…Because You Can’t be What You Don’t See

Posted on December 12, 2018

Christine Edwards quote

This article is a guest post by Christine Edwards,  Community Relations Coordinator at Mecklenburg Couty.  Christine is a member of the ELGL Diversity Dashboard team as well as President of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) Southern Piedmont Chapter and NFBPA National Committee Member for Marketing & Branding.  Christine will lead the “Chat Cafe” on the ELGL Diversity Dashboard initiative at the 2019 NFBPA Forum in Orlando, Florida.

Christine Edwards, MPA

I can remember taking a class in grad school while studying for my Master of Public Administration (MPA); it was one of the core classes, where we analyzed Katrina, the devastating 2005 hurricane that changed New Orleans forever, as an emergency management case study.

I can distinctly remember watching the accompanying documentary on the edge of tears while my peers took notes.

As one of a handful of black students in my program, I felt strangely seen and invisible at the same time thinking: how can we as leaders govern when disparity is so obvious but in that same thought, how can we NOT govern in this moment?

I know there were many contributing factors to New Orleans’ failed rescue and recovery but the stark visual of African Americans being ignored, painted as looters and dying was not one I could view from a neutral lens.

These and other reasons are why we must focus and shine a light on diversity, equity and inclusion in local government. When we have administrators of color who have diverse lived experiences and empathic perspectives while still being effective leaders, we have a more fair and balanced government.

And in my opinion, residents can hold us to a high standard because of that. When residents know that their community leaders and policy makers are intentional about diversity, they become more likely to interact and to be empowered.

“You can’t be what you don’t see”.

Throughout my career, I have looked to women like Teresa Wilson, City Manager for Columbia SC, Bonnie Svrcek, City Manager of Lynchberg, VA, or Debra Campbell, the newly appointed City Manager of Asheville NC.

I wouldn’t likely aspire to someday be a city manager myself had it not been for those women who came before me.

ELGL’s Diversity Dashboard measures the gender, race, age, and veteran status of local government chief administrative officers and assistant chief administrative officers across America. This Dashboard is the first nation-wide analysis of diversity among local government leaders across all forms of government.

And this comes at a time where people are looking to government to restore faith in the democratic process. Residents depend on us to provide them the services they need with no pretense or conditions.

The Diversity Dashboard is important because you cannot make improvements without first identifying a problem and then you cannot realistically expect to move the needle without first measuring success.

You have to define AND measure success in all of its forms. And that is why the dashboard is iterative. It is a living, changing piece of information that ELGL has committed to keeping relevant.

ELGL has been at the forefront of challenging young public administrators to communicate our value more effectively, harness technology to network and look within ourselves to see what creative contribution we can make to the profession.

I commend ELGL on the work done thus far and I’m in it for the long run on how diversity, equity and inclusion work plays out in the near future.

The next step for the Diversity Dashboard will be a nationwide, inclusive forum to identify approaches that are working to improve diversity and a process to replicate those initiatives nationwide. We need to understand how to leverage the data to encourage initiatives that bring diversity to local government leadership.

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