State of Diversity in the Local Government Workforce Is…..

Posted on July 25, 2018

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From Florida to California, more than 150 local government professionals responded to our “State of Local Government Workforce” survey. Respondents answered five open-ended questions and had the option of leaving comments about diversity and inclusion efforts in local government.

ELGL members will receive access to detailed survey results in early August. We will share high level findings during a panel discussion at the Center for Priority Based Budgeting.

To provide a barometer of the current perception of the local government workforce, ELGL has decided to make public the responses to the first survey question,

“I would describe the current state of diversity in the local government workforce as…..”

Needing improvement! Most of the city based services are male dominated, and management positions are dominated by men. It also seems that there are barriers for people of color, and significant barriers for LGBT folks as well.

Misplaced issue.  Instead of focusing on diversity, local government should focus on excellence.  There are times when excellence is sacrificed for the sake of diversity.  When will everyone stop looking at the color of each other’s skin, what religion they may be, what chromosome they have.  Do an excellent job and demand nothing less from your staff, peers, and supervisors.



Depends on where you look. Here, it’s very pale, male, and exclusionary. Outsiders and new ideas are not welcome. Diversity is viewed as something to be faked in order to appear modern – it is not sincerely embraced.

Fair. However, many are in non-administrative roles.

All over the map. Most local governments are on the bandwagon, either through an organization-wide diversity program or in individual departments or bureaus.

Lacking. Local Government is a great place to be if you like to be around pale, stale, and male counterparts. 

We are making progress but there is still some room for improvement.

Generally speaking I don’t feel very good about the diversity at the top of most local governments.

Fair, depending on geographical region and type and level of employees (i.e., it is better in lower level positions and worse in executives; better in non-sworn and worse in sworn.)

More diversity is needed in senior management positions.

I believe diversity has decreased over the last 10 years, specifically at the management and executive levels.

It depends on which departments you are looking.  In some, there is quite a bit of diversity – in others, not so much. BUT I believe the desire is there to be more inclusive & diverse. 


Limited. I see areas where it appears to be getting diversified by race and gender, but overall still have a sense of predominantly white male centered organizations. Or where the diversification happens at lower levels throughout the organization, while not as much in the managerial positions.

In need of some serious attention and action from the top down.

There is larger representation in lower level positions in larger cities with little diversity in upper level positions.

Disturbing and much room for improvement.

Strong in administrative functions and laborer positions.  Slightly weak in non-science professional functions like legal and accounting/finance.  That may be a function of availability. 

Adequately diversified.  Sometimes the reason is simply the applicant demographics, but there is still some imbalances that need to be addressed. 

Lacking.  The work force is not only homogeneous in gender and race but at the executive level there is very little diversity in thought. 

Splotchy. In most cases, I think it is an accurate statement to say that the city government workforce does not match the demographics of the community in which it serves. That is concerning for many reasons.

Lacking in upper management. Of our Senior Leadership Team less than half are women and probably less than 25% are people of color.

Nonexistent. It is still made up of predominantly white males who hold the most influential position in local government.

Needing work. Diversity exists at a minimum level in some areas but barely exists in others.

Marginally improved from twenty years ago. There appears to be a much greater effort to diversify by age rather than my race or gender.

We have a fair amount of racial diversity in lower level positions, but not very much at all in mid manager and senior positions.  Interestingly, the leadership team is about 50/50 with regards to gender and that tends to play out in the organization as well.  The largest departments are male dominated (police, fire, public works and public utilities), gender diversity (until you hit the leadership team) is heavily skewed towards men.  The events that I attend are typically dominated by white men… who tend to be 50 or above.

Lack of advertising and promotion of the breadth and diversity of local government jobs available.

A forced work in progress. We are at the point where the local government workforce has no choice but to become more diverse. Ideally we would see that as an intentional decision not a survival technique, but the (somewhat begrudging) progress can be leveraged. We are still ‘pale, male, and stale’ especially in leadership and certain departments like Police and Fire. Opportunities abound and I am excited by the current discussions that will translate into action and real change.

Not progressive or inclusive.  The leadership makeup is dominate Caucasian, the majority minority are not given executive positions even with their qualifications.  Government is a popularity culture where your qualifications don’t matter unless you know someone from within and you are Caucasian.

Bleak, bland, especially in the West. Male dominated, but seeing more female managers taking on roles… And excelling

Demonstrative, not substantive.

Getting better. Still weak – there are a lot of “old white men” in local government.

Diversity in terms of gender: I constantly see the handle, #13percent which is a constant reminder that we have a LONG way to go!

Highly important, but in many areas, just in the beginning stages.

Improving.  I think we often have a limiting view of what diversity means.  Many employee disputes are more about a difference in communication or thought process or style.  Other abled applicants are scarce. We have made a lot of progress with gay and lesbian issue, some with race and gender. 

Fair. There seems to be a trend towards gender diversity, but in my opinion there is still a very low amount of racial diversity.

