Anoka County diversity
Andre Koen was Anoka County's diversity and cultural coordinator until he left a few months ago to launch his own workplace diversity and cultural consulting business. When offered the county job, his friends of color gave him some pushback and told him he would face challenges in the predominantly white area, he said.
"They were giving it to me from their historical perspective," he said. They said it "was white, blue-collar and very Archie Bunker-like."
In addition to diversity recruitment, Koen conducted training, wrote an internal newsletter on cultural norms, worked with county social service workers and law enforcement, and engaged employees to attend diversity events outside the county. He received local and national awards.
During his tenure, the number of county employees of color rose from a low of 37 to 56 in 2011. He wanted more success.
"I had a longterm strategy and I ran out of time," he said. "There are no quick fixes."
To his disappointment, his former job will merge into another human relations position that won't deal exclusively with diversity issues.
Melanie Ault, director of human resources, said the county has a solid history of employees staying for a long time, meaning slow turnover. The county sends representatives to job fairs and places job postings at affirmative action sites, and has seen an increase in minority applicants, she said. The county also will be re-marketing itself as an employer because many people pass over county jobs when pursuing a career, she said.
Koen says he believes that county leaders were enthusiastic when he first came aboard, and that some of the support waned a few years later.
In his new job, he recently led diversity sessions at a statewide jail administration conference and was pleased to see that many attendees were from Anoka County.
"My separation didn't create a disconnect, and hopefully the visions and ideas I had about diversity will go forward," he said. "They don't have all the answers and neither do I."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465
Andre's purpose is to reconnect people to their Dignity and Honor in Being Human.