TxDOT revamps recruiting efforts, tackles ‘unconscious bias’

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of Texas’ largest state agencies launched a new recruitment campaign five months after a KXAN investigation highlighted employee concerns of allegations of harassment and discrimination at the workplace.

In May, KXAN revealed more than 200 allegations of workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation over the last five years at the Texas Department of Transportation. A bulk of those complaints come from women, who make up just 22 percent of TxDOT’s workforce, compared to the state’s total workforce which is comprised of about 47 percent women.

Earlier this year, one state lawmaker asked TxDOT’s executive director why the agency’s employees aren’t more reflective of the state’s population when it comes to race and gender. 

Now, in its latest newsletter, TxDOT is reminding employees to be aware of their “unconscious biases” and offering eight hours of paid leave if an employee referral leads to the hiring of a new employee.

“This fall, Human Resources launched a major recruitment campaign to build awareness about TxDOT and its recruitment efforts,” according to the agency’s September/October issue of its monthly newsletter. “The division hopes to boost attendance at recruitment events and convey that TxDOT welcomes and values diversity.”

The cover story, “The Road to Recruitment,” talks about the agency’s new campaign efforts to “emphasize that the agency is a diverse organization with many career opportunities and great benefits.”

TxDOT says the campaign will happen in phases, as the agency utilizes social media and videos to spread its message.

In the newsletter, Sheila Brooks, recruitment specialist with the Human Resources Division TxDOT, says showcasing longtime employees of the agency, who often leave due to retirement, will help attract candidates.

Brooks is quoted in the newsletter as saying, “we want to use this campaign to show a modern TxDOT and, hopefully, change some outdated perceptions about us.”

Following KXAN’s initial investigation in May, there was a wave of allegations of harassment and discrimination reported at the agency. TxDOT executive director James Bass also addressed employees in a video posted to YouTube on July 9.

“Those reports were hard to hear because they made it sound like the department failed to live up to the high standards we set for ourselves and that perhaps some thought we fail to provide an inclusive atmosphere where everyone can work and contribute,” Bass said in the video. “But as difficult as those reports were to hear, I look at them as an opportunity – an opportunity to help our workforce better reflect the people we serve.”

In its recent newsletter, the agency is also educating employees in an article titled “Stereotypes and Diversity: Are you Conscious of your unconscious bias?” 

The article points out that sometimes people “make unconscious judgments about people based on characteristics such as race, gender, age and sexual orientation.”

While the article says it’s “human nature to stereotype,” it emphasizes that self-awareness will help ensure the biases “don’t negatively influence” people or those around them.

“When biases affect decision-making in the workplace, they influence who is interviewed, hired and promoted. Ultimately, unconscious bias hurts diversity, recruitment, retention and employee development,” the article says. “Bias that leads to discrimination such as imposing a negative employment action or failing to hire a person due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, genetic information (for example, a family member’s medical history), military status or age is illegal.”

The article reminds employees not to let “unconscious biases influence our decisions.”

“Take a minute to ask yourself why you are reacting to a person in the way you are and what might be influencing you,” the article says.

Click here to see the entire newsletter.

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