Former Criminals Deemed ‘Marginalized’ Under Washington State Worker Training

Olympia, Washington / USA – July 29 2020: “The Seal of the State of Washington” sign on a state capitol buildingVDB Photos / Shutterstock

As some states, such as Texas, have enacted laws banning the funding of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI, Washington state is implementing such training for all state agency employees and leadership.

Despite the recent firing of the state’s first director of the Office of Equity, the office continues its work under a Pro-Equity Anti-Racism, or PEAR, Plan & Playbook developed as part of a 2022 executive order by Gov. Jay Inslee. That work coincides with existing efforts by the State Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee that manages the required training centered around concepts such as Critical Race Theory and institutional privilege. 

State agencies like the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission have a PEAR team that consults with an external advisory group to help them implement individual agency plans and strategies to, in the words of UTC, “promote equitable access to opportunities and resources to reduce disparities and improve outcomes statewide across state government.”

As demonstrated at a recent meeting of the UTC PEAR External Advisory Group, the groups adhere to “ground rules” developed by the DEI Council that require participants to do the following:

  • Understand your privilege, the space you occupy, and the power dynamic you bring to this space
  • Acknowledge that systemic racism and other forms of oppression exist, and that history informs current law and policy
  • Actively recognize, interrupt, and dismantled white supremacy
  • Accept that no action is equity neutral

“Privilege” is defined by a “privilege matrix” found on state agency websites classifying groups as either “dominant” or “marginalized.”

Privilege matrix used by the state of Washington as part of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training.From the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission website

Groups considered “dominant” include those who fall under the following labels:

  • Persons “without justice System involvement”
  • “Homed”
  • White
  • Men
  • English speaking
  • U.S. citizen
  • Healthy weight
  • Christian
  • Formally educated
  • Married
  • Heterosexual

Those labeled as “marginalized” include people who fit the following description:

  • Non-white
  • Homeless
  • Overweight
  • Convicted of a crime
  • Divorced
  • Disabled
  • “Intersexual”
  • “All other religions/spiritual practices” than Christianity

DEI’s work also includes racial equity and “competency training” for state agency employees and leadership. The Council defines “cultural competencies” as:

A congruent set of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors that enable individuals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. It promotes respect and understanding of diverse cultures and social groups, and an appreciation of each individual’s unique attributes. Cultural competencies enable employees to respond to others in a manner that demonstrates an effort to understand subtle differences such as communication style, problem-solving, values, and conflict resolution styles.

According to the UTC advisory group meeting, the UTC commissioners have already participated in the following:

  • Trauma informed management training”
  • A group reading of the books “White Fragility” and “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

Regarding the UTC commissioner training, UTC Director of Consumer Protection and Communication Anna Gill said, “there was certainly discomfort. These are hard topics for people. There was definitely some challenges when we were really talking about white fragility. We experienced a little bit of white fragility. We really worked through it and people are really engaged and learning. You get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

State employees are required to undergo DEI training, including watching a documentary titled “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” and participating in other activities intended to provide “awareness of how racial inequalities show up in every system and workplace in Washington,” according to a slideshow presentation from the UTC advisory group meeting.

The interview panel for new state employees must undergo anti-bias training and the job candidate will be subject to questions regarding anti-racism and DEI.