2. UDOT News

Where do we go now? The Journey to a Better America

(This is the third installment of a three-part series of posts by Carlos  Braceras, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation. Originally posted on LinkedIn, Dec. 7, 2020.)

In the first part of this series, I talked about considerations of racial and social justice as transportation professionals work to help build the communities of our dreams. In the second part, I suggested that the promise of America has not been fully available to all of its people, and that we must do better. In this concluding post I’m going to share some specific things we are going to do at the Utah Department of Transportation in order to change who we are and intentionally become who we want to be.

That can be a scary word, both for individuals and for organizations: change. Saying “we need to change” or launching a process of change suggests that there is something wrong with us, or that we’re doing something wrong that needs to be fixed — and nobody likes to admit that they are wrong. But as I have indicated in my previous posts, there is something systemically wrong, and we do need to fix it. Even if it’s true that we didn’t recognize the need for change until relatively recently, that doesn’t excuse us from acting now to respond quickly and decisively to make our workplaces and our processes more fair, more equitable, and more open and available to all people, everywhere.

Simply stated, we need to change.

Of course, I understand that change is hard. Our natural tendency is to keep things the same. “The same” is comfortable. It is familiar. It is part of who we are and what we do. We have created the greatest transportation system in the history of the world doing things the way we do them. Wouldn’t it be infinitely easier — and less disruptive to the critical work we do to keep America moving — to maintain the status quo and allow the transportation profession to evolve — slowly, naturally, inevitably — along with every other profession? Why go out there on that precariously scrawny limb when we’re all so very comfortable where we are, how we are, and who we are, with our feet securely anchored to the firm, solid ground upon which we stand — and upon which we have always stood?

Yes, it would be easier. But it wouldn’t be right. I believe that an important part of doing the right thing for the right reason is doing it at the right time. And the time to make these much-need changes is now. I truly believe that. And as a result of that belief, shared by my colleagues in senior leadership and with the support and backing of our Governor, we are making the following changes at the Utah Department of Transportation:

  • We are adjusting our Vision, Mission, Goals and Values statements to include language that highlights respect and inclusion of all people.
  • Our senior leaders are being assigned to reach out to a number of different groups representing different races, ethnicities and nationalities to listen carefully to their issues and concerns and to try to better understand what transportation can do for them.
  • We are developing a program to make our departmental  demographics reflect the demographics of the state of Utah. How can we “build the communities of our dreams” if we don’t reflect the communities we serve? 
  • Beginning now, merit hiring panels will be more diverse. We are not establishing any quotas, and we will of course continue to hire for excellence. We need to see more diversity in the hiring process, with different views and perspectives represented on all merit hiring panels — not just the same group of old white men making all the decisions.
  • We are going to do everything we can to help all of our employees understand the power of diversity and inclusion, and how surrounding ourselves with people who don’t come from the same background and culture is exciting, rewarding, and fun. Right now I’m not exactly sure what form this will take. I’m pretty sure some kind of training and learning experiences will be involved.

Will any of this make a difference? Will it make UDOT more inclusive and diverse? Will it make UDOT a better place to work, and better able to meet the transportation needs of the people of Utah — all of the people of Utah? In a couple of years I will post again to let you know how it’s going. The only two things I know for sure right now are: it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it.

And for us — here in Utah as well as throughout the American transportation industry — that is enough.

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