Hennepin County has an enormous opportunity to address racial disparities and make strides toward racial equity for the local population. The county is home to over 1.2 million residents, including approximately 40 percent of the state’s residents of color. Almost 17 percent of county residents ages five or older speak a language other than English at home and nearly 13 percent of the county’s population is foreign-born. Along with that diversity come significant disparities by race and ethnicity—some of the largest in the country—in employment, educational attainment, health and socioeconomic status.
Addressing racial disparities is core to the county’s mission and practices. Structural and institutional inequities led the Hennepin County Board to adopt a diversity policy in 2013, which established the business case for workforce diversity within the county. The policy recognizes that furthering diversity and inclusion goals is core to the viability of the county as an organization and is necessary in order to create systems, processes, programs and initiatives that provide effective services to all county residents.
This essential work is most effectively accomplished in collaboration with their many partners—municipalities, business communities, educational institutions, health and wellness organizations, and the many and varied communities of residents within their borders. Their collaborations have produced pathways to employment at Hennepin County for underrepresented job seekers, and the creation of the Workforce Leadership Council, which serves as a vehicle for promoting the model among other regional employers. The county also has developed transportation plans that incorporate the needs and perspectives of communities being served by those plans, and strategic efforts to address the social determinants of health in all county policies and programs.
Hennepin County now stands to build upon its successes and the groundwork initiatives of its departments by unifying its efforts into an approach that brings the work of reducing disparities to all lines of business across the organization. In this way, they are moving closer to realizing their vision of a county where all residents are healthy and successful and their communities are safe and vibrant.
Hennepin County is participating in the 2017 Minnesota Advancing Racial Equity cohort, Advanced Implementation track.
Tonya Palmer has been Hennepin County’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager since 2014. Her knowledge and experience include mediation, facilitation, and adult learning principles and she has served county employees and communities as a leader, mentor and trainer with passion, love, great story-telling, and a commitment to helping others be their whole selves.
Karen Nikolai manages Healthy Community Planning at Hennepin County. Her team integrates health policy and practice into the built and social environments including transportation, land use planning and placemaking. This includes a strong focus on collaborative community engagement with low-income communities and communities of color to ensure health equity in non-health projects. Her degrees are in City & Regional Planning and Public Health.