Impediments to Increasing Diversity and Inclusion Are…

Posted on August 17, 2015

We are continuing to release results from our diversity and inclusion survey. Today we reveal impediments to advancing the #13Percent.


I think the biggest impediments to increasing diversity and inclusion in local government are…

People just don’t think of Public Administration as a field they want to work in. I think if the exposure of students would increase, there would be a larger pool of diverse candidates to choose from.

Perceptions, misunderstandings & a fear of ‘change.’  I think for many people “diversity” means quotas – this is not your parents/grandparents hiring practices – or at least it should not be.  I also think people are afraid things will be “different” in a negative way.  Get out of your comfort zone & you will probably learn something very valuable & make some great new friends in the process. 
Educating people that your government is even interested in hearing from them. We spent so much time ignoring them. This is not Field of Dreams. Just because you build a venue for everyone to participate does not mean they will come.

Public employees who are performing at a basic level are almost impossible to fire.  I think that if we had the ability to terminate under-performers, there would be more opportunities to hire new people and inevitably (if we have fair hiring practices) the work force will diversify.   

Lack of interest/effort, anti-affirmative action laws, old/outdated ideas of gender, lack of same-sex benefits and protections nationwide.

Racial & Ethnic Bias

Cross-cultural impediments with regards to communication 

The lack of understanding regarding the multiple dimensions of ‘ Inclusion’

The consequences of “the normalizing power of denying Racism” or, Denying that, even after controlling for “working hard” & educational attainment, the color of one’s skin (tends to) prescribe the extent by which he/she is valuable, “a good fit”- or capable of (insert task).   

  • At the ICMA conference, four students of color were told by white and black city managers that it will be difficult to attain leadership positions in areas that are not minority areas.    
  • A handful of African American professionals at the ICMA conference stated the top reason given for NOT receiving a senior level position was ” you are not a good fit.” FYI, for people of color that statement essentially means “we are looking for someone white.”
  • I was recently included in a conversation at a board training where it was stated “nobody wants a Ni*** telling them what to do.” This was concerning on many levels but perhaps the most disturbing is that one of the individuals is an HR Director in local government.      

Encouraging young people to explore opportunities in government is critical. It is hard to be interested in something that is misunderstood, so it is the job of the current professionals and educational institutions to partner, teach about and promote government as a positive path.

Some of it is due to interest/awareness – I’m not sure all diverse persons are aware of the opportunities in local government – I think this has to do with less mentors (people in power) showing folks the way.

The same types of people are always in power and give insincere lip service to change. A big part of it is the form of government and our political systems themselves that encourage certain types of people to leadership. Narcissism and ego reigns supreme with the assumption that the top of the org chart is the top of the world.

Old policies and old thinking.  Ignorance or lack of awareness.  Lack of a culture of introspection.  Poor training.  Always assuming that diversity leaders (e.g., program managers) have to be from a minority group rather than actually having expertise and education in the field.

Here is where each type of diversity matters and cannot be lumped together. There are different impediments to diversity depending on what type of diversity you want to achieve. Racial diversity faces different obstacles than diversity of age or sexual orientation. It also seems clear that different communities may strive for different types and levels of diversity. The criteria for diversity is different in the mid-sized city I work in now than the small rural Ohio community I grew up in.

It should start with the public schools and institutions of higher education.  There should be a more focused acknowledgement of the community needs that play a role in educating students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This would help insure their success. I believe this would increase diversity of the candidate pool. In addition, there should be more structured recruitment policies within local government organizations to minimize exclusion (non-intentional and intentional).

