Supporting Judicial Diversity
Dorca M. Paulino, RWU Class of 2017Alumni
Growing up, Dorca M. Paulino never imagined she would one day work for the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Now, she serves as the Diversity Director of our state’s judicial branch of government.
Paulino works to increase representation in the legal field and to educate members of the judicial branch on best practices for serving diverse populations. We recently spoke with her about her career and the ways her RWU Master’s of Public Administration degree helps her make a difference.
How did your position come to be?
I am the first diversity officer appointed to serve in a state’s judiciary in the New England region. Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell made it a priority to increase representation in the workforce and decided to create this role. Before joining the Supreme Court, I worked in the private and nonprofit sectors in the areas of human resources and workforce development. Coming into a newly developed role from a different industry allowed me to look at the issues at hand with fresh eyes, and to use my previous experience to develop the role and make it my own. Creating a workforce that reflects the population is important to the judiciary’s administration, and I am honored to carry out this work.
What issues do you work on?
There are issues that need to be tackled, especially when we consider what representation looks like in the legal field, and how limited our applicant selection pool is. For example, last fiscal year, 53% of the positions the Judiciary filled required candidates to either be enrolled in law school or to be attorneys accredited by the Rhode Island Bar Association. A big focus of my position has been to develop a selection pool of qualified candidates by coming up with creative ways to increase representation in the workforce and engagement within the community.
How do you work to increase diversity in the applicant selection pool?
In addition to conducting community outreach and partnering with service organizations to identify qualified candidates, I have developed several programs designed to foster a pipeline of qualified candidates. One of them is the judiciary employment education program, which targets high school juniors and seniors. The goal of the program is to educate students about careers in the judiciary and the skills and qualifications required for appointment. The program aims to inspire students to consider higher education, to pursue work in the legal field and to consider public service. We also introduced a shadow program for students and job seekers interested in learning more about the professions represented in our state's judicial branch of government. Judiciaries across the nation are struggling with increasing diversity in the workforce. We are being proactive by offering programs to educate young professionals and influence their decisions as they consider which career path to choose. We have had a positive response from the community, and in 2019, the National Association of Public Administration presented the Rhode Island Judiciary with the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Exemplary Practices Award due to the contributions these programs have made.
Have you seen success with these program?
Yes, in fiscal year 2019, which ended on June 30th, 23% of our new hires identified as minorities. This was a big milestone because while minorities make up approximately 28% of the Rhode Island population, only 18% of our state's workforce identify as minorities. To explain this in lay terms; workforce data gathered by the U.S. Census, American Community Survey division, excludes individuals who have retired, and minors who are unable to work due to age restrictions. What makes my job difficult is that the qualification requirements for over 50% of our vacancies make the selection pool even smaller. If you review data estimates for categories in the legal field, you will find that the latest Census data estimates show that only 2.20% of attorneys practicing in Rhode Island identify as minorities. Yes, the outreach initiatives have been successful, but we owe our success in part to our Chief Judges and Administrators since they are the ones making the hiring decisions.
What else do you do in your career?
My position serves a dual role by serving employees and members of the public. Internally, I lead and facilitate our diversity and customer service training program, which was designed to educate members of our workforce about the Rhode Island population. The training offers best practices on how to interact with individuals from different backgrounds and explores topics such as implicit bias and prejudice. The function of the judiciary is to facilitate access to justice, and there are many individuals working behind scenes to facilitate that process. My position is responsible for ensuring compliance of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action regulations, which means that I provide centralization and coordination of compliance activities across the six-state courts, and serve as the liaison between the Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights and the Rhode Island Judiciary. Every day of work is different. I could start my day reviewing the applicant selection pool and contacting our Chiefs and Administrators to make a recommendation, or speaking at an event, or developing reports, or doing a presentation, or working with our in-house General Counsel and Employee Relations teams to update an internal policy, introduce a new policy, or handle a complaint.
What makes this work important to you?
When my family moved to Rhode Island from the Dominican Republic, I was a freshman in high school and did not speak English. I am the first person in my family to attend college. Today, it motivates me to be in a position where I can be a bridge for other people who come from a similar background and are looking for opportunities to serve. My family lived in poverty, but growing up in the Caribbean, I was hopeful that there would be opportunities for me in the future. That was my big ‘why’ for going to college, and I’m pleased with how things turned out. I am grateful to be in a position where I can open doors for others.
Why did you want to get a Master’s of Public Administration degree?
My family inspired my decision to leave the private sector and pursue a career in public service. When we lived in the Dominican Republic, every Wednesday night, my grandmother made it a priority to identify and visit a family in need. Whenever she could, she would bring food, but she always prayed with them, and if they were sick -she would clean their home or cook for them. Before we moved to the United States, we lived in the countryside, there were no hospice centers, and if somebody was passing away in their home, a family member would call my grandmother and she would go to their home and comfort the family. She always brought my oldest sister and me with her. Those are some of my most cherished memories because that is where I learned the importance of showing up for my community and being of service. Rhode Island has been our home for almost two decades, and my mother is a female pastor in Providence, which impresses me because there are not many women leading the church in our state or abroad. Seeing the strong women in my family, and their service, leadership, and courage inspired me in the past and continues to inspire me to carry that torch in a different environment. For me, service involves showing up when there is a need, and pursuing a Master’s in public administration seemed to be the next logical step if I wanted to be in a position to serve the state that formed me and increase my impact.
Why did you choose RWU?
What sets Roger Williams University Master of Public Administration apart from other programs is how rigorous the research curriculum is. Students learn to research the facts, to evaluate the issues, and to propose programs and policies, and to offer solutions to the issues our communities face. The program evaluation and implementation curriculum was highly valuable to me as a graduate student and has guided my work in the Supreme Court. Another selling point for me was that the MPA program at Roger Williams was flexible and had a hybrid online component. We were required to attend a class every other week and were able to complete online lectures and to participate in forums on the weeks we did not meet.
What did you learn in the MPA program that helps you today?
My biggest takeaway from the program was how to conduct sound research. Developing a thesis and conducting research might sound intimidating for someone without a research background, but my fondest memories as a graduate student involve Dr. Michael Hall, Director of the MPA program. As a full-time employee and student, it was important to me to have the support I needed. There were times I would show up to Dr. Hall’s office the day after a lecture to ask a clarifying question. It did not matter what he was doing, he would stop and answer my question. Dr. Hall had extremely high expectations in class, but he also provided high support in person, over the phone or email. As Peter Drucker said, you cannot manage what you cannot measure, and the program helped me to create the foundation to make educated, data-driven decisions.