Photo of participants of the Ramsey County Inclusive Cohorts group
Participants of the Inclusive Workplaces Cohort.

As the smallest (by area) but most diverse county in Minnesota, Ramsey County is deeply interested in being inclusive. Its Workforce Innovation Board (WIB), in particular, knows that helping workplaces be more welcoming and inclusive workplaces is one of the most important ways to aid the county’s economic growth.

In 2021, the WIB partnered with the Center for Economic Inclusion (CEI) to launch an “Inclusive Workplaces Cohort” to support employers in becoming more equitable and inclusive. The effort was informed by the County’s Economic Competitiveness and Inclusion Plan.

“Inclusion is an imperative when it comes to economic development in our community,” says Rebecca Milbrandt, planning specialist with Ramsey County. “That is why the WIB sought to create opportunities for employers to take a more intensive and deeper dive into this topic. Our goal is to accelerate employers’ capacity to advance racial equity, diversity, and inclusion, and to sustain a more inclusive workforce that contributes to a better bottom line.”

The program was co-designed with CEI, the nation’s first organization dedicated exclusively to equipping public and private sector employers and policymakers to close racial employment, income, and wealth gaps and catalyze inclusive economic growth. The first cohort began meeting at the end of 2021, with 18 employers participating; a second cohort of 12 employers started in February 2023. Preference is given to businesses with 10-250 employees, small businesses that Milbrandt said often do not have the staff or resources to focus on inclusion. To minimize barriers, there is no cost to participants.

Each participating employer commits to sending two people who are in key decision-making roles. CEI facilitates the monthly meetings over the course of ten months.

“This initiative with Ramsey County centers CEI’s core tenants of systems change: building awareness, institutionalizing antiracist actions, and ensuring accountability,” says Tiffany Wilson-Worsley, Director of Employer Learning & Engagement for CEI. “Everything hinges on these.”

The cohort curriculum includes an employer learning journey, organization data review, and racial equity tools and frameworks to institutionalize organizational antiracist actions. Starting with the employer learning journey is critical to understanding current inequities. “We do this not to place blame but to level set,” she says. “It’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, we didn’t create these policies and practices, but we do play a role in not perpetuating them.’”

Participants take the Racial Equity Index to help them examine their organization’s systems, policies, and practices. “We spend a lot of time considering how things can be different,” says Wilson-Worsley. “And we move people from awareness to action. Now that you know, what can you do? It allows leaders to go deep personally and then take what they have learned back to their organization.”

The WIB and CEI are encouraged by the results they have seen so far. “We’ve been seeing synergy since day one,” says Wilson-Worsley. “People arrive knowing it’s going to be a challenge to do things differently, but they are leaning into this work. They learn their role in their system. We start with our challenges, then build strategies for the likely hurdles, utilizing a change management approach that focuses on managing the people side of change.”

Wilson-Worsley is impressed by the engagement of Ramsey County leaders. “I have never seen such robust, bold, and courageous leadership in an organization. They are very intentional and committed to systemic change in their organization.”

A one-year, post-completion evaluation of the first cohort is currently underway. Applications will open in fall 2023 for the third cohort, which will begin meeting in early 2024.