Moderate and open. It is slow to change not because of a resistance to diversity but the slowness of how things move in government.

Minimal at best. Very low number of ethnic diversity with a slightly higher rate on the “aging” population.

Falling short in reflecting the national origin of the residents, we have significant Eastern European and Hispanic populations in the County.  Further, the workforce is largely closed to “older workers.”  

Very good.  We have a Diversity Management position.  The Diversity Manager has formed three Diversity Management Council groups, including employees and management, to increase policies and protocols for the County. 

The one word I would use is ’emerging.’ Diversity has moved beyond awareness and into the realm of training, formation, and application of diverse principles required for organizational development and operational application.

Diversity in local government is a work in progress. I believe the private sector has done a better job in incorporating diversity into their culture as a norm rather than an initiative. Recruiting a diverse workforce should involve a wide variety of experts within our organization. For instance, economic development and diversity professionals should work together to locate businesses in the community that serve minority cultures. People won’t want to work in your local government if they can’t envision themselves living and doing business in your community.

Improving.  I think the key here is that local governments are finally starting to bring on millennials in significant numbers, and as that happens, our workplace is beginning to look more like America in 2015 rather than 1985.

Having come a long way, but still having a long way to go.”  I think nearly every local government acknowledges the need for a diverse workforce in order to better serve its community. I would guess that nearly all of them have some type of commitment to diversity and inclusion outlined in their mission/vision/core value statements.  I don’t think most organizations are doing enough to ensure that diverse staff are actively involved in contributing to decision making that has a direct impact on the local government’s work in the community.

Traditional. We are seeing a lot of your traditional “Caucasian/male” leaders in Executive Management. It’s time to change that focus and start training the emerging leaders, regardless of race, gender, etc.

Improving slowly.  More women are moving into management positions.  People of color do not seem to be increasing in management positions, at least in Oregon.

I think must realize the lack of diversity and inclusion, most wish they could do better, and a few are making the concerted efforts to correct the old practices that have left us where we currently are.

Limited in upper levels.  More diverse in worker bee, e.g. outside laborer staff.

I think diversity in local government has progressed to the point that separateness has disappeared almost entirely and effective ideas are embraced no matter where they originate from.

Lacking. In Oklahoma, we suffer with educating talent and then losing them to other states for employment and careers.

Fairly diverse compared to private industry with some deficit in smaller communities when it comes to gender, racial and age diversity

Bleak, at least in Oregon.

Lackluster. I am relatively new to the field so I am not the most informed voice, but I don’t sense diversity or inclusion are treated as values by local governments. I feel that folks believe they are good things to strive towards, but I do not see the willingness to change the current state of diversity (i.e. researching potential HR policy changes & acting upon recommendations, minimizing the time between posting a job and hiring someone).

Varies depending on the jurisdiction. I am in a very homogeneous jurisdiction and I cannot control who applies or who does not apply for our limited openings.

With regards to Workforce diversity, EEO laws aren’t necessarily being violated. However, when it comes to diversity in Management there are improvements to be made.    When asked where the minorities work in a Florida municipality, I was told ” Most of the minorities work outside in non- cognitive positions.” I laughed, not because the statement is funny but because the ease by which the woman just said this… Out loud!

I’ve seen a great deal of improvement over the last 30 years.  In my specific area of local government finance, there has always been a more diverse make-up of folks especially women and African-Americans.  That has not been the case in City Management or in most of the departments like Public Works, Fire, Police, Parks & Recreation and Community Development. The “good ol’ boys” network still exists from 30 years ago.

Looking at demographics of US, local government is far from reflecting the communities we serve.  We must do a better job and have the courage to have these conversations about lack of diversity.  We talk about generational differences; why not race, language, gender. 

In Pennsylvania there is very little diversity in local government, especially in upper level positions.  However, I believe that the diversity is reflective of the overall population demographics

Where I work I have heard that the workforce diversity is the same as that of the community. But that is certainly not true of the leadership. So it might be equal but it is not equitable.

Moving forward, but slower than the general populous.

I am concerned that because the law prohibits discrimination and hostile work environments, we assume we are good. I work in an organization where women are not expected to be ambitious, minorities are expected to tolerate racist jokes, and white men are assumed to be in charge. If you don’t meet these expectations, you are not taken serious. I have pointed out sexism several times (not “hostile work environment” level sexism, just your run-of-the-mill lack of respect for women) and have been told I am “being too sensitive”. I also hear a lot of “my manager is a woman, so we don’t have a glass ceiling” or “I have a black friend, so I am not a racist”.

Two problems:

  • There are not enough women and minorities at the level of decision-makers.
  • Women and minority opinions are not valued by the white male decision-makers.

I feel we have a very diverse workforce.  We have women in traditionally male roles, we have a wide variety of ethnicities and nationalities represented at all levels in the organization.

Very poor. Lots of tokenism and false representation. Racist institutions that intentionally and unintentionally exclude diverse voices.

Improving, need to continue to