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 2018 Hennepin County created a senior leadership position to oversee and coordinate efforts across all county lines of business to reduce racial disparities in social determinant outcomes.
In 2019, all Hennepin County employees will receive training on advancing racial equity with the goals to build employee awareness of the impacts of racial disparities, deepen employee understanding of the drivers of disparities, and to position employees to apply the learning in their work. In this way, Hennepin County is laying the groundwork for implementing racial equity impact assessment tools and more deeply embedding an equity mindset in the way departments operate and make decisions, moving closer to realizing the vision of a county where all residents are healthy and successful and their communities are safe and vibrant.
Tonya Palmer has been Hennepin County’s Executive Diversity Officer 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.