The goal should be to have a highly efficient organization with the highest level of customer service standards possible.  If diversity can be increased by achieving that goal, then great.  But taxes are paid for the services provided, not to provide a more diverse workforce.  The main exception to this is in communities with significant populations of residents that do not speak English.  In this case, it is necessary for there to be employees throughout the organization that can speak the other frequently used languages.
The belief that it’s too hard to hire a diverse workforce (takes too long, people don’t understand each other). The threat to white jobs. Bigotry – stigma. Lack of political will. Not talking about the problem in community forums. Entrenched fundamentalist Christian communities. Where are the religious minorities in our communities? Hiding out in fear, I suspect. We tried to have an employee discussion about religious diversity a few years ago and it only highlighted some of the intense differences – it didn’t seem to foster understanding.

Old school mentalities that inhibit the fresh talent of younger generations, different genders, or varied races. Times are changing and embracing this can lead to expanded horizons, doing things the “good ‘ole fashioned way” isn’t necessarily the only or right way. For some things, this works, but not all.

An imbedded culture that is resistant to change.  A belief that it isn’t part of “our real work,” e.g. “diversity is good, but what is MOST important is that we get these roads built on schedule…”  Leadership has not made it a priority.  It’s hard work, and it takes investment in a long-term process.
“Good old boys system,” which breeds “majority” of Caucasian males in workforce and “group think.” Difficult, but not impossible, to change mind frame to see situations through different set of eyes.

The political pitfalls that the CEO faces by allowing more input into delicate planning.  Keeping confidential projects confidential in an open government platform would be difficult with inclusion of a larger management team. 

I think that creating an issue that the community is not diverse enough, states that the present workforce is not adequate or capable of doing the jobs they were hired for. Adding diversity for the sake of diversity does not necessarily make the workforce better if they are not capable.
Applicant demographics.  There are cities that struggle with diversity and inclusion because of the applicant pool they have.  Cities have to be careful to not adversely discriminate on qualified candidates just to meet diversity and inclusion goals.  It is important to take the measures of due diligence and pick the best candidate for the job. 
Leaders/managers who avoid conversations about how to effectively and positively change attitudes.  The next biggest impediment to progress is the same impediment that hinders progress in other areas – managers/leaders who themselves are not held accountable by their superiors to make the proper changes.
Attracting candidates from an increasing small pool of recruits which is smaller across the board regardless of race or gender and increased competition for them

Particularly in our community, we have a high Asian populations with Japanese, Korean, Chinese and East Indian.  Very few of these groups are interested in local government work.  I think we do a very good job at recognizing their culture, values and civic events. 
First: not noticing that it is missing. Second: not actively engaging young people of diverse backgrounds about the benefits of local government. Third: by broadly defining diversity when you really only want to address one aspect of diversity in that given moment. E.G., why address diversity as a mixture of educational degree attainment when you really want to address gender gaps? Be specific and come up with specific solutions or strategies.

Some of our issue has to do with location – hard to recruit non-whites, less conservative, gay… into a town dominated by the university.  Generally, I’m not sure.  Maybe salaries?  But probably not.  I think the lack of innovation might cause bright folks of any kind to look to private industry.  Not sure people are that into stable anymore – I think people are looking to be challenged and to challenge the status quo. Plus – people stay a LONG time in local government – our average age is 44.

In small cities and towns it’s just a lack of people.  The way we sometimes get people to run for office is by seeking them out and encouraging them to run (otherwise seats would be left vacant). Unfortunately, that means the pool is limited to people that previous council members or those already involved know.  Trying to get people outside that sphere is challenging since the traditional ways of advertising and soliciting for applicants is not working.

Human nature/inertia, the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mindset, and a lack of a diverse pool of candidates interested in entering and engaging in the local government sector.

Influencing your leadership folks to change things.  Things cannot continue to function as they have for the last 75 years.  Continuation of repressing ethnic groups is a thing of the past, but embracing change and becoming an inclusive community is building a balance community.  As civic servants (government employees whether you are a department head, assistant city manager, elected official, receptionist or the city manager) it is our duty to understand our community needs especially those in distress circumstances and teach / educate them for optimal growth.  “You can give fish to a hungry person and he will expect it, but teach him how to fish and you have strengthen your army, city, community”.  Programs through the “youth” department can outreach kids as a means of building them for our benefit and theirs.  I can go on and on but I think you get the picture.

