Exploring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Public Sector

Today’s post comes to us from Neil Reichenberg, former executive director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA‐HR).

MissionSquare Research Institute released a report highlighting the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for public organizations, along with the multiple DEI-related challenges facing the government workforce. The report concludes that “Workforce diversity can pay dividends for the organization, in terms of the trust it can help build with the public — whether in education, healthcare, public safety, housing and community development, or other fields. When area residents see themselves reflected in the public service workforce, hear from those agencies in their own languages, or feel listened to about their community concerns, there can be a more effective partnership for problem solving, and a more relationship-based pipeline to recruiting the next generation of employees.”

Among the DEI challenges discussed in the report are:

  • The overall lack of diversity in management, such as city managers or in public safety, can result in community trust issues and difficulty retaining a diverse workforce
  • The continued substantial number of employees retiring, resulting in the need to develop workforce and succession plans
  • Occupations that are mostly represented by one demographic, such as librarians who are overwhelmingly female and are impacted by economic or pandemic displacements
  • Discrimination and/or feeling unwelcome can negatively impact retention of diverse employees
  • The need to develop recruitment strategies that reach out to diverse candidate pools
  • The impact of technological changes on certain occupations, such as secretarial positions, and the affect these changes will have on the diversity balance in the workforce

The report contains several suggested actions that public sector organizations could consider. This includes: appointing a DEI officer; evaluating current staff diversity and identifying areas within the organization where there is a need to take steps to increase the diversity; developing creative recruitment strategies to enhance knowledge of the myriad career opportunities that are available, in order to attract a more diverse applicant pool; ensuring there is a regular process to obtain data on employee engagement, satisfaction, and issues around DEI; creating an inclusion program that assists employees in connecting with employee resource groups, mentoring programs, and sponsorship opportunities to enhance their connection with the organization; and considering equity during policy discussions, so that differential treatment of protected classes or workforce segments can be eliminated.

Studies have demonstrated the organizational benefits that result from having a diverse workforce, and this is especially important for the public sector, which needs the trust and involvement of its citizens. As the pandemic has shown, governments provide critical services and need to be able to compete for top talent. In a tight labor market, governments need to be proactive to ensure they can recruit, develop, and retain needed talent. While hiring a diverse workforce is a key first step, it’s also important for employees to be treated equitably and feel that they are an integral part of the organization. DEI should be an organizational priority and not just the responsibility of the diversity officer.