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How Colorado Is Making Tech Inclusive and Equitable

Colorado Office of Information Technology's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Senior Manager Sarah Consuelo Hernandez on her approach to human-centered design, increasing diversity in IT and making a lasting impact.

Sarah Consuelo Hernandez, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Senior Manager, Colorado
Office of Information Technology
Sarah Consuelo Hernandez has a relatively rare job in state government — she works within Colorado’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) as a full-time manager of diversity, equity and inclusion. While tech equity has risen lately on government priority lists, it’s still somewhat rare for a central IT shop to have dedicated staff for the work. But things are starting to change.

1. How does design factor into equity work?

They go hand in hand. Equity doesn’t happen on its own. I think about equity and design in two ways: internal and external. With external work, despite our best intentions, technology is susceptible to bias. It’s important we’re aware of unintentional biases. For example, we could design a mobile kiosk that is really great, but it turns out it isn’t accessible to people with visual impairments. We can bake equity into the design process.

That relates to the internal piece with our workforce. Technology is a reflection of the people who build it. It’s important we think about the teams we have doing the work and taking care of our people. We want them to have a great experience with OIT, and that involves building an inclusive workplace that makes all employees feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work.

2. How can tech facilitate equity and diversity?

Equity, diversity and inclusion are not just nice to have. Tech is not a luxury these days for people in Colorado. It’s a necessity, and it’s become increasingly important to quality of life and opportunities. For that reason, it’s increasingly important for us to think about accessibility and tech. We have a program dedicated to digital accessibility for people with cognitive or physical disabilities, but inclusion work also involves thinking about access to devices. We might design a product that makes a process easier for some, but if you don’t have a smartphone, it actually makes it more difficult. Tech can help facilitate equity and diversity, but we need to have equity and diversity internally so we can be informed about what Coloradans need, especially Coloradans facing the greatest barriers, including those who have been historically and structurally marginalized.

3. What are your top priorities?

In 2023, we’re really able to scale up the work, because we’ve doubled our diversity, equity and inclusion team. There’s two of us, and that allows us to go a lot deeper and wider. We’re launching a comprehensive employee research group program, creating spaces that are carved out specifically for people who maybe feel less connected. We’re also going to continue working with our internal equity, diversity and inclusion work group. Then we’re going to scale up our training and development. I try to avoid one-and-done efforts, because research shows those don’t have the most sustainable impact. You go to a training and it’s great, but then you go back to your day-to-day work and forget. The idea is going deeper.

4. How does leadership support your work?

In August 2020, our governor signed an executive order on diversity and inclusion. In a lot of ways, that was a catalyst for this work to happen in all state agencies. OIT has really taken that seriously as far as how we can operationalize equity, diversity and inclusion in state government. Our CIO, Tony Neal-Graves, has been supportive of this work from the very beginning. He holds himself and his entire leadership team accountable. Having that kind of support from the very top is just huge, and it makes the impact so much greater. It’s not just about checking a box; leadership is very serious about having this woven into our business operations.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.