Diversifying the state workforce: State’s chief inclusion officer works to create access, opportunity for all

James Burroughs
James Burroughs was hired as Minnesota’s chief inclusion officer in 2016. One of his main goals is to diversify the state workforce.
(Photo courtesy of Office of James Burroughs)

Gov. Mark Dayton is aiming to diversify the state workforce during his final years in office.

Last year, he hired James Burroughs, a former Minneapolis Public Schools official, to help lead that effort.

Dayton appointed Burroughs as Minnesota’s chief inclusion officer in April 2016. He’s thought to be the first state inclusion officer in the country. In his role, Burroughs leads efforts to diversify the state workforce, as well as increase 
state contracting opportunities for diverse businesses and engage communities of color.

Burroughs’ main goal is to create access and opportunity for all Minnesotans, he said.

“No one should feel like they can’t work with us, do business with us or be engaged because of their status, race or physical ability,” Burroughs said.

Amid Minnesota’s changing demographics, Dayton announced two years ago his plans to seek more people of color for state jobs. His goal is to increase the percentage
 of jobs held by people of color to
 20 percent, as well as boost those held by people with disabilities to 7 percent, before he leaves office.

“Our population is much more diverse than it was, 10, 20 years ago,” Dayton said in an interview, “and it will continue to become more diverse. It’s important that our workforce in state government be reflective of the diversity of the people of Minnesota.”

Gov. Mark Dayton says James Burroughs “has a real passion for this work, and he has really spearheaded the development of it.”
(Photo courtesy of Office of Gov. Mark Dayton)

Before he hired Burroughs, Dayton created the Diversity and Inclusion Council to lead these efforts. Now, Burroughs helps lead the council with the governor and works directly with the council chairs.

Burroughs, who has more than 20 years of experience in diversity and inclusion, nonprofits and employment law, formerly worked as Minneapolis Public Schools’ executive director of equity and diversity. Before that, he worked in law and consulting.

“He is just by nature a very inclusive and a very good people person,” Dayton said. “He’s built these relationships. … He has a real passion for this work, and he has really spearheaded the development of it.”

Burroughs also has made progress. With its more than 30,000 employees, the state has raised its percentage of people of color to 12.3 percent from 11 percent since Burroughs started, he said. The state also is near the 7-percent goal for state employees with disabilities, and Burroughs has now raised it to 10 percent, he said.

James Burroughs with a mic, speaking
Burroughs has made progress toward Gov. Mark Dayton’s goals of having 20 percent people of color and 7 percent people with disabilities working state jobs before Dayton leaves office. (Photo courtesy of office of James Burroughs)

When Dayton took office, the state workforce was 8 percent people of color.

“We’ve made very real progress,” Dayton said. “I’m not satisfied. We have more to do, and we need to really now in the last 14 months of my administration really lock this in with the agencies so that it continues after I leave, no matter who the next governor should be.”

While increasing these percentages is important, Burroughs recognizes it’s also important to create 
a culture where those who come to work feel valued and where they can bring their “full self ” to work, he said.

Burroughs is also working toward increasing state contracting with businesses with diverse backgrounds. When he started in 2016, for example, about $120,000 out 
of the $2 billion spent by the state was on African-American-owned businesses, Burroughs said. This year, for the first time ever, the state will contract more than $1 million with African-American-owned businesses, he said.

To increase civic engagement, Burroughs works with the governor to expand his community outreach. He also focuses on rebuilding trust among the community by working with several agencies, attending job fairs for people of color, reaching out to communities of different ethnic backgrounds to meet with state leaders, and hosting recruiting events.

“I want to make sure we have the opportunity to have them have a place at the table,” Burroughs said.

Burroughs doesn’t know what will happen to his position when Dayton leaves office in 2019. But he hopes that the next governor will have the same passion and dedication for diversity and inclusion.

“I do think, though, with all of the work that the governor has done in the community and working 
with different agencies, and also to external people,” Burroughs said, “that the Minnesota population of constituents will demand that this role stay around.”