OVERALL DIVERSITY CHAMPION
Cheryl Burrell has spent a quarter-century increasing diversity in state government, starting as director of personnel for then-Attorney General Jeffrey Pine in 1993, and during the last 18 years in the R.I. Department of Administration, the last four as associate director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity.
“As a woman of color, my passion and determination [have] largely been driven by my own experience with discrimination,” Burrell wrote in her application. She’s also guided by a heartfelt belief that diverse perspectives can help achieve greater equity.
In Pine’s office, with work for four previous attorneys general under her belt, Burrell set herself a personal goal to increase diversity in the workforce. By the end of Pine’s term, she had overseen a 7 percent increase in workers of color between 1993 and 1998.
In 1999, Burrell joined the Department of Administration in the Office of Personnel Administration as a human resources analyst. After a review of recruitment practices, she worked to include community leaders in finding new candidates and expanded the list of organizations the office notified about open positions.
In 2000 the Department of Administration, Division of Human Resources formed a new office – the Human Resources Outreach and Diversity Office, and Burrell was named a programming-services officer there in 2001, tasked with achieving greater diversity in the selection process.
Burrell continued her efforts to foster diversity in that role, then as the office’s administrator in 2005.
In 2014, she was named associate director of the newly formed Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity.
“We were following the trends nationally,” Burrell said. “We knew that diversity was coming and we wanted to be prepared for the wave.”
Eighteen years ago, the human-resource office’s goal and that of the office of diversity was the same as it is today: create a workforce that reflects the diverse nature of the state.
“The focus has been on developing community partnerships that support our outreach efforts,” she said. Those partnerships help her office utilize minority media outlets to advertise job opportunities and host workshops to educate the public on how to apply for state jobs and civil-service exams, she said.
In 2016, the diversity office began a monthly review of the state’s new employees. At that point, the amount of nonwhite new hires was 22 percent, which increased to 28 percent in 2017. Through September of this year the number of nonwhite workers hired monthly is about 30 percent.
Burrell thinks that percentage will continue rising.
“The goal of diversity was to think outside the box,” she said. “Initially, we were the only ones out there. It was a lonely time and we were not being well-received.”
That has changed in time as barriers were broken down, allowing their efforts to grow and programs to increase the diverse population of state workers, she said.
Each executive branch of state government now has an appointed diversity liaison, a high-level official who directly reports to the agency’s director and promotes diversity in their departments. A training program on implicit bias for hiring managers has also been introduced. The diversity office also has a training program for new and existing employees, focusing on discrimination and sexual harassment.
Another focus of the office is to do business with certified minority/women’s business enterprises and increase the amount of work with them to advance equitable and fair employment in state government. In 2014, minority/women’s business enterprises were projected to receive 4.3 percent of the state procurement dollars. That amount increased to 14.7 percent in 2018.
“No longer should we waste time challenging the idea that we are becoming a more diverse society, but rather we should accept that we are a diverse society, capable of immeasurable achievements,” Burrell said.