The St. Paul District regulatory division is making waves with its People First committee. Originally called the diversity, equity and inclusion committee, it was formed in 2020 to increase representation and inclusion across the division.
Rachel Gralnek, regulatory project manager, and Meghan McKinney, regulatory systems administrator, lead the committee.
“Our team is experimental in a lot of ways. From what we understand, we are the first diversity, equity and inclusion team in regulatory nationwide,” McKinney said. “Our team has a lot of staying power in part because our focus on regulatory and our division as a whole.”
As an area of the Corps that works with the public, McKinney says she views the committee to improve customer service. “We may not personally come from a certain culture, so we may not always be aware of certain things such as, for example, religious fasting days,” McKinney said. “We want to make sure we’re not holding a public meeting in the middle of something that is important to a community.”
“Our mission statement in general is just being opening, welcoming and understanding. We may not always understand everyone’s culture diversity, but we can appreciate their background and skillsets to empower a stronger relationship,” Gralnek added.
“We’ve discussed the importance of developing meeting guidelines for hosting a productive meeting while considering cultural differences and what resources, such as an interpreter, are necessary for a successful meeting,” McKinney said.
Gralnek said she came to work for the Corps right after completing her undergraduate degree, where open dialogue was a major focus. She noticed that there was room for improvement when talking about diversity, equity and inclusion at the Corps and became interested in the team, working with them in its beginning stages.
McKinney said she was interested in the team when it first came up because she started with the Corps through a recruitment program for college students with disabilities.
“I have what our team would refer to as an invisible disability; when you look at me, you can’t tell that I have a disability,” McKinney said. “In a lot of ways, it was the first time I was able to acknowledge to myself that I was welcomed as a disabled person. This opportunity is very meaningful to me to express my identity while still being able to provide meaningful public service.”
McKinney added that her family has a strong history of military service and while she couldn’t serve in the military as an active-duty soldier because of her disability, she can still serve in this way.
“It’s valuable to see so many people participating on the team, given their high workload,” McKinney said. “We don’t have a set requirement for how many hours a week to participate or anything like that. People join us as time allows and it’s been a really great way to get to know our teammates.”
While the committee initially began as a narrow scope within the regulatory division, it has now expanded into working on priorities for the district commander as well as having sub teams and a newsletter published once a quarter.
“It’s creating more of a welcoming community that has helped our division with retention and hiring practices and overall workplace morale,” Gralnek said.