, civil rights and protected class complaints. The unit has also convened workgroups and committees to advance contracting for culturally specific services. And they’ve worked to make the County more welcoming to people with disabilities and advanced workplace accommodations.

For instance, when jurors were being sent home due to a lack of gender-appropriate restrooms in the County’s former Central Courthouse, the program worked with the County’s Facilities team to help identify gender-neutral bathrooms to better serve the public. 

Ashley Carroll, a disability resource specialist, is responsible for implementing recommendations from Research on Equity and Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities. Under the report, Carroll said, the team aims to create an employee accommodations workgroup; establish infrastructure to track Countywide accommodation requests; and lead a training with Organizational Learning focused on disability and racial justice. 

In conversations with HR and employees with lived experience, Carroll said, her team has also recommended having a centralized budget for accommodation needs, which departments can use to meet the accessibility needs of their employees.

“That is the perfect example of how to translate the research and the investigation and the outreach and then come up with a very concrete policy recommendation,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “I think that’s a great example of the types of things that this unit is going to bring forward.”

Another focus area from the past year includes changing how demographics are reflected in federal compliance reporting. Ronnie Cano, a civil rights policy analyst, said that the County’s demographic data collection is typically more inclusive. The team, alongside County Government Relations, hopes to work with the Biden administration to broaden federal standards. 

“We have found ourselves having to basically roll up our demographics for our current workforce to fit the needs of federal government reporting, which does not feel right and it doesn’t reflect our County mission,” Cano said. “The way that the County collects the data is much more inclusive so by race, ethnicity, we have a much broader range of categories, also by gender identity.”

As the County seeks to implement its Workforce Equity Strategic Plan, the team has also identified metrics and methods that would allow the County to meet the plan’s minimum standards. It’s also identifying data collection methods to measure progress in meeting the plan’s goals.

“I really appreciate how you speak to institutional racism, and what is happening at our own institution, and then really translate that into ... compliance and getting data,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said. “All of that is what enables us to make change in that bigger picture. So I really appreciate how you are connecting all of these things.”

By summer 2021, the team intends to present findings from its first annual Workforce Equity Strategic Plan evaluation report. The evaluation aims to examine the plan from three different levels: to what degree the plan’s minimum standards have been met; the impact of the plan’s performance measures; and the long-term impacts resulting from the plan’s implementation.

“It’s just really exciting to be at a place where we’re seeing the nuts and the bolts of how it’s implemented,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann added. “We want to address the inequities that people experience due to individual disabilities. There’s a lot more that I think our employees benefit from—from mental health to physical health—by you all digging so deep.”