January 10, 2014

New diversity hire needs to prove its value

Diversity is a good thing.

Diversity is a good thing.

Whether racial or religious, socioeconomic or political, a medley of viewpoints always produces a better outcome than a singular, monolithic perspective ever could.

With this in mind, the state’s Department of Parks and Wildlife — which manages state parks, regulates hunters and anglers and even assists in border security — is poised to hire a chief diversity officer, believed to be the first position of its kind at a major state agency.

Sadly, this effort is not the result of a proactive plan to usher in more varied perspectives. It is, instead, a response to allegations of racism within the department’s game warden program.

Specifically, the complaints have alleged a preference toward promoting white males over black. They further describe an environment that discourages camaraderie between white and black officers.

Complaints of discrimination are always subjective, but they deserve fair consideration, particularly when they suggest an agency culture so steeped in misguided ways that it lacks the wherewithal to see its own error.

Parks and Wildlife responded appropriately by conducting two outside reviews that urged reforms. Executive Director Carter Smith discussed plans for the new diversity officer in an interview with The Associated Press.

“We think it’s important to have a senior agency leader that is waking up every morning thinking about how we can help the agency become more diverse and more inclusive,” Smith said.

Ensuring that Texas agencies are staffed by persons with sufficiently varied perspectives can only be a positive development. These agencies serve a diverse state, and it is only right that they reflect the population they serve.

But equally important is ensuring that all state agencies embrace a culture of tolerance amongst their staff members. And that may not be something that a high-paid official can enforce; it must come from managers who lead by example and who refuse to tolerate any behavior that is suggestive of discrimination.

In the absence of such leadership, it is sometimes necessary to take more drastic measures.

The goal of a diversity officer should be to create an environment in which such a position is no longer needed. If Parks and Wildlife hires well, that person will quickly make him-or-herself irrelevant.

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