By MAYA NISHIKAWA
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (August 7, 2011) — Emma Corrie has made a career out of bringing people together. She’s worked in human resources for 18 years and the last decade for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Most of her career has focused on helping minorities earn positions in government. In May of 2011, Corrie was promoted to Mn/DOT Operations Division Business Manager. Mn/DOT’s Operations division is two-thirds of the department, including 5,000 employees.
“Every position I’ve had has given me a way to give back to the Asian American community or the larger community. I hope to continue to do that in role that I’m in now,” said Corrie.
Corrie immigrated to the United States from India in 1995. One of her early achievements in state government included facilitating the hiring of the Department of Natural Resources’ first Hmong, Vietnamese, and Cambodian officers. They are all still with the department today. Over the years, Corrie has carried on this goal of diversifying the government’s workforce. In this new position at Mn/DOT, Corrie oversees and manages the division’s budget, human resources, and administration. She is one of the few minorities currently in a managerial role at Mn/DOT.
“We are beginning to see some minorities now in professional and middle management, hopefully we’ll see them in the ranks of managers,” added Corrie.
For about two years before this latest promotion, Corrie headed a collaborative workforce project to bring minority businesses and employees together with seasoned professionals.
“I think we made a lot of progress…We were able to bring different sections of community that touch minorities to the table with traditional Mn/DOT contractors and labor unions,” she explained.
The idea was to give these groups, such as advocates for small and minority businesses and community organizations, some help building relationships and learning from more experienced businesspeople in the construction industry.
“We wanted to give them a real education and understanding of industry and training that could build their capacity to play and to be able to bid and win Mn/DOT jobs. Very often this community is so far from reality of the industry, they can’t get their foot in the door,” Corrie said.
During this collaborative project, Corrie facilitated new relationships that led to labor unions working with minority groups to train workers. She thinks the project also helped show contractors how serious Mn/DOT is about training and hiring minority workers and businesses.
“It’s a very powerful message we gave contractors. These are federal projects with federal goals. We told them you need to be meeting these goals, “ she said.
Corrie is also proud of the work she’s done at Mn/DOT over the years to develop young talent among minorities through internships and mentorship. She said such minority worker programs have contributed to about one-fourth of the minority hiring at Mn DOT.
Corrie explains, “More of those programs are vital. Our kids can do great things…The state of Minnesota is the largest employer in Minnesota, so getting kids of color into internships is absolutely imperative if want to change horizon.”
Corrie acknowledges that some of the challenges many Asian Americans face are not just systematic, but internal and often culturally based.
“Often, in terms of Asians, often we find really smart folks also hard working but sometimes where we fall short is in being outgoing and building networks. That is absolutely key.”
Corrie has changed perceptions by becoming a high-level manager and very visible role model. She says there are probably some people she encounters who still have stereotypical ideas of the Indian American, but she takes that on as a challenge.
“There’s no other way of doing it than proving it wrong.” she said.