September 30, 2023


Alaysia Black Hackett, Chief Diversity and Equity Officer
at the U.S. Department of Labor| Presidential Appointee

By Iris Raeshaun

  This month marks the one-year anniversary of Alaysia Black Hackett as the Biden-appointed Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Officer. 

   When the President wrote an executive order to the federal government to model diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), a global pandemic, international protests against the murder of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a White police officer, and a racially-motivated Capitol riot put disparities on full display, demanding a closer look at solving injustices and inequities. 

   More specifically, Biden wanted to cultivate a workforce within the federal government that drew from the full diversity of the Nation. He wanted a DEIA officer in place to coordinate efforts of embedding equity in the labor field.  Last August, Hackett accepted the inaugural position tapped to employ her 20-plus years of DEIA experience to make an impact internally and externally.

   Previously, Hackett served as the inaugural Deputy Chief Diversity Officer to Governor Ralph S. Northam in the Commonwealth of Virginia where she co-created the ONE Virginia Plan, a DEI strategic plan for inclusive excellence across 100+ state agencies in Virginia. She served as DEI Consultant for the Virginia Dept of Human Resource Management where she had oversight of the review and removal of bias policies and inequitable hiring practices and was an EEO investigator. Prior to her tenure in government, she spent 18 years in administration and diversity officer roles in institutes of higher learning including: University of North Carolina-Asheville (a state institution), Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (a large community college), Virginia Union University (a historical Black college/university), and Mars Hill University (a private institution) where she established the diversity office and advocated for inclusive excellence.   She received the 2020 Governor’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Outreach Award for leadership in prioritizing equity in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s COVID-19 pandemic response by helping to improve access to historically marginalized communities. She earned an executive juris doctorate from Concord Law School at Purdue University Global.

   Hackett talked with @blackwithnochaser contributor, Iris Raeshaun, about her first year, elaborating on what DEIA is, what it is not, the significance of DEIA positions, and accomplishments.


Congratulations on your appointment.  Let’s start with you describing your first year as the Chief Diversity and Equity Officer.

   Absolutely and thank you for that question. My first year has been very exciting. I’ve learned so much in this role literally making history. That for me is a major plus. I’m influencing what has been done to the workforce around the country. I’ve been able to uplift the Biden-Harris Administration’s Invest in America agenda advancing racial equity in communities, looking internally at the federal government’s DEIA workspace, how we’re partnering with communities, specifically Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic and minority serving institutions, tribal colleges, and other underserved communities, and externally, reviewing how we show up in the communities that we serve.

Acting Secretary for the Department of Labor, Julie Su, announced at the National Urban League’s Annual Conference held in Houston, Texas last July that workforce participation by women ages 25 to 54 is at the highest rate it has ever been in 75 years and that its Black women who are powering the economy while facing some of the greatest inequities in almost every measure like pay and the ability to gain wealth. She said ending systemic racism is good economic policy and should start with equity for Black workers. She ended her address by challenging attendees to hold her and her office accountable. What are your thoughts on this?

   When I was being introduced to this position and having done this work for 20-plus years, it was told to me that Su, who was then the deputy secretary, leans on really solving the problem of the Black workforce and solving that would solve all other discrepancies.  I’m being candid here when I say I thought there’s no way that she means that.  I researched her and she is serious about people having a work-life balance and embedding equity into everything we do.  She was one of the reasons I decided to come to the Labor Department. 

Describe the career path that led you to this position.

   Everything lined up for me to be here.  Coming out of the Northern administration where in Virginia a governor can only serve for one term which is four years, I was frequently asked if I had interest in joining the Biden-Harris Administration.  Before I was appointed for the Virginia DEI position, I was trying to get out of doing DEI work because I cannot unplug from being a black woman. I am raising a Black son. At that time, so much was in the media about events across our communities. I was overwhelmed with not being able to have a respite when I went home, so I planned to reinvent myself. Former Secretary Mike Walsh said he wanted me on his team. I went through the process of interviewing and all of the clearances that need to happen at this level and was offered the position.  It was a good feeling, you know? Having done this work before and having the expertise but sometimes feeling like it was not valued and now to be here and see where this is an unprecedented opportunity to work in the Biden-Harris Administration and be a part of the evolution that we’re seeing in becoming a more perfect union.  

DEI positions across America are decreasing in number. For instance, in Texas the positions in higher learning institutions have been eliminated. Can you discuss the significance of having this role in place?

   You know when I was earning my juris doctorate, I reflected on the process of drawing up the Constitution of the United States of America. There was only one type of person in that room writing the document. If you look at the law that talks about a reasonable male, then that’s the reasonable male’s perspective. The way that I view and discuss what’s going on in our country as we consider diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility work, the writing of the constitution only had one perspective, which was that of a reasonable White male. A woman was not in the room from what we know. We don’t know if there were people with disabilities, or a person of color present. Consequently, I see the work of DEI officers as a balancing of what was not considered in that room.  DEIA is about making things equitable for those who were not seen, heard, or included when the Constitution was written.  It doesn’t take away from any one or remove anything but allows all people to have the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The National Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is September 21. What is the disparity in pay between men and women?

   Right now, women are being paid only about 83% of what men are paid, and unfortunately, women of color are paid far less. Women face additional barriers such as not being able to go to work due to caretaking responsibilities, whether its children, aging parents, or someone with a disability. This is discrimination. We’re looking at this gap in three perspectives: empowerment, enforcement, and equity. Empowerment is working with unions because union representation helps close wage gaps for women, particularly women of color. We’re also empowering workers by informing them of their rights.  Enforcement involves protecting workers’ pensions and competitive wage theft. Let me tell you that I was surprised that this still happens! I remember thinking, “Is this really happening right now in 2022?” Like, this is another version of slavery, so our work is not just about wages and income disparities but about building wealth. 

   My position as the Chief DEI Officer is to embed equity into everything. My office portfolio is not limited.  Coming into this position I often say I have no lane. I’m supposed to be involved everywhere.  I give feedback and guidance. Embedding equity is very intentional work. It’s not just words on paper, or soundbites or an elevator pitch.  It’s what we’re doing to affect the wage gap.

Are there any other accomplishments you care to mention?

   One of the things that the pandemic showed us was a lot of inequities such as when it comes down to just what is plain language, or the translation of documents for those who need it most. We worked with states to ensure documents are written in plain language so people can understand the message. I think this is brilliant.  We are increasing our outreach so we can tell our success stories, whether it about how we’re promoting grants, or sharing how former Secretary Walsh went to Mississippi to talk with Black farmers and sent a team to investigate wage theft and working conditions.  It was immediate. It did not take 12 months or even a month. It was a success to help those in that region and let them know they had advocates in Washington.

How do you foresee the next three to five years or so?

  The continuation of our cross-agency initiative providing guidelines for good paying jobs, and continuation of our external outreach that allows us to hear back from our communities.  This is the accountability piece to which Secretary Su frequently references.  We want every worker to know that they do have advocates working to advance equity.

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