State’s chief diversity officer is taking crucial first steps, bringing inclusion to the fore

By Anjalee Khemlani
Trenton | Sep 4, 2018 at 11:37 am

The role of chief diversity officer is one of the latest trends for businesses and schools of all sizes, with significant growth in some of the biggest global companies in recent years.

According to Indeed, postings of the position are reaching all-time highs.

“As of February of 2018, diversity and inclusion postings, as a share of all postings in Indeed, are up 18 percent from the previous year and 35 percent higher than levels from two years past,” according to a March post by Indeed. “These postings fluctuated around the same level from 2014 through 2016. However, in early 2017, postings hit a historical high, and after slumping later in 2017 rose to another high at the turn of the year.”

The state of New Jersey has caught on to the trend at the executive level of government.

Gov. Phil Murphy hired Hester Agudosi in April as the state’s chief diversity officer to oversee greater inclusion efforts, both within the government’s hiring practices, as well as for third-party and contractor positions.

This was one of the recommendations by the governor’s transition team for a stronger and fairer economy, according to the transition team report posted in January.

“The governor should appoint a chief diversity officer,” the report said. “Conducting a disparity study should be one of the CDO’s first priorities. The disparity study should recommend effective strategies for diversifying state procurement. This might include starting a ‘supply chain matching’ website, which allows businesses to connect to local suppliers.”

Agudosi told ROI-NJ in a recent interview the study is a top priority, as well as a strategic plan for her office. If all goes well, the office will lay the foundation, a blueprint of sorts, that the state can use for years to come, she said.

It only makes sense in the state.

“Out of the 8. 9 million residents, 45 percent are people of color,” she said. “Minority- and women-owned businesses comprise over half of the firms in the state, with 237,000 minority firms and 250,000 women-owned firms.

“So, that has the potential to be a real strong economic engine for the state. As an attorney and a former prosecutor, I think that’s the best way to make your case — with facts.”

Here’s another fact: Fewer than 10 percent of contracts with the state go to diverse businesses; it’s a number that has remained unmoved since the last time it was looked at, under Jim McGreevey’s administration.

“So the first thing for me as, as I indicated that data and metrics are important … in the absence of really having that data, I developed an assessment survey that goes out to all the departments and agencies to give me the information that I need to get a profile, not only on the workforce diversity side, but also on the supplier diversity side,” she said. “And so, upon receiving that information then, that will be guidance and instructive for developing for those particular departments and agencies some of their programming and goals that they should then be directed to as part of a statewide strategic plan.”

That diversity even needs to be addressed in 2018 in a diverse state such as New Jersey isn’t puzzling for Agudosi.

“We deal with a diverse population,” she said. “Our clients are … the citizens of New Jersey. We know New Jersey is the third-most-diverse state in the country. So, being able to integrate and to be able to deliver the services that we do as government, as well as the supplier diversity, being able to be engaging to minority- and women-owned businesses on the contracting side, having a chief diversity officer position in that poises us, similarly like they do on the private sector side, to be able to direct and leverage the value that that brings.

“This country has always been diverse. The inclusion piece means that, to the extent that we have diversity, how is that diversity included in all facets. Of the operations of this country or in the operations of government. And so, that’s why the focus of this office is not just diversity.

“If you look at in state government, let’s just talk about workforce diversity, we have diversity, but the inclusion piece I would say not only is intentional, but if you just look at the governor’s cabinet. … It’s very diverse. That’s intentional diversity, and that’s not just we are picking one group over another. What we’re saying is that there’s a lot of great talent here.”

And pursuing this in 2018 isn’t a surprise, considering government often lags the private sector in ideas such as these, Agudosi said.

“In terms of government and how government operates, one of the things that I think there wouldn’t be any disputes is that the efficiencies that we find on the government side are not as cutting-edge as they are on the private side and, oftentimes, a lot of the things, the private sector takes the lead, and it takes a while for the government to get that type of traction,” she said. “And I would say that the chief diversity officer position falls well within that type of a format in terms of government really lagging behind where the private sector has already led.

“The benefit that I have, although we may be slow in the entry point of having a chief diversity officer position, is that we have over a decade of best practices and models that we can leverage.”

Agudosi said she anticipates keeping track of all initiatives from her office through metrics, not just on the supplier diversity side, but also within each government agency and department. All this with a minimal budget for the small office.

“Basically, the only thing that I need outside of the staffing of my office is the actual dashboard and software that will facilitate being able to capture that information,” she said. “And that’s all already in process.”

Much of the strategy of the office also depends on relationships cultivated with the various chambers of commerce in the state, and other professional groups that emphasize diverse or minority populations.

This, in turn, will raise the relevance of those entities in the state, and gives businesses greater access to the administration.

But at the end of the day, the position is one that is fulfilling for Agudosi, who said she only ever planned to be a litigator in the public sector for three years before turning to the private sector and earning big money.

“it just so happened that, when I started out in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and I thought that I was going to be there to be a litigator, get the experience and move on and make the big dollars, I saw the power of the work, and the impact of what one could do,” she said. “And that’s really what has kept me in public service for all these years, because the role of government and its impact and its reach is very broad and being able to contribute in that, in the little ways that I have has been personally satisfying as well as professionally.”

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Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem