Uncomfortable Work: A Strategic Path to Treasury Success

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable, because it’s in that space that change starts to happen.”

Treasury Inclusion & Diversity Officer Ashley Kuykendoll understands ‘uncomfortable’. Her work with Treasury leadership and employees opens up conversations that lead to understanding, acceptance and workplace change — but it’s not always easy examining systemic barriers and beliefs that impact inclusion in a work environment.

Inclusion & Diversity Officer Ashley Kuykendoll

“It’s important for people to know that the diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] topic is not something that’s comfortable for even those of us who are doing it on a regular basis,” says Kuykendoll.

“It comes with a level of uneasiness to engage with people about topics that can be extremely personal, which in some spaces have also been politicized, and we really try to move away from that.

“We understand that DEI is much broader than any political affiliation — we’re talking about the impact of under-represented or marginalized communities and what that means for people in our workforce.”

Four pillars

Treasury began taking important steps to becoming a more inclusive agency even before Ashley accepted the new role of Inclusion and Diversity Officer in 2018. Workgroups were created, focusing on mentoring, selection and recruitment, and cultural awareness. While initiatives are an important piece of any project, Ashley knew plans for DEI needed both structure and action to support real change in the workplace.

“I describe diversity, equity and inclusion as a car,” Kuykendoll explains. “You have to do maintenance on a car for it to function properly. You change the oil, you change your tires, you fuel the vehicle, you do much more than just drive it. In the same way, we have to continue to pour resources into this workforce for positive change to be sustainable.”

Under the direction of Treasurer Eubanks, Ashley and senior leadership have created a yearly strategic plan and strategic path, concentrating on continuous improvement via four pillars of major focus:

1. Recruitment and Retention

2. Professional Development

3. Management/Leadership Resources

4. Cultural Awareness and Education

In 2021, the strategic plan for Inclusion and Diversity consists of two major projects: supporting and promoting Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) throughout the department and providing training and development on identifying and addressing inclusion barriers.

Space with grace

Launched through administrative collaboration, the Treasury Executive Lunch Series is an employee engagement program based on this year’s action plan. The series is designed to guide upper management through topics such as Understanding Resistance & Cultural Competency, Emotional Intelligence and Defining Equity vs. Equality, while offering “space with grace” — open discussion in a safe, learning environment dedicated to DEI best practices and workplace improvement. The sessions have been well-attended, pulling in 50 Treasury leaders, with three more sessions scheduled this spring and summer.

Ashley acknowledges the Treasury Executive Lunch Series, combined with other ‘four pillars’ programs, have fostered department opportunities for all levels of employees interested in increasing their own cultural competencies.

“We have a treasury book club that starts a new book quarterly,” she comments. “Several high-level administrators and leaders have attended throughout the course of the year, and on their own personal time.

“It started with Robyn DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, along with a director and a deputy treasurer saying, “hey, you’re reading that book, I will read it with you!” It turned into 26 people signing up for our first book club, engaging with their peers and processing what it was they were reading.”

In addition, Kuykendoll points to the six employee resource groups [Black History; Hispanic Heritage; Pride Alliance; Supporting Women at Treasury; Health & Wellness; Veterans Group] that Treasury leaders are engaging in and reaching out to for resources and bureau-wide presentations. Ashley is pleased to see the department not only talking about inclusion and diversity, but making it a priority to operationalize DEI strategies.

Moving forward

Recognizing the importance of a diverse workforce, Governor Whitmer issued an Executive Directive in 2019, creating Equity & Inclusion Officers (EIO’s) in each state department. Kuykendoll has been collaborating with the Governor’s office, creating a continuity plan to ensure all state agencies and departments will be ready to successfully engage in DEI work.

Ashley is gratified the directive includes additional support to really embed, ingrain and sustain DEI beyond Treasury’s initiative; opening conversations on race, age, generational concerns and gender identity ultimately creates productive spaces for all workers across the state.

“We want to create and sustain an environment where people can be their best selves and do their best work continuously,” Kuykendoll says. “Sometimes that will cause us to question the things that have been normalized to us. It may even cause us to be a little bit more mindful, thinking about who is not in the room, who is not represented within our department and what that means for the product or service that we’re delivering to Michigan residents and businesses.”

“Change management doesn’t happen overnight,” she adds. “But we’ve begun the uncomfortable work that leads to progress and success.” ~

Inclusion and diversity questions? Contact Ashley at TreasuryInclusion@michigan.gov.

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Michigan Department of Treasury

The Department of Treasury is committed to maintaining Michigan’s financial integrity. Contact: 517-335-7508