Doubling down on equity and social justice

King County’s ambitious program to extend fairness and opportunity to all is rolling out to departments and agencies.

ESJ goal areas

  • Leadership, operations, and services
  • Plans, policies, and budgets
  • Workplace and workforce
  • Community partnerships
  • Communication and education
  • Facility and system improvements

Source: Implementation Plan for Six Goal Areas, 2016-2018 (King County)

First came the six-year strategic plan, adopted last year as a blueprint for putting equity and social justice (ESJ) at the heart of every county activity. Now each department is creating its own specific plan for meeting the goals the county has set. These fall into six areas (see box at right).

This far-reaching program aims to transform the way we do business—both internally (hiring, promotions, training) and externally (customer service, service planning, public outreach).

In late March, 80 Transportation staffers gathered in Rainier Valley for an all-day workshop to kick off the department’s part of that work.

A powerful morning session on racial justice, presented by Metro’s diversity and inclusion manager, Anita Whitfield, featured personal stories from two department leaders.

Anita Whitfield speaking

Whitfield: Unmasking the unseen.

Department Director Harold Taniguchi talked about speaking up after an incident of racial harassment, not so much for himself but on behalf of people who might have kept quiet because they didn’t feel safe. The department’s Deputy Director, Laurie Brown, talked about gradually coming to understand the benefits she has received in life simply because she’s white.

Together, these accounts drove home a major point about privilege: it’s obvious to those on the outside, but invisible to those in the “in” group. That’s why this program is looking at all county actions and asking: are we offering opportunities fairly to everyone? If not, what do we need to do to get there?

“At times we may stumble and feel stretched or uncomfortable. We don’t expect change to be easy, and that’s OK.“ –Harold Taniguchi, Director, Department of Transportation

In the afternoon, participants broke into six teams to start work on the department’s ESJ plan. Each team is focused on one of the six goal areas. Within each area, the county has laid out objectives and minimum standards, which the teams are adapting to meet the situation in our department.

Harold Taniguchi

Taniguchi: Everyone needs to be involved.

Team members include people from all five Transportation divisions (Metro Transit, Road Services, Airport, Water Taxi, and Fleet Administration), plus the Director’s Office. Alongside the managers usually tapped to sit on committees are other employees from different parts of the organization—including a vehicle maintenance chief from Metro, a GIS mapping specialist, and several staff members who provide direct customer service.

“I wanted to deepen our bench,” Taniguchi said, “to bring in people with different skill sets.

“I’m proud to be able to lead this critically important work,” he added. “Many of our transportation programs and projects are already providing more opportunity, access, and equitable services for King County residents…but we intend to do more.”

Our Department of Transportation Goal Area Teams are meeting regularly to develop the department’s implementation plan. We’ll post updates as the plan takes shape. To learn more, contact our Equity and Engagement Program Manager, Joy Bryngelson, at joy.bryngelson@kingcounty.gov or 206-477-8667.