It’s Not Rocket Science

Posted on February 25, 2019

Julie sweet accenture

This post is by Kirsten Wyatt and she’s sharing it in today’s Morning Buzz in response to a great question during a diversity discussion at #CCCMA19 about some ways to make diversity an organizational priority, and actionable first steps.

Julie Sweet is the CEO of Accenture and she gave a great interview in the New York Times a few weeks ago. She was asked about “leveling the playing field for women in the workplace.” and I love her response:

I don’t think it’s rocket science. You first have to decide if diversity is a business priority. If it is, then you need to treat it like a business priority. You set goals, have accountable leaders, you measure progress, and you have an action plan. If you do those four things, you will make progress.

I’ve broken her quote into the four steps she outlines, and applied a local government lens:


To move the needle on diversity, it needs to be an organization goal. Ms. Sweet uses the term “business priority” which, for this blog post, is the same as a council goal.

When our governing bodies do their annual goal setting they define a list of goals, and staff sets out to accomplish them.

In this respect, setting a goal to improve diversity is no different than setting a goal to, let’s say, replace all lead pipes in our water system.

Using these as examples, you set your goal:

  • “Attain gender equity in our organization.”
  • “No lead pipes in our water system.”

For each goal, you conduct an analysis of the current situation:

  • “Our current workforce is 67% male and our community is 49% male.”
  • “There are two miles of lead pipe across four zones.”

And then you add language about how you’ll approach the goal in the coming year:

  • “For each recruitment that we conduct in 2020, we will update the job description, posting process, minimum requirements, and include at least one female candidate in the interview round.”
  • “We will replace 50% of the lead pipe mileage, prioritized on age of the pipe segment.”

Obviously, this example is over simplified for this blog post, but I wanted create a local government scenario to further underscore Ms. Sweet’s point about setting an actionable goal to kick start improvements in organizational diversity.

Accountable Leaders

We can use the same example to think about accountable leaders.

What would happen in the above example if your water supervisor spent her budget on non-essential pump station upgrades instead of replacing the lead pipes?

She’d probably be looking for a new job to so wantonly ignore a council goal. And so the same should be true of the goal related to diversity: if you have organization leaders who aren’t working with your HR department to hire and retain a diverse workforce, they need to be held accountable just as they would if they whiffed any other goal.

Measure Progress

Here’s a shameless plug for the ELGL Diversity Dashboard that uses a dashboard format to measure progress on diversifying local government leadership. Our motto is “what gets measured, gets improved.”

Long-time ELGL members will know that our Dashboard is a riff on other local governments that are using data to track their progress on equity and inclusion efforts. We first got the idea from the City of Portland, Oregon, and there are many other local governments nationwide that use dashboards to track progress.

It can be as straightforward as a monthly PDF report that your HR office generates, or as interactive as a full-blown dashboard. But the concept is the same: how are you measuring progress on the goal?

I’ve heard some organizations say they’re too small to have enough turnover or hiring to actually track improvements or changes in organizational demographics.

But how about tracking or reporting on the types of training and learning that your (small) workforce is doing to widen their worldview about working in diverse, or multigenerational workplaces? Or, employee engagement efforts that break people out of their departmental silos to engage and inform about the work and responsibilities of different functions in your city?

To relate this back to the example above: you’ve set a goal, your leaders know they’ll be held accountable – what type of reporting will you look at and share to show progress on your goal?

Action Plan

Here’s a checklist of action items that could be a good starting point for an organization that wants to take actionable steps toward creating a more diverse workplace:

  • Reevaluating your recruitment processes and becoming aware of unconscious bias in applications, reviewing, and interviewing.
  • Resetting minimum qualifications for positions and recognizing that education and experience looks different now than it did 20 years ago. A four year degree might be your default expectation, but is that type of degree really necessary for the position you’re hiring for?
  • Changing where and how you recruit for open positions, with analysis for each position on how to reach the optimal audience. Are you working with your marketing and communications staff to make your job posts engaging and interesting?
  • Looking at your workplace harassment and personnel policies to make them inclusive and welcoming. (And if you don’t have these policies – make it a priority to get them.)
  • Sharing those policies publicly so your employees and potential employees know where your workplace stands on these topics. Making it clear that inclusion is baked into your organization is a really easy way to “call your shot” and define your values.
  • Evaluating your classification and compensation structures to recognize that career growth looks differently than it did for you. A 1, 2, 3 scale for positions might be easier for HR, but does it fit the ways your employees are learning and growing in their positions?

A blog post is easier to write than overhauling recruiting, hiring, and engagement efforts in a local government. I’m not under the illusion that this work is easy. But it’s also not – as Julie Sweet recognizes – rocket science.

Making equity a priority, and acting on that priority – are the first steps.

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