In July, Caltrans celebrated its inaugural Diversity Month. Every day, a different presentation or activity paid tribute to an enlightened workplace approach that has been embraced and adopted department-wide.
The month kicked off on July 1 with a video message from Jim Davis, then special adviser to the director, and ended July 31 with a summary email by Deputy Director of Administration Cris Rojas.
“Caltrans Diversity Month,” Rojas wrote, “has been a vibrant, educational initiative about celebrating diversity and inclusion, valuing one another, and recognizing that our workforce has diverse and unique individuals who contribute to our organizational success.
In mid-August, Rojas and the person “who made it all happen,” Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program Manager Suzanne Chan, sat down with CT News to discuss how the celebratory month came about and to reflect further on how things went.
The idea of having Diversity Month was inspired in part by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proclamation of June being LGBTQ Pride Month, part of his administration’s California for All campaign.
“They had the rainbow flag on the Capitol; it was a big deal,” Rojas recalled. “And so we thought, Suzanne thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could celebrate diversity just like the Governor’s Office was? So we rolled out a whole month of activities – things to think about, articles, all that kind of stuff.”
Rojas presented their idea to the Caltrans Executive Board in June.
“It was very well received and supported,” Chan said. “So once we got the word, we had to put everything into action and collaborate with a lot of different partners to make it happen.”
Collaborators included Davis and the rest of the Director’s Office, Headquarters’ audio-visual team, internet technology staffers and the Learning and Development office, which assembled and released several LinkedIn Learning videos that had a diversity theme or element.
The month’s list of presentations and activities has been archived on this intranet web page: https://eo.onramp.dot.ca.gov/caltrans-celebrates-diversity-month
Nationally, diversity is spotlighted in April, and disability in October. “We split the difference,” Rojas said.
“We figured, let’s go for it. Got nothing to lose!” Chan said about Caltrans’ last-minute preparations for Diversity Month. “And it was fun. … I think in the end, it was exhausting, but I think it was very rewarding for my team to be able to have that level of accomplishment within such a short amount of time.”
“We had really positive response, for the most part,” Rojas added. “People reaching out. They were very touched by the articles. And I heard that folks were actually participating in discussions that were very positive. I heard the districts really enjoyed this whole roll-out.
"We had really positive response, for the most part. People reaching out. They were very touched by the articles. And I heard that folks were actually participating in discussions that were very positive. I heard the districts really enjoyed this whole roll-out."
“I personally received – some people wrote me – and received some really touching emails from folks about how much it meant to them that they were recognized. Of course we got a lot of suggestions, like, hey, you should feature this person, or that person. So we have some ideas for next year, too.”
For many years, EEO has presented Diversity & Disability Awareness Day (DDAD). Each of Caltrans’ 12 districts selects its own day in October to mark DDAD.
This year’s celebration by Headquarters was subtitled “See the world through a different lens.” Special events (cultural entertainment and activities, food booths) were part of the festivities on Oct. 10 at Caltrans’ Translab office in Sacramento. Participants were encouraged to bring prescription and reading glasses that will be passed along to Lions Club International’s “Recycle for Sight” program.
No timetable has been established for next year’s Caltrans Diversity Month, but Rojas and Chan both feel there is a lot to build on from this year’s celebration.
“I was really pleasantly surprised at how widespread support was for an effort such as this,” Rojas said. “I think the district directors were really engaged, and our deputies, too.
“So that was very gratifying to me to see that it’s not just, you know, one person trying to drum up support. It’s like universally supported. At the time, Laurie Berman was our director and Jim Davis was the special assistant, and they were very much supportive of the effort as well.
“I’m really proud of the executive team, and how they’ve embraced these concepts of diversity and inclusion. They understand that it’s a wonderful business practice because it just makes our department a better place. It gives our employees a feeling of engagement and satisfaction, but what we get out of it is happy employees who are more productive and want to stay.
“It’s a win-win for everybody.”