In November 2020, Karrah Herring was appointed as the Indiana government’s first-ever chief equity, inclusion and opportunity officer by Gov. Eric Holcomb, a position she stepped into in February of this year. On May 26, 2021, she reflected in a Zoom presentation on her goals to build diversity and foster an inclusive environment within the state government to better provide services to every state citizen.
Herring’s presentation was sponsored by the Ball State Office of Inclusive Excellence, the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the Indiana Association of Blacks in Higher Education. She discussed how she became the chief equity, inclusion and opportunity officer after watching Holcomb’s state of equity and inclusion address in August 2020.
“He acknowledged the privileges that he's carried throughout his life, and came to a reckoning that he was going to have to step up and use some of those privileges to expand opportunity for those in the state who didn't look like him and who didn't have those same privileges growing up,” Herring said.
Last year, Herring and Holcomb discussed his vision for her role, where they both realized they wanted to see the state of Indiana become a leader in equity, inclusion and opportunity for years to come, even after Holcomb’s term in office ends.
“One of the most critical pieces to this office is coming into something that's never existed before,” Herring said. “That [means] building it from scratch, building the team and creating something that will be sustainable.”
Herring said her initial work began with sitting down with key stakeholders within government offices, including the human resources department, and local agency leadership to listen to feedback on the culture and challenges staff are running into with recruiting efforts and hiring retention.
“We have a lot of work to do, especially when you're looking at those [data] in terms of race [and] ethnicity — the disaggregated data — and gender,” she said.
Herring said she is focused on working closely with the 30,000 employees who work within the state government to ensure she is monitoring their recruiting efforts and working to professionally develop and promote people of color throughout organizations. She said she is planning to hire a deputy chief of workforce engagement, who will work closely with agencies and Indiana’s state personnel department to understand what their workforce demographics look like.
Herring will also be monitoring the external equity across the state of Indiana by looking at how Hoosiers are running into barriers when it comes to accessing state services.
She is working with Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, to examine literacy rates at the third-grade level to determine where improvements can be made to ensure success for students in their K-12 careers.
To better prepare students for higher education and entering the workforce, Herring and Jenner are working to increase knowledge and accessibility for the state’s college credit and workforce certification programs for high school students. They hope to see a trickle-up effect that will increase the number of students entering higher education and becoming certified in workforce competencies.
Herring said she is also committed to bettering the quality of life for Indiana veterans, individuals with disabilities, women across the state, citizens from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and rural residents with a general lack of access to all of urban Indiana’s programs.
“There's a lot that is going into this, but we have a very streamlined focus on education, workforce, health care and public safety,” Herring said.
Herring said her office’s website, equity.in.gov, will be published in two weeks, and members of the community can interact with her office and request meetings to discuss any concerns and get her contact information.