Back when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was still just a candidate, the New Pittsburgh Courier asked if he would appoint someone to lead his administration’s diversity efforts. He said he would not.
“No I’m not going to do that. That’s my job,” he said.
Now, 10 months into his first term—and despite being three months into a budget battle over taxes and spending—Wolf is trying to do that job.
Last month he issued an executive order directing efforts to ensure “diversity and inclusion in all contracting opportunities for small and diverse businesses throughout the agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction.”
“This executive order is built on the reality that leveling the playing field will make Pennsylvania better for all of us,” he said. “This idea of fairness is important because our economy doesn’t work optimally if some people are shut out of the market’s opportunities.”
The order creates an Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and renames the Bureau of Small Business Opportunities as the Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities.
The council is comprised of representatives from the state departments of General Services, Community & Economic Development, Transportation, and Labor & Industry.
It will also include representatives from small-, minority-, women-, LGBT-, veteran-owned businesses from across the state, and commonwealth agency staff.
“This is an important step in the broader effort to make sure all Pennsylvanians feel they have a life filled with fair chances,” said Wolf. “I’m trying to make our economy stronger in part by making it fairer.”
Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the administration had not planned to release the names of the commission members until all the slots are filled.
African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pa. President and CEO Doris Carson Williams said she received the press release about the commission, but neither she nor any of her members have been asked to serve.
“I think there is reason for us to pay attention to this. It suggested that as a businessman himself, he knows how uneven the playing field for African American businesses,” she said. “It also suggests he’ll have a story to tell when he is our speaker at our annual Business Luncheon in December. At least it’s on his radar.”
Department of General Services Secretary Curt Topper said since the bulk of the state contracting for minority, women and disadvantaged businesses is with his department, it will be staffing the commission.
“This is a big priority for Governor Wolf,” said Topper. “One of the first things he asked me was if I was committed to increasing diversity. I said absolutely.”
Topper said his department and the Governor’s office have reached out to diversity and business advocates across the state and 10 individuals have already accepted an invitation to serve on the commission.
“We want to insure it’s sufficiently diverse but we don’t want it so large it gets unwieldy, so we’ll probably only add two more,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be other opportunities to contribute, on subcommittees for example. We’d be foolish to think a dozen people could know everything going on across the commonwealth.”
Topper said he expects to be able to announce all the names very shortly, adding the commission will meet in Harrisburg but also in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Though the commission members’ names may not yet be known, Wolf has named several African Americans to leadership positions within his administration. And one of them, Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, was honored three weeks ago in New Orleans for his own efforts at inclusion by the Association of Women Executives in Corrections.
From his executive deputy secretary to his special assistants, Wetzel’s senior staff team is comprised mostly of women. Several of the department’s bureaus and offices also are led by women, and one third of his 27 state prison facilities is headed by a female superintendent. Overall, 25 percent of the Department of Corrections workforce is comprised of women.
“In a traditionally male dominated field, we find diversity to be an essential part of the fabric of our organization,” said Wetzel. “I am not only proud of our staff. I am also proud of the fact that all our staff, male and female, has a real opportunity to progress professionally. Many of our female staff is not only leaders in this state, but leaders nationally.”
Wolf’s latest Black appointment came in August with the naming retired Major Tyree C. Blocker to serve as commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police.
The appointment made Blocker the seventh high-ranking African American working in Wolf’s administration, joining General Counsel Denise Smyler, Inspector General Grayling Williams, Wolf’s Deputy Chief of Staff Obie Kernodle, Deputy Secretary at the Department of Community and Economic Development Joe Meade, Department of Health Deputy Secretary Corey Coleman, and Wetzel.
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