From driving to voting to marriage, government agencies are involved in nearly every aspect of our lives. Given the government’s role in so much of our daily lives, it is nearly certain that at some point in her life, the average citizen will interact with a government agency.
Government agencies exist to serve the public. Therefore, they must be able to assist all citizens. However, at present, like the private sector, government agencies are struggling to understand and implement the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The United States, like many countries, is becoming more diverse each year. As nations diversify, the government’s need for sophisticated skills related to diversity will increase. While diversity allows for-profit businesses to make money, diversity allows governments to make decisions that benefit all citizens. Indeed, a government that lacks diversity lacks legitimacy. As the Office of Personnel Management states, “Diversity and inclusion increase an agency’s capacity to serve and protect people who have different experiences or backgrounds and enhance its ability to be receptive to different traditions and ideas.”
Our federal, state, and local governments have taken some steps toward diversifying their workforces. According to the most recent data, just over 35 percent of federal workers are people of color. Women are just over forty percent of the federal workforce. But there is still work to be done. LGBT employees remain grossly underrepresented in government sector. Moreover, while women and people of color are represented in entry-level positions, they are rarely found in the high-ranking government positions where policies are made. Government agencies must be aware of these numbers as they make hiring decisions.
As has often been mentioned on this blog, inclusion matters as much as diversity in the workplace. As government agencies and offices hire workers with diverse lived experiences, they must make every effort to create a workplace where these employees feel welcome. For instance, African Americans make up a large percentage of government employees. To be inclusive, government agencies should develop programs that help those employees feel valued. Some government agencies have created affinity groups to support people of color, women, veterans, LGBT employees and people with disabilities in the workplace.
Government agencies should consider inclusion from another direction as well. Government offices must create a spirit of inclusion not only for their employees, but also for the public they serve. People of all races and genders use government offices and services. Some of these people will speak different languages, have different physical abilities, or practice different religions. Government leaders should consider the needs and varying life experiences of the public they serve as they plan programs, advertise events, or create policies.
Finally, diversity and inclusion mean little without equity. As frequently stated on this blog, equity is the process of identifying and understanding the historical and current barriers faced by marginalized people. Agencies and leaders must understand these barriers so they can work to eradicate them. It is especially important for those who make and enforce laws to understand the systems and barriers that continue to impact those outside the dominant culture.
While businesses and nonprofits should work towards equity, government agencies have a special obligation to pursue equity in policies and processes, and create inclusive workplaces. Government created many of the historical barriers faced by people in marginalized groups. The government sanctioned many forms of bias against women, people of color, and LGBT people. Therefore, government has a duty to correct its past behavior. Moreover, unlike private businesses or nonprofits, government also has the resources to directly and immediately address these barriers.
All change begins with self-evaluation. As government agencies plans for the upcoming year, agency leaders should consider the following questions: Does your agency hire people from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences? If not, what is getting in the way? What has your agency done to create an inclusive workplace? What is your agency doing to address inequalities – especially those it may have had a part in creating? If you, your staff, or your agency need additional help understanding equity, diversity, and inclusion or creating an action plan for your agency, you should consider enrolling in The Equity Toolkit. This progressive toolkit designed to enable organizational transformation will give government employees the tools they need to be effective in an increasingly diverse world.