Empowering employees as innovators and change agents for equity and social justice

The principle of being fair and just is incorporated into all of our work at King County, under a six-year Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan that guides how we improve practices for better outcomes. At King County DOT, we are working collectively so that each member of our agency can be an agent of advancing equity and social justice (ESJ). And we actively involved employees in designing the actions and strategies around specific goals.

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DOT Director Harold Taniguchi empowered employees from each of our divisions and organizational levels to participate in six Goal Area Teams, These teams worked together to identify “equity gaps” — places where DOT can do more to provide access and opportunity for all our residents — and make “commitments for action” to address these gaps.

Penny Lara, Transit planner.and Team leaderFor example, the Communication and Education Team focused on creating fair and effective tools for communication. Team members identified a need for information equity – making sure that bus schedules and other transit documents are translated in culturally and contextually appropriate ways, so that they meet an equitable standard of communication. “Everyone should receive the same information at the same time, regardless of language or background; translations shouldn’t be an afterthought,” says Team Leader Penny Lara, a Transit planner.

Lara says the respect and support she’s received from management has been an empowering experience. “I kept calling ESJ a project, but my supervisor explained to me that it’s really a way of working and living. I can share with my kids what I learn at work, and they’re beginning to identify equity gaps on their own as well.” Her advocacy for translations that are accurate and culturally appropriate has led to a department-wide effort to make sure our entire customer base receives the services they need.

Joy Bryngelson, DOT’s Equity and Engagement Program ManagerJoy Bryngelson, DOT’s Equity and Engagement Program Manager, says the process taps into the wisdom, experience, and perspectives of the DOT community. “We wanted to reach beyond the traditional subject experts. We intentionally involved employees who may not usually have as much opportunity in positions of leadership, and designed the process to include their input and find ways to do things differently. Having employees from all levels of DOT involved in developing an ESJ plan to which we can commit, is central to keeping all of us engaged in this movement.”

Our ESJ Leadership Sponsors — the Director and Division Directors — are now in the process of reviewing and approving the equity commitments that were proposed from the six Goal Area Teams. Director Taniguchi says he is looking forward to engaging with everyone in the department to make these commitments real to create real change. “The more we understand and discuss inequity, the more we can begin to promote fairness internally and externally,” he says. “Empowering employees to turn these discussions into opportunities to lead and innovate is one example of what equity and social justice looks like at King County DOT.”