Racism has been a painful and insidious part of the American experience since our nation was founded. Its soul crushing impact was thrust into the forefront of our collective consciousness last year by the image of a police officer pressing his knee on the neck of a Black man for nearly nine minutes as he lay on the ground, dying and pleading for help. In response, crowds of diverse people rallied and marched across the globe demanding an end to police misconduct and the dismantling of institutional racism. Businesses, professional sports leagues, academic institutions, the entertainment industry, and governments at all levels were left to grapple with the question — what were they prepared to do to address racism in the workplace and create equity for historically underrepresented people?

In meeting this moment, Mayor Eric Garcetti acknowledged that the demonstrations for racial justice had not exposed something new, but instead “laid bare the urgent and overdue demand to end structural racism.” The Mayor’s historic Executive Directive on Racial Equity set Los Angeles city government on a course to achieve equity in employee recruitment and advancement and in contracting and procurement. It calls upon Departments, large and small, to marshal every tool at their disposal to ensure that everyone, in all of our communities, has the opportunity to thrive and reach for their full potential.  

As president of the Board that oversees the LADWP, and a Black woman, I understand the enormity of this challenge and the once in a lifetime opportunity to effectuate real change at the nation’s largest municipal utility that it presents. Working in concert with the Department’s general manager Marty Adams, the Board of Commissioners – comprised of a multi-racial and multi-cultural group of remarkably talented women – and an array of DWP stakeholders including its labor leadership, we have embarked on a journey to foster a diverse and inclusive organization. We began by looking squarely at historic shortcomings and acknowledging the institutional barriers that stifle the aspirations of African Americans, women and other people of color.

Setting our sights on meaningful, transformative and sustainable change, we invested in the hard work of research, engagement and documentation of the Department’s history, culture and practices in the area of diversity, racial equity and inclusion.  The Department has been assisted in this effort by three impeccably skilled minority firms who surveyed thousands of employees and conducted dozens of focus groups and individual interviews. This engagement was critical in building credibility among employees and other stakeholders that moving forward, diversity, racial equity and inclusion would indeed be core values for the Department.

Over the past seven months, our Department has made important strides towards the goal of realizing the promise of inclusion, equity and excellence. Our efforts to date, including the development of a comprehensive Racial Equity Action Plan, have been consequential largely because voices that had been previously silenced in the workplace were heard. And significantly, the Department is poised to hire its first-ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer who will lead a major new division charged with translating our values into action.

As we emerge from these difficult times and look to the future, the Department of Water and Power is committed to playing a vital role in building a stronger LA through service, innovation and opportunity.

Cynthia McClain-Hill is president of the Los Angeles Board of Water & Power Commissioners.

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