The most commonly heard counter to a call for diversity in hiring is to say that, instead of bringing in people from a variety of backgrounds, the only choice is to hire the best person for the job. No other criteria should matter.
In some cases, that might even be true. If we’re selecting a position where the qualifications are so stringent that one and only one person can do the job, then of course that’s who we must choose.
Most jobs aren’t like that.
There is no one best person to run the Department of Motor Vehicles. There is no one person who best exemplifies the characteristics needed to be the state’s budget chief. There’s not even one person most qualified to be governor. There are, instead, many people who could do the job.
To that end, it behooves everyone to select a team from a variety of backgrounds, cutting across race, gender, sexual orientation and national origin. People from different backgrounds might approach a problem differently, or see a problem where others see smooth sailing.
People from diverse backgrounds may have more empathy for someone caught in a system not of their making. It may be easier for people of a certain background to see where a client is coming from when no one else in the bureaucracy seems to understand.
Gov. Ned Lamont took some criticism last year for choosing former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz to be his running mate. The move forestalled a potentially damaging primary fight but also once again ensured that, were he to win, the top two state officials would lack diversity in an increasingly diverse state.
Lamont promised then that he would put together an administration that better reflected what Connecticut looks like, and he has held true to that. Lamont has hired the most diverse collection of department heads the state has seen, and he should be commended.
Individually, his nominees appear eminently qualified and would be worthy of the job in any context. Collectively, they reflect changing state demographics and represent a look toward the state’s future.
Leaders including Vannessa Dorantes, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families; Chris Soto, director of Legislative Affairs; Melissa McCaw, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management; and Seila Mosquera-Bruno, commissioner of the Department of Housing; and many others are prepared to bring Connecticut into a new era, combining experience with a fresh outlook on state affairs.
To some people, increasing diversity is a threat. Some may feel like positions that were once rightfully theirs are now up for grabs. In reality, that’s as it should be. When diversity is key to the hiring process, the top candidates will still stand out, to everyone’s benefit.
The difference is that everyone has a chance to shine.
The state of Connecticut has many issues and Lamont does not lack for challenges. But for hiring a diverse leadership team, he deserves credit.