Working to create a safe, inclusive culture

In response to “Assessing the Workplace Culture at the Department of Fish and Wildlife: A Performance Audit by the Washington State Auditor’s Office (PDF)” published September 13, 2021.

As a new Director coming to the agency, I understood that past instances of sexual harassment had significantly harmed WDFW staff and left lasting consequences for the organization. This knowledge has been a constant companion to me as I have recruited and appointed key positions such as a new deputy director, human resources director, and region and program directors.

Together, at more than leadership levels within the Department, WDFW has undertaken a breadth of changes to improve our culture and create a respectful workplace. We’ve invested in a third-party reporting tool, hired a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) manager, increased training, increased internal communication throughout the agency, and established and deployed a set of core values that all staff are now working to abide by and stand up for.

Many of these measures were in the initial implementation stages as this audit was completed and new efforts have progressed since then. This audit has provided a snapshot in time and provides a baseline to understand movement over time as we continue to implement changes and make progress every day.   

We are heartened by the finding that sexual harassment is not a pervasive issue across the Department and the many efforts we are making together are paying off.  We’ve learned that most staff at WDFW are experiencing a positive work environment - they enjoy their work, their colleagues, and their supervisors. And yet, our aim is to achieve a positive work experience across the entirety of our agency – universally safe and respectful. 

Although WDFW has similar rates of demeaning behavior impacting staff as the national average for employed individuals (20%), we are focused on creating a universally respectful work environment for all staff. Like other natural resource agencies, we struggle to achieve greater diversity and gender parity. Yet, we know that progress on this is critical to creating respectful workplaces where inclusivity is broadly demonstrated and WDFW is a place of employment that is attractive to a diverse workforce. WDFW went in into this audit process wanting to learn what issues continue to play a role in our workplace culture – and we are proud of how our staff engaged with the auditors to provide this review and help us improve.  

I thank the State Auditor’s Office for their time, commitment, and concrete, actionable recommendations – work we fully intend to pursue.  The public and our employees can expect to see WDFW take action to:

  • Fully implement new respect in the workplace policies
  • Further develop staff’s cross-program and cross-region interaction opportunities,
  • Restart supervisor trainings that were temporarily paused during COVID, and develop methods for supervisors to receive performance feedback from staff,
  • Clearly define the Department’s investigation processes, and
  • Continue to enhance internal communications. 

These audit findings confirm that while the Department still has work to do, we’re headed in the right direction.  

Kelly Susewind
WDFW Director