What Does a Chief Inclusion Officer Do?

Image Credit: Alpha News MN/Preya Samsundar

ST. PAUL, Minn. – James C. Burroughs II was appointed as Minnesota’s first Chief Inclusion Officer by Gov. Mark Dayton in April 2016. In fact, he was the first person to hold such a title at the state level in any of the United States.

In an event put on at the state Capitol by Minnesota’s chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, Burroughs talked about his first year on the job, and the diversity goals he and the state government have.

Upon Dayton’s appointment of Burroughs, the governor promised to double the percentage of state government jobs held by minorities prior to the end of his term. There’s now about 19 months left for that to occur.

“We want to make sure we increase the hiring of people of color, people with disabilities, and veterans here at the state,” Burroughs said at the event. “So in 2012 we were at eight percent people of color, now we’re at 11.9 percent. In 2012 we were at about three percent people of disabilities right now we’re at six percent. Our goals are 20 percent people of color originally and seven percent persons with disabilities. We’re almost at that seven percent number so I’m going to stretch that goal out to ten percent.”

Burroughs said he meets with the governor roughly once a week, usually on Mondays. Other projects he is involved with include working to get more state contracts in the hands of minority-led businesses, and increasing advocacy effectiveness of underrepresented groups.

“A lot of times communities of color, LGBTQ communities, especially don’t have their voice heard in the process,” Burroughs said. “Not because anybody intentionally discriminates but a lot of times they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Burroughs used the controversy over the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s decision to display Sam Durant’s piece “Scaffold” as an example. He referred to the piece as well intentioned, but as an example of what happens when people of relevant backgrounds are left out of a decision making process.

Of the $2.5 billion that the state spends on contracting, only about three percent goes to contractors of underrepresented groups according to Burroughs. The state has a number of procedures in place trying to increase this percentage, including allowing contracts under $25,000 to bypass the traditional bidding process entirely, allowing the state to offer it directly to minority-led companies.

Burroughs said that he has experienced some backlash to programs he leads and statements Dayton has made in the name of inclusion, but he takes such a response as a sign of work well done.

“Backlash creates a dialogue that wasn’t happening before,” Burroughs said. “The backlash allows you to say ‘you know what I was thinking the same thing.’ I wasn’t ready to say it but I’m gonna speak up as well.’”

Anders Koskinen