Indiana’s diversity czar begins role during Black History Month

INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time, we were offered the chance to interview Indiana’s newly created Chief Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity Officer Karrah Herring.

She has been on maternity leave but just so happened to start her position the same day Black History Month began — February 1.

“It was a moment of awe for me,” said Herring. “Just like, wow, this is an opportunity to serve my state at the highest level and to really have an impact for Hoosiers.”

Herring said she grapples with the intersection of her race and gender on a daily basis.

“If that’s just walking into a meeting where I am one of a few or walking into a grocery store thinking about how people interact with me, it’s just a huge honor to be able to have a seat at the table,” Herring explained.

As Indiana’s newly created chief equity inclusion and opportunity officer, she said she doesn’t just get a seat, she gets a voice.

“The goal is to really sit down with our cabinet members and our state agencies leads to look at opportunities to remove barriers to access and how Hoosiers get state services,” said Herring.

Barriers currently exist for several kinds of people.

“Thinking about individuals with disabilities, thinking about veterans, thinking about people of color and women, trying to remove any barriers to access that individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may encounter when trying to get those state services, that’s the first bucket,” said Herring.

The second bucket is coming up with a workforce engagement plan for each state agency and digging into ways to retain diversity.

“Using the statistics, using the data to tell the story,” said Herring.

She said the state’s data disparity portal will be key to defining success, but it will take time and patience.

“This is definitely a marathon and not a sprint,” said Herring.

“How do you feel about racial bias training or cultural competency training? Is this something that you may consider implementing in state agencies? Do you think it’s a good idea?” asked reporter Kayla Sullivan.

“We are at the very early stages of having these conversations, and I would say that implicit bias training and cultural competency training are trainings that can be really high level and something that you want to dig into after you’ve done some foundational work,” explained Herring. “We’re not quite there yet, but I do believe that we will be there soon.”

Indiana isn’t the first state to have this kind of position. Herring said she saw a list of 11, but four of them were especially similar to her role.

“Alabama, Delaware, Minnesota and Virginia,” said Herring. “I’ve actually put out some meeting requests to those individuals to talk with them, learn about the scope of their work in comparison to our state, look at the size of their state, their population demographics.”

Though closing disparity gaps is the goal, Herring said a chief equity inclusion and opportunity officer won’t ever stop being useful.

“I think we are always going to have to check ourselves and make sure that we are having discourse in a civil way that is beneficial to everyone,” said Herring.

She said she welcomes suggestions from others and offers advice to anyone trying to create their own equity inclusion and opportunity officer.

“I do hope that this is bit of a trailblazing position for Indiana and that others will follow suit,” said Herring.

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