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Gov. Evers wants to hire a Chief Equity Officer, needs lawmaker approval

TMJ4'S Charles Benson looks at the role and responsibilities for this new kind of CEO.
Wisconsin State Capitol
Posted at 4:48 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 07:45:45-05

MILWAUKEE — Inside Milwaukee's City Hall sits the Mayor's Office, the Common Council, and now, for the first time, the Office of Equity and Inclusion in the Department of Administration.

"It has to be more than just a phrase, it has to be action behind that, and I'm definitely committed to that," said Nikki Purvis.

She is the city's first Chief Equity Officer, a new position that started in January to help improve equity and inclusion across all city platforms.

"We will be requiring all city departments to create a racial equity action plan for themselves," said Purvis. "And for them to identify what some of those challenges and solutions, so there's some accountability on all levels."

It's not just about accountability. The state says it's also about equal access.

"It's all about how do we deliver services in a way that brings everybody along," said Secretary Joel Brennan.

He oversees many state government programs and multi-billion dollar budgets as Secretary of Administration.

Inside Governor Evers's budget proposal is a cabinet-level Chief Equity Officer position to "identify opportunities to advance equity in government operations."

Sec. Brennan: It is an appointed position and would sit amongst the Cabinet members.
Benson: What exactly would a Chief Equity Officer do?
Sec. Brennan: I think the Chief Equity Officer, what their charge would be, is to look across the enterprise of State Government to ensure that we're reflecting Wisconsin's population and the way that we fill jobs and the way that we prioritize the investments that we make.

Dr Kenny Yarbrough likes the idea of a Chief Equity Officer with access to the governor.

Benson: How do you make sure the role becomes influential and purposeful to provide information to senior leadership?
Dr Yarbrough: It starts with the leader. it starts with the leader in charge.

Dr. Yarbrough is Associate Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, or EDI, at UW-Whitewater. He says the job comes with real-time responsibilities.

"I'll give you a prime example, last year last summer we were having a lot of racial tension in our country. I had to keep him [Chancellor] and the Cabinet engaged of what I was seeing and what we needed to do to respond as a university," said Dr. Yarbrough. "So, it's so imperative to have that voice on the cabinet to be able to bring EDI issues because it's not just one field, it permeates the entire enterprise."

TMJ4 looked at how many other states around Wisconsin have these types of positions. We found Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana all have a Chief Equity or Chief Diversity Officer at the state level.

It's now up to lawmakers to decide if Wisconson will be added to the list.

"What we do as a state government has an impact in every corner of Wisconsin,: said Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh), the Assembly's Minority leader. "So, prioritizing equity in state agencies and state services through a new cabinet-level position would have a positive, meaningful impact."

Mayor Tom Barrett talks about the city's new Chief Equity Officer and the role she will have in city government:

Governor Tony Evers wants to hire a Chief Equity Officer for Wisconsin, would be among a few in the U.S.

TMJ4 reached out Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority leader Devin LeMahieu but they have not responded.

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