Bringing a Hobby into Work
As director of the West Virginia Equal Employment Opportunity Office, Jann Hoke is responsible for training on issues related to equal opportunities and employment.
She used to present a two-hour lecture on changes in the law and what’s new from the state Supreme Court and her office. The training is targeted to equal employment opportunity counselors, who may work in human resources or in another role for their agency.
“In the past,” she said, “I’ve been very rigid about the way I presented the law and changes in the law.
“Not only was it boring, but it wasn’t helping them do their job.”
All of that changed last summer. Hoke was a 2013 Council of State Governments Toll Fellow and learned enough about herself through the leadership training to discover that she needed to change things. She thought her leadership style was more free, “more loosey, goosey,” as she puts it. It turned out that her leadership fell more along the lines of a play-by-the-rules, more rigid style.
Hoke has a theatrical side that she called upon to lighten up the training sessions. She created scenarios and handed out parts to people.
“It was a little more raucous than what I’m used to,” she said. “That particular session got some of the highest evaluations among our participants.”
Had she never been selected as a CSG Toll Fellow, Hoke never would have made those changes.
“I’m already better because of it,” she said of her Toll Fellows experience.
Training on employment law is a major part of Hoke’s job in West Virginia. Housed in the governor’s office, the West Virginia Equal Employment Opportunity Office was created by executive order in 1990 to ensure state agencies and higher education institutions stay abreast of employment law. Then-Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator, appointed Hoke to lead the agency in 2009.
She had served as a staff attorney for the West Virginia Senate on and off for 25 years before taking off a couple of years to care for her ailing mother.
The position was a change for Hoke, who had never been an administrator.
“It’s been a learning curve, but it’s also been so interesting,” she said.
And rewarding. She gets calls regularly, showing the need for the type of training that her office provides.
“I get at least a call a week from people actually in tears because of something that happened at the office, and sometimes it is really illegal,” she said.
The training helps avert some of those problems, but the commission also addresses complaints and tries to work through issues with the state agency and the employee. Failing that, the commission takes formal complaints and leads an investigation with agency investigators.
“Our mission is to make sure that employees of the state of West Virginia have a safe and comfortable working environment where they’re free from unlawful harassment,” she said.
Hoke is originally from Virginia; she grew up just outside Washington, D.C. She began her college career at the University of Virginia, but when her brother decided to attend West Virginia University, she visited it and “was kind of charmed by how friendly everybody was and how interesting the school was.”
She fell in love with the state. “I like the way that family is so important,” she said. “People are interested in where you’re from and who you are.”
Her second favorite place is Missoula, Mont., where she lived in for awhile when she was working on a master of fine arts in creative writing. That’s where she met her husband, Jay Hoke, a chief judge in West Virginia’s 25th Judicial Circuit. They moved to West Virginia in 1990.
Hoke, who holds a law degree from the West Virginia University College of Law, majored in journalism with a minor in drama during her undergraduate career. She’s active in community theater in Charleston and is a member of the West Virginia Writers group.
Charleston has an event called FestiVALL, where the city becomes a work of art each June. It includes visual arts, music, theater, dance and film. One part of it is a location play, where participants are given a location and asked to write a 10-minute play. Hoke has won that event the past three years. The plays are performed during the festival.
“It’s really cool to write a play and see people act it,” she said.
And it doesn’t hurt that her hobby has helped her career in at least one way.