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Taking Action on Race Dynamics—Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By the Port Authority Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
July 29, 2022

Just four years after its creation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) was put to the test last year when the bistate agency’s chairman and executive director tasked it with crafting a meaningful response to address racial equity in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020.

By mid-June, Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole and Executive Director Rick Cotton established a Leadership Steering Committee (LSC) of 10 senior executives led by Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Michael Massiah to address race dynamics within the agency, culminating in a report and action plan.

The LSC held nearly 30 employee listening sessions, engaging approximately 2,400 participants from across the agency, including union employees and members of the agency’s Employee Business Resource Groups, which help foster a diverse and inclusive work environment. These sessions generated more than 600 employee comments and recommendations for improving workplace culture, diversity and fairness at the agency and its facilities. 

Working groups, comprising employee volunteers, identified immediate, short- and long-term recommendations and initiatives in six key focus areas designed to advance real change:

  1. evolving agency culture
  2. manager and employee development
  3. transparency regarding human resources practices and functions
  4. police diversity and enhanced best practices
  5. the Port Authority as a good community neighbor
  6. demonstrating commitment through policy

The groups’ work demonstrated the value and strength of diverse employee teams and leveraged the agency’s dynamic and multicultural workforce to lead efforts, collaborate, elevate honest feedback and shape thought-provoking programs. 

Earlier this year, LSC produced Taking Action on Race Dynamics, an extensive and far-reaching 25-point plan that included new standards of excellence. Among the plan’s key initiatives:

  • Agency management training courses and leadership development programs have new course content to train managers to mitigate unconscious bias, practice non-discriminatory behaviors and manage diverse teams to affirmatively cultivate, recognize and celebrate a welcoming and respectful work environment.
  • Anti-racism training is mandatory for all represented and non-represented employees.
  • All agency recruitment programs were overhauled to ensure highly qualified, diverse pools of applicants for positions ranging from entry-level to operations and maintenance, from technical professional to executive. 
  • Employees will receive annual report providing all workforce demographic data. 
  • The Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) will implement the use of body cameras by officers, a policy generally consistent with approaches New Jersey and New York State Police departments have taken. PAPD also has implemented best practice policies in policing, including an updated use-of-force policy and new policies setting standards for providing medical assistance to arrestees. Further, the agency is completing an overhaul and upgrade to its recruitment programs to strengthen diversity in the police academy. 
  • Upward mobility programs for career professions, such as administrative and entry-level job categories, are underway that will have a high proportion of diverse employees and provide networking, training and mentorship for existing employees.
  • A non-retaliation policy has been extended to complaints concerning workplace equity.
  • An Employee Experience Advisor is charged with resolving workplace equity issues generally; supporting productive workplace practices; and creating an official office where employees can discuss concerns related to inclusion, workplace equity and respect in the workplace. The agency’s performance evaluation system will include emphasis on mitigating bias, improving fairness and impartiality in the evaluation process and allowing multiple sources of feedback for employee performance evaluations.
  • Employee materials will highlight the history and heritage of the diverse cultures represented at the agency and foster greater cultural understanding and dialogue, including the addition of Juneteenth as a permanent agency holiday. A virtual cultural library highlights the diverse heritage of employees and new policy enhancements support employees’ ability to express their socio-political views appropriately outside work.
  • Ongoing educational series about race, transportation and economics ensure that agency executives and employees with decisionmaking roles are well informed about race dynamics and the socioeconomic context within the agency’s service region.
  • Employee forums on the agency’s community outreach programs now seek employee suggestions and feedback to improve or strengthen existing efforts. 
  • A recently issued guide to a respectful workplace creates a blueprint for acceptable workplace behavior and assures all employees feel valued. 

“Since releasing the report, we have put into place several initiatives that will help guide the agency in achieving the goal of a truly dynamic, forward looking, diverse and inclusive workplace,” Massiah said. “We want all of our employees to feel empowered and be supported so that they can be their authentic selves in the workplace.”

In addition to helping foster a more inclusive and responsive internal work environment, ODI is steadfastly committed to Title VI and Title VII compliance responsibilities, as well as cultivating greater opportunities for Minority and Women-owned Businesses (MWBEs) through its Business Division.

The Business Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division has best practice programs regarding certification, compliance and capacity building. Novel capacity building programs include the A&E Principal Academy, which provides architecture and engineering owners’ special business and financial executive management programs. Businesses also can take advantage of technical support with the engineering department, which provides a university-based construction management program to improve operations. This set of business opportunity and engagement programs have significant socioeconomic impact on the MWBE community and diverse neighborhoods surrounding the agency’s facilities.

The results: An extraordinary record in the Port Authority’s most recent projects. Contracts awarded to certified MWBE firms at the LGA Redevelopment Program exceed $1.8 billion, the largest for any public-private partnership project. And, more than $450 million has been awarded to MWBEs for EWR Terminal A & Consolidated Rental Car Facility/Parking Garage projects.

To read Taking Action on Race Dynamics, go https://www.panynj.gov/port-authority/en/press-room/press-release-archives/2021-press-releases/port-authority-releases-new-25-point-plan.html

Author: For more information, contact Pamela Mendoza, project manager for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, at [email protected].

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