By Harry Colbert, Jr. –
In the latest effort to reduce economic racial disparities in Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton announced the hiring of James Burroughs as the state’s chief inclusion officer.
As chief inclusion officer Burroughs will be responsible for increasing state contracting opportunities for minority businesses and diversifying the state’s private sector workforce while working with Anika Ward to insure diversity in public sector hiring. Ward was named as executive recruiter for Minnesota this past March. In addition, Burroughs is charged with increasing the state’s civic engagement and partnerships with communities of color and other diverse communities.
“Diversity can’t just be something we talk about, we have to truly integrate diversity into each of the state’s 26 agencies,” said Burroughs.
Burroughs said currently the state’s minority employees make up only about 10 percent of the workforce, but he is looking to double that number to 20 percent. “We want our workforce to be reflective of our population,” said Burroughs, who said demographic data shows a rapidly increasing population for people of color. “The goal is to see measurable change within the first 180 days (of his tenure). We want to reach that 20 percent goal by the end of the governor’s term.”
Tackling diversity means changing the culture of the way business is traditionally conducted, said Burroughs, who was most recently the director of Equity and Diversity for the Minneapolis Public Schools. He said people are going to have to extend beyond their normal parameters when it comes to hiring and awarding bids.
“A lot of hiring and awarding of contracts is relationship driven,” said Burroughs, who said many whites in hiring roles tend to hire who they know, and their circles are often not that diverse. “For instance, before a job is posted in a newspaper, someone within the hiring person’s circle may have been already being groomed for the job and has the inside track, so sure, everyone has the equal opportunity to apply, but do they have a fair chance at the hire? And (in awarding contracts) there’s a comfort level that’s been built up working with the same businesses and sometimes that means smaller minority businesses get shut out. What I’m going to do is get qualified Black-owned and minority-owned businesses in front of our agencies so we can eliminate the excuse of not being able to find qualified businesses and Anika Ward is going to identify qualified minority job candidates to fill state job openings.”
The numbers when it comes to minority spending by the state is paltry. According to Burroughs, of the $2.6 billion spent this past year by the state, only $135,000 of that went to Black-owned companies.
“I believe that’s unacceptable, the governor believes that’s unacceptable and the whole state believes that’s not acceptable,” said Burroughs. “We need to increase that number 30- or 40-fold.”
Dayton said Burroughs is the best person to fulfill his vision for inclusion.
“Mr. Burroughs brings a proven record of success in advising clients and developing effective strategies for diversity and inclusion in both the public and private sectors,” said Dayton in his statement announcing the hire of Burroughs. “Mr. Burroughs will be invaluable in our state’s efforts to be more inclusive and representative of the people we serve. I thank the search committee for their exceptional work.”
Burroughs comes to the state with an extensive background in equity and diversity. Prior to joining Minneapolis Public Schools, Burroughs worked for Minneapolis-based ProGroup and Fredrikson Human Resources Consulting, providing diversity training, education and consulting services to Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies. In addition to serving as a diversity consultant, Burroughs was the chief operating officer and general counsel for Summit Academy, a non-profit that provides vocational training and job placement to low-income adults. A lawyer, Burroughs was a civil and commercial litigator for Dorsey & Whitney and worked with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for Minnesota. A resident of Brooklyn Park and native of Detroit, he is a graduate of Morehouse College and Georgetown University Law Center. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi, Fraternity, Inc.