Blog Post

Three Challenges Government Agencies Face in Advancing DEI

By Alexandria Appah
November 8, 2022

Many industries are struggling with defining diversity, equity, and inclusion and how to implement it into their company culture. Everyone wants a one-size-fits-all answer, but every organization is different and must overcome unique challenges, especially local government agencies looking to protect their employees and communities. Judging by the data, it can be argued that simply not enough is being done year after year, and little to no change is happening when it comes to the advancement of DEI. Public–sector DEI is important because it demonstrates that government leads by example, encouraging the private sector to do the same. As both sectors become more inclusive, we can more rapidly level the playing fields across the country.

Here are some of the unique challenges that local governments face when it comes to advancing DEI:

Attracting and retaining diverse talent at the local level

When hiring for public offices, 74% of employers say that it’s hard to attract and retain new talent. These offices rarely reflect the makeup of the populations they are elected to serve. It is particularly hard to attract Gen Z talent to government positions and keep them there. In as little as eight years, they will soon “outnumber millennials, making them highly sought after”, but the government is blocking them out because of how difficult it is to apply for a public sector job. College and university students often have low awareness of the range of opportunities available in the public sector, and many students view public-sector work as a way to improve their communities, but they also tend to have a variety of negative perceptions about public-sector work.

When people from underrepresented groups do take positions within the government, they often don’t feel supported and leave after a year or less. Because of such high turnover rates in these offices, many new employees do not have the confidence that their jobs are secure or that they have the leadership support they need to help them do their jobs successfully. Employers have a difficult time retaining marginalized talent because those employees feel as if they cannot bring their authentic selves to the workplace. According to a report published by MissionReport , when effort is made to include all people, there is a 56% improvement in worker performance. To recruit diverse talent, it’s crucial to consistently articulate leadership commitment to hiring underrepresented individuals into the public sector. Also, communicate the benefits of public-sector careers by emphasizing the public sector’s purpose-driven mission, employee benefits, and job stability, and publicize improvements.

Implementing a strategic DEI plan owned by DEI leaders

According to research, only 26% of local governments admit to having a DEI plan in place. It’s difficult to keep diverse or marginalized talent without having a DEI plan or strategy. Many employees feel undervalued when they aren’t treated in a way that they feel is respectful of their differences. DEI teams are feeling that they have little to no support from those in power. Chief Diversity Officers will often leave positions after a year or less because of the treatment they are subjected to, and many no longer have control over their own budgets and feel as if they don’t have the proper control for their position. Many CDOs are often tasked with creating a DEI plan after a traumatic event has happened to a marginalized community, but these plans don’t last because they are meant to solve one issue, not to create lasting change.

Representing the needs of diverse communities

Cities are growing, and with that comes a multitude of values, perspectives, and diverse interests within our communities. In order to stay connected with the people they are representing and attract diverse talent, government officials need to decipher what DEI looks like for their specific communities and work to meet those needs, instead of being too generic. According to ELGL, community members are often unsure if “effective public policies and services [will be implemented], due to the lack of representation of the values and people of the community.” Many people who live in these communities are suspicious of what the government does for them or simply don’t believe they are qualified to work in government positions.

In communities that are mostly made up of people of color (POC), government leaders need to acknowledge the historical context that surrounds POC and government. One way to solve this issue is to recruit employees from the community who would understand best how to approach the community. Implementing DEI practices into local government is a way to ensure that citizens are engaged and trust in their systems and officers. It also ensures that public needs are met, and that policies are created that benefit the people who live in those communities.

When local governments make the advancement of DEI a priority, there is an opportunity to transform culture. There are opportunities to listen and learn from each other, uncover systemic racism, address equity in our organizations, and propel change in our federal workforce. DEI cannot be a siloed office; rather, it must be an integral lens used across the whole enterprise.

If you are interested in learning more about how Seramount solutions can help move your DEI strategy forward at your government organization, contact Alex Appah at [email protected].

About the Author

alex headshot
Alexandria Appah
Senior Director, Partner Development