OMES Diversity and Inclusion Council elects leadership
By Christa Helfrey
Created in 2011, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services has served Oklahoma by providing core services to over 189 state agencies, municipalities and affiliates. OMES is the backbone of government, responsible for the state’s finance, property, human resources and technology services, and our staff is what makes us strong.
2020 brought massive change to the agency. Under the leadership of Executive Director Steven Harpe, we sought innovation within technology, cut agency costs and reinvested in our team. One of those investments, the creation of OMES’ Diversity and Inclusion Council, established us as 1 of only 9 state agencies to have a council or civil rights representation.
Director Harpe said he views the council as an essential advisory resource for driving agency culture and empowering employees, no matter their age, race, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
“It is important to create a safe culture in which diverse thoughts and perspectives can be shared,” he said. “OMES is the agency of transformation. We are opening a seat at the table to a diverse set of opinions and considerations, in order to drive agency decisions and thoughtful outcomes.”
The council elected leadership in early March, establishing TJ Peterson, a project manager with OMES Information Services, as chairman. Information Services Director of Technical Training Anish Peringol and Employees Group Insurance Division Group Management Specialist Jon Wooten were elected to serve as vice-chairman and secretary, respectively.
Peringol said he is not the type to pursue a leadership position, but he could not pass up an opportunity like this, not only for himself but for many people he cares about and for future generations of the state’s dedicated workforce.
“The stuff that we’re doing now affects all of those people,” he said. “It may not seem like it because we’re just starting off right now, but this kind of seed, when it takes root, it affects everything going forward.”
Wooten said being a leader of the council has highlighted the importance of considering other perspectives and providing a safe space to express them.
”I just hope the council is able to prove it has value to OMES staff,” he said. “In this role, I’m finding there are so many other individuals or groups that need representation. My goal is to make sure that unheard voices or small groups always have an avenue to share fears, concerns or happiness.”
In a 38-person council where men are the minority, Peterson said he, Peringol and Wooten immediately met to address the lack of women in council leadership. This fueled the creation of seven subcommittees built on the idea of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action (Access) to allow more council members to lead within areas of their choosing.
“The more leadership positions there are, the more diversity you can have in people who enter those positions and the more shared responsibility you can have,” Peringol said. “The more people that are in leadership, the more parts of OMES become involved.”
In addition to forming the subcommittees, the council also established its mission statement. Peterson said the next goal is to write an effective policy for change.
“We have to crawl before we walk,” he said. “It’s important that people are willing to see from the other side. The educational aspect of culture is understanding, and if you’re able to open your mind, you’ll be surprised how sometimes, just because you look at something one way and it’s the way you’ve always done it, doesn’t mean it’s correct. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but there could be a different way to look at it.”
Another part of the agency’s movement toward more diversity is recording and monitoring the demographics of our own employees. According to current data, OMES ranks well among the state workforce when considering race, gender and age percentages. Knowing where we stand now provides valuable insight to shape goals and areas for improvement.
“One of the first steps is identifying every part of the system that we can influence,” Peringol said.
To begin the process of adjusting our workforce culture, the council leaders plan to meet with all division heads within OMES, and then address the whole agency through the Employee Recognition Program. However, Peterson, Peringol and Wooten said there are also opportunities to expand the council’s influence beyond our own agency. They want to connect with other agencies and the private sector to foster a network of interagency diversity and inclusion. Peringol said the goal of that network is to share ideas, resources, strategies and experiences across the State of Oklahoma, and facilitate a way for agencies that do not have their own diversity council to implement one.
“If the council does our job effectively, we can place these values into action and construct authentic bridges across differences and empower our organization to be the necessary change we know OMES to be,” Peterson said.
In a year of adversity, Director Harpe has prioritized growth for our agency in many areas. His push for the Diversity and Inclusion Council created a space for people to share different perspectives and adjust the OMES culture. With newly elected leaders, the council is building a foundation now that will endure and evolve to the needs of our workforce.
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Christa Helfrey coordinates and creates original content for all OMES social media platforms, with an emphasis on written and visual communication. She assists with the research, writing, editing and distribution of OMES internal and external publications for grammar, spelling, consistency and OMES branding compliance.