Diversity director Kirkpatrick ‘really proud’ of accomplishments
By Dwight Hobbes
The Metropolitan Council has been responsible to serve, in the region, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Washington, Carver, Scott and Dakota counties. The 17-member municipal entity, with main offices located in St. Paul, is charged to provide essential service critical to the public good, working with local communities to, among other duties, operate the region’s largest transportation system, collect and treat wastewater and provide affordable housing opportunities for citizens of low and moderate income.
Accordingly, it is no small matter that such a body includes an Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, accountable to ensure, as the Council’s Pledge of Nondiscrimination states, “access to all our programs, services and benefits without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability or socioeconomic status.”
Heading up that department over the past five years is Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity Director Wanda Kirkpatrick. “When I took this job,” she states, “the Metropolitan Council [was] well on our way to having diversity, inclusion, affirmative action, [and] equality opportunity be a part of everything we did. When I [started in] the position of the director, we went even further to build up our DBEs [disadvantaged business enterprises] program.” This includes contractors hired to construct the Light Rail Transit project.
In an editorial published a February 2012 issue of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, Kirkpatrick said, “We at the Metropolitan Council, as builders of the line, have made it a top priority to maximize opportunities for minorities and women to work on this construction project. From the start, the Council and its partners have been committed to meeting the federal government’s targets for hiring qualified workers who have been historically disadvantaged in the construction trades.”
At that time, she said minority workers accounted for almost 18 percent of construction hours, women accounting for upwards of six percent with $26 million dollars having been spent on women- or minority-owned contracting firms. Speaking by telephone from her office for this article, she says, “Our Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program now is well known within the federal transit administration and well known within the Twin Cities for being fair both on the prime contractor side and on the DBE side. This is one of the accomplishments that has happened with the last five years.”
Toward that end, the Pledge of Nondiscrimination affirms, “The Metropolitan Council will not tolerate discrimination by its employees or by those who receive federal funds from the Metropolitan Council.” Kirkpatrick goes on to add that her department is hands-on “from our parks division, to the new Thrive initiative going on that will provide where the Council is going for the next couple of years, actually for 2020, ’30 and ’40.”
As announced in July by Council Chair Susan Haigh, the Thrive engagement process (Thrive MSP 2040) “is an opportunity for communities, residents and officials to help shape the Council’s work and priorities for the next 10 years, work that will directly impact the next round of comprehensive plan updates. Receiving input early and often will be the key to the plan’s success.”
When powerful organizations profess to be about inclusion, that their credo is one of equal opportunity, such espoused altruism quite understandably can be taken with a cynical grain of salt. Realistically speaking, were as many such entities historically as good as their word, the demand for equal opportunity would long ago have been filled. As director, it is up to Wanda Kirkpatrick to put teeth in the Metropolitan Council’s practices.
Hence, listed first on her résumé is the duty as senior management team member, to be responsible for diversity, equal employment opportunity and contractor compliance. Also, she directs staff responsible for employment discrimination complaint investigations, reasonable accommodation review, small and disadvantaged business utilization, diversity training, and community outreach and is responsible for Title VI, Title VII, Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
“[The department is] part of our hiring, of course — our promotions, of course. We are also a part of things all through HR [human resources], including benefits and our union activities.
“We are part of the activities that we do in [the Office’s] planning, whether it’s in transportation planning or in community development planning,” Kirkpatrick explains. “Those are things that I’m really proud of.”
So, upholding its expressed commitment to level the playing for its own existing and prospective employees as well as safeguarding fair access to contract funding for companies at-large is a job her department sees to it the Metropolitan Council takes seriously. Inclusion isn’t just a buzzword. Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity director Wanda Kirkpatrick attests, “I truly believe that.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.