Culture and stigma that goes along with local government. Often seen as a sterile place in which to work, low pay and just not “sexy”. There is a purpose with local government work, this higher purpose must be promoted in order to attract diverse applicants. Paradigm and cultural shifts will be key.

My guess is that this is a primal instinct – one that helps us to know whether we can trust someone new. However, when race, for instance, is used as a surrogate for character, the judgment is inevitably wrong – not to mention destructive to our individual humanity and society as a whole.

Lack of knowledge and fear. Too many people perceive diversity as relating to quotas rather and understanding the opportunity for true competitive advantage. There is often fear associated with what those who have more typically had influence perceive that they stand to lose.

Our job postings are very limited so our applicant pools are very small. 

Not knowing how to achieve it, not receiving applications from diverse applicants for jobs, not knowing where to go to encourage relationships with diverse populations

Qualified candidates self-select out either for higher pay in the private sector or based on myths about public sector employment.
Not made a priority by leadership; no goals/metrics for dept directors to make it a priority given their limited time and resources.
Exposure.  In both directions.  Also, we still talk about tolerance and acceptance when we need to talk about leveraging our differences.  Our good intentions sometimes prevent us from the candid conversations that could help us.

We must have diversity officers, special hiring programs and separate support panels that all identify people based on external characteristics, rather than programs that aim for a diversity of worldview, thought, and manner of perceiving issues and problems. Our current vision of diversity seems only skin-deep…

Lack of opportunity for upcoming people of color to gain the experience to compete with inside or outside candidates. The commitment has to be a willingness to train on the “weak” areas.   

Just as people tend to live near people who are similar to them, people tend to hire people who are similar to them. There needs to be a “business case” made for diversity, which is difficult inasmuch local government is not competing for business or clients. Further, is increasing inclusion supposed to be different from increasing diversity?  If so, what is the difference supposed to be?  If not, why have two different expressions for the same concept?

I think change has to happen within the hearts and minds of each and every individual.  If we are able to come to the table with those of us that might have differing opinions and/or views we will find how very much a like we truly are.  Diversity trainings have to really ignite us to change.  Travel and understanding of different cultures has benefited my journey towards cultural competency profoundly, sadly this is not the case for many. 

People generally don’t know what diversity and inclusion look like in practice.  Is it enough to have a minority at the table?  No, it isn’t.  Does that mean we have to do whatever one person wants so they feel included?  No, it doesn’t.  The challenge is letting people know what it is.  We have to initiate difficult conversations in our leadership about what diversity and inclusion look like in practice and how are WE part of the problem and the solution.

It starts at the top.  Elected officials need intensive training and orientation regarding diversity issues as it relates to public employees, to client services and the makeup of our communities.  Human Resources need to broadcast a great net when recruiting for employees and improve the diversity on interviewing panels to have good representation of diverse ideas and backgrounds.
Creating meaningful and sustained initiatives that capture a broad and holistic approach to diversity. Challenging leaders and elected officials to be bold and visible in the organization’s outreach programs. Diversity needs to be championed at the highest level of the organization for ALL groups.

The insulation of key staff leaders from responsibilities for their actions.  I do not think city and county executives are willing to press the individuals making hiring decisions to confront their biases and attempt to have a workforce that looks like the community it serves.
For us, attracting young, diverse talent with particular skill sets to work in rural, small community is a challenge. 

Time — leadership is often stretched thin and initiatives that promote diversity often take a back-seat to day-to-day operations and important issues impacting local government. Staff resources must be dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion. It must be a targeted effort, not just something that lives only in a mission/vision statement and only discussed as an ideal/ intangible goal.
Fear. Government is so traditional and we are all set in our ways. Time to break the mold and believe in the future generations to tackle these issues and change the perspective of local government in communities everywhere.

The pool of qualified applicants is not great as other more lucrative and attractive professions are recruiting for diversity too.  In Oregon it is difficult to find great applicants that smaller communities can afford and retain.

Hiring managers hire those they know and like. If they do not value or see a need for diversity or feel threatened by diversity of thought and race, they will not hire a person that is different. They will play it safe.

The normal existent barriers that have existed for a long time. It’s part that local government has always had an eager and hardworking talent pool to pull from that has produced excellent employees (so why change?) and that those diverse voices we would eagerly welcome have higher goals or greater opportunities outside of the local government field because of the greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion in both the public and private sectors.

Doing what has always been done and not being open or embracing change. Ones rank and pay grade may keep someone from speaking up or from being heard.

Diversity can be a very sensitive subject, one that few are eager to tackle. One of the hardest steps is to put the right person in place who can communicate well for the City and in turn share the needs and expectations of minority employees and residents in the City.
Government is focused on meeting the needs/demands of citizens.  This consumes so much time that being able to sit back and evaluate (really) the inclusion of all into the system is rarely given a thought.  Also, how does government justify the expenditure of hiring a person (spending public money) to be in charge of making sure ALL PEOPLES are included in decision making?

We aren’t working on the pipeline to encourage young people that government service is a viable alternative

Reluctance to change. Continually talking and researching these “diverse groups out there” instead of listening to constituents, and REALLY listening. Go to all events, even if they are Asian chambers or Latino festivals. Go with a mentality that we have something to learn, and we are empowered to help the community even if it is a branch of government we are not associated with. Self-serving, program focused goals are what puts people of color off. Why should I help you achieve your goals of looking more diverse when you have no interest in helping me achieve my goals of understanding x,y,z of permitting process and active citizen participation. Investing in a community of color means investing in relationships that are not quantifiable.

Traditionally, white males and black females are the ones being encouraged to peruse public admin degrees. I think educating a wider group of races at a younger age about how government works and more importantly what are the available careers might encourage more youth to pursue that line of work. More teens should want their career goal to be a city manager.

There are a lot of factors at play in the lack of interest including lack of understanding for what local government does, the feeling of not being included, artificial education and experience requirements serving as barriers to employment, and the perceived low compensation for government workers when the comprehensive benefits package is not advertised.

The thoughts people have when they think about working in government: “slow”, “not innovative”, “inflexible”, etc. I feel that local government is not thought of as an exciting place to work. And, even when people do want to work in local government, the application process can be frustrating due to the amount of time it takes and the infrequency of updates job applicants get about where they are in the application process.

Generational differences and a resistance to change….Inflexible work schedules. Most communities only observe Christian holidays for their staff. Allowing flex holiday time would give those employees who follow Islam, Judaism or other religions time to observe their traditions. Really, just being more flexible in general. There is a hesitancy in allowing staff to telecommute. Why? We also have this dated mentality that city hall needs to be open 8-5, Monday through Friday. Does that really serve the needs of residents and staff?
Lack of awareness of career opportunities in local government. Generally lower pay than private sector. Now, after state mandates restricting and limiting benefits, lack of benefits

Lack of job openings, lack of control in who applies. In some jurisdictions, political pressure to hire certain people (connected “cronies” or something simple such as where they went to college).

I think we have to do a better job of preparing folks to think about working in local government.  We need to educate high school counselors and even college/university counselors so that they can actually know what kinds of careers are possible and make this information more available to students as they ponder their life’s work

We don’t have sufficient # of qualified minority applicants; and when the pool is so small, having others who are generally more qualified is likely. As a result, the qualified candidates, who might be trainable, never really get the chance /opportunity to demonstrate they can get the job.

Fear of the unknown, fear of having an open and frank conversation and understanding that we have all played a role in not making it better.  Ignorance. Lack of information, lack of understanding, lack of data, and lack of acceptance of the data and realities.
It is a hard subject and it runs a lot deeper than one organization, which increases the challenge. Maybe there will be a critical mass where the tide begins to turn. I think there is a danger to of having it become a numbers game, when really this is more qualitative than quantitative.

Our organizational cultures.  Geographical norms.  Hiring individuals that do not value inclusivity in local government. These individuals need to work in other professions.  Government represents the people and there is no place for racism, sexism, ageism, or other bias based behaviors.

1.) The “one-size-fits-all” approach to recruitment and selection and the unwillingness to adapt. Job applications should be 100% blind – no address, no names, no gender, no race. It is illegal to allow any of those things to influence hiring decisions, and it is impossible to do that if you don’t know what they are. Also, for most jobs there doesn’t have to be only one set of prior experiences or one degree you must have. For example, you can be a successful budget analyst even without five years of experience as a “Budget Analyst” and an MBA.  

2.) The lack of diversity begets a lack of diversity. White people in general, and especially white men, do not understand how noticeable (and uncomfortable) it is to be the only one of you in the room (only woman, only Latino, etc.) That coupled with being told you are “being too sensitive” if you point out their flawed way of thinking about race or gender, makes every day feel like an uphill battle just to be heard.

There is a major disconnect between the values of diverse communities and local government. Staff and representatives are delusional to think that they are representing diverse communities.    The process is too bureaucratic, meetings and promotion is not user friendly way. Government is slow and the community is not interested in being engaged in a slow nonresponsive process.  

Local government is about more than skill sets, degrees, and training.  It’s about relating to people, serving people, and enjoying people.  This challenge is really universal in that it applies to everybody. 

The Portland metro area is not that racially/ethnically diverse, so that is a demographic impediment.    Some feedback seems to indicate that application and interview processes are dense, off putting, or otherwise inaccessible to certain groups. 

Some immigrant populations seeing government as something to fear or as undesirable careers. Lack of cultural competency/inclusive behavior within local governments. For my city, lack of public transportation to and from work place – not seen as desirable careers

I’m thinking – and really don’t know – what makes a child interested in govt and working in govt?  Is it that communities are so disenfranchised that it is not among the career paths that children choose or see as a possibility?     

Let’s talk about racism for a second – it is quite insidious so let’s just go ahead and state that in its crazy subversive form that it exists in today that is one of the biggest impediments to increasing diversity and inclusion.

Everyone stays in the same position for 30 years – without upward mobility and change in leadership, you aren’t going to get change in attitude that leads to a greater desire for diversity or inclusion, again, for race gender age economic status etc.

I live in the South, so I believe the biggest impediments are an imbedded and antiquated ideology.

Historically we’ve drawn applicants towards local government with benefits and stability to counter the lower pay verses the private industry. Both these items are slowly going away, stability faster than benefits. This cuts down on the number of applicants interested all together. The next issue is the pool from which to draw from may not be as diverse as one would hope within the typical boundaries, thus the search area is far exceeding historical limits and stretching often beyond state lines.

Need to start recruit our best and brightest sooner (high school?) rather than later.  Let students know what possible career paths exist in government – not just ‘working for the Feds’.  And at all ages, sadly, the “government” perspective that John Q. Public walks around with on a daily basis – who wants to sign up for that unless it’s truly your calling?  

Tenure, time, middle management, slow growth in the economy, job opportunities, and the scope of local government.  I think work force planning will be critical to some of this.

Fear. A lot of employees in my own organization are worried about doing the wrong thing or saying something offensive to someone.

Others are fearful of losing their own job because we’ll diversify the workforce and clean house.  

Fear. If we engage people they may have a different opinion on what services we should offer, or how we provide those services.

They may suggest things that is uncomfortable. Organizations may not understand what the needs of a diverse community are. There are bound to be failures as orgs try to figure out how to increase diversity, but those failures shouldn’t be reason to not try.

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