WI Director of Personnel Management Malika Evanco
Where the Action Is
|Malika Evanco got her start in the human resources area
through the late Demetri Fisher in the Division of Affirmative
Action in the WI Department of Administration
left,” Evanco said. “We still have that in our performance activities. Also, which is a change because eons ago, all of the HR staff were located out in the agencies
and while they are still located out in the agencies, they actually report up underneath this umbrella. We have directors, our central staff here, our managers and
supervisors out in the agencies and all of our HR professionals, who are our payroll folks and benefits administrators. Centrally, we also do benefits administration.
Our EEO/AA folks are out there as well. And then we have our HR specialists and professionals.”
As she talks about the Division of Personnel Management, Evanco is quick to give praise to the management team she works with and the employees within the
division. While she was appointed only a year ago, Evanco and her team have already been through a lot together.
“When I first came in, I was told we had a $2.8 million lapse and had to hold on to some positions due to the prior administration,” Evanco said. “And so, when I
came in, I was like, ‘Let’s get our lists together so that we can start filling some of these positions.’ We knew that some of our agencies were really hurting for staff.
And the following week — it probably was my second — we heard from the legislature that they were cutting 10 percent of our HR workforce. That was like a kick in
the gut to have to deal with that coming in the door. Having to deal with that coming in the door as a leader and saying, ‘Okay, how do we determine where to cut
and which positions?’ That was very challenging. But I have to say the team that I have around me and the people that I work with have been awesome. While it
was very difficult for the directors and managers, they have been very supportive. They have really tried to keep the morale of their team up. They have tried to
really make it work with the people they have.”
Personnel Management is responsible for employee recruitment. Even though state agencies had to cut their workforce by 10 percent, there are still positions to be
filled. On April 2, Personnel Management will be hosting a Career Job Fair at the Alliant Energy Center.
“One of the things that we know is that we have not done a good job in promoting who we are as a state employer,” Evanco said. “We are one of the largest
employers in the state. And so, the career fair is really to promote who we are at the state. We have close to 30 state agencies. And so, this will be all of our
agencies participating in the career fair and promoting the different occupational categories. We have nurses. We have accountants. We have budget folks. We
have a plethora of occupations from forestry to health services to administration and human resources to IT to attorneys, which people don’t think about. Let’s
promote who we are. But at the same time, we have close to 350 openings across the state. This is also an opportunity to recruit for those job openings. We’re
telling people to update those resumes. We’re looking for the people who are looking for jobs and the people who aren’t looking for jobs who are saying, ‘I might be
interested.’ We are looking for people who don’t necessarily or haven’t very often thought about the state as an employer. I would also say that one of the great
benefits that people don’t always think about when it comes to working for the state is when you have close to 30 different state agencies, you are able to move
around. If I am, let’s say, an accountant, I can be an accountant for the Department of Administration, Health Services or Natural Resources and still maintain my
benefits and pay structure. You can’t say that in moving around with a lot of other employers. You are going to have to start all over with your seniority and benefits.
You don’t lose that moving around in state government.”
The state is also trying to recruit young people, especially people of color, through their diversity internship program.
“We are at about 300 applications for about 250 positions,” Evanco said about the program. “And we still have agencies that are submitting positions for interns.
But new this year, we have worked with the UW to actually provide housing for students who might want to live here for the summer at a reduced rate, so there is
that option out there as well. From what I am told, even when we sent an email asking if applicants were interested, immediately we got about 40 people who said
they were interested. Right now, we are very proud that we have been able to double the number of students of color who are applying. We have been working with
the agencies to give us well-meaning positions that will expose students to state government in a different way. We are also a part of that program for not only the
work experience, but also looking at experiences that will connect them more into state government. They will tour the State Capitol. There is a fishery. We’re really
trying to expose them to different areas of state government and more networking opportunities with other interns in training that we are also building into the
program as well.”
With the support of Governor Tony Evers’ administration, Evanco feels that there is a real openness for change in personnel management and she has the support
to effect that change.
“I feel like there is a lot more opportunity and I am able to move the needle in a way that I had not anticipated,” Evanco said. “And that is great. In part because we
have a new administration and new leaders at these agencies who are open to change, I’ve never been one to say, ‘Let’s keep doing it because we’ve been doing
it this way for 20 years.’ And even coming in with the team that I have around me, they have been open to the change and ready for some direction in what we are
doing. And so, that has been a breath of fresh air. With some of the vacancies — I have been able to hire the director of Equity and Inclusion — I have been able to
bring a different perspective to the roles. We’ve also been able to hire some great HR professionals and directors. Working with a great team, having the support of
administration has been great. I’ve been doing HR for over 20 years. I think that this position really allows me to bring fully everything that I’ve done in HR. I can see
that it is being put to good use from the work that I did around equity and inclusion and affirmative action to compensation to training to even the things that I have
done with strategic planning.”
Earlier this year, Evers issued an executive order to create an equity and inclusion initiative throughout state government. Personnel Management is right in the
middle of the action to implement the initiative that establishes an advisory council on equity and inclusion and goes far beyond personnel.
“When we think about some of the bills that are being written, in looking at those bills, we might say, ‘Is some of that language adversely impacting our
communities of color,’” Evanco said. “We can look at the appointments for our boards and commissions. Do we have diversity on our boards and commissions?
When we look at our facilities, what are we doing to make sure that our facilities are compliant or our websites are compliant? We are looking forward to working
with that council as well. The executive order also requires that all cabinet agency secretaries take equity and inclusion training. We actually met with all of the
secretaries and deputies, talked about our strategic initiatives and also had a follow-up conversation that was specifically centered around equity and inclusion.
We talked about what we are doing. We asked them to identify some of the gaps and what we are missing around equity and inclusion. What did they feel we should
be prioritizing? And then they were also able to share with each other, as executive leaders, what they are doing around strategies concerning recruitment and
retention. One of the things that we very clearly heard was that as leaders, they wanted more training around equity and inclusion. My office has taken on
coordinating and facilitating that training for executive leadership. Right now, they meet on a monthly basis. We have a vendor who comes in and provides that
training. We are also working on the training that all employees will be required to take around equity and inclusion as well. These are very exciting times because I
feel as an HR professional, this is what we all live for, to know that we can come to the table and have significant impact.”
Malika Evanco is where the action is and her impact could be felt for generations of employees to come.
By Jonathan Gramling
In some ways, Malika Evanco’s career came full circle when she was appointed to head the WI
Division of Personnel Management. About 17 years ago, Evanco worked in the Division of
Affirmative Action under the late Demetri Fisher when it was in the Office of State Employment
Relations, the precursor to the Division of Personnel Management. And after stints in personnel
with Agrace, Madison College, the Sun Prairie School District and the UW School of Medicine and
Public Health, Evanco has come back to lead the entire personnel effort.
Evanco’s division employs roughly 430 people in not only the Dept. of Administration, but in all
personnel functions in most state agencies.
“Under our umbrella is all of our training for the state, our compensation and classification,
Affirmative Action, which is now Equity and Inclusion, our merit recruitment and selection
section and our workforce relations, which we still have two collective bargaining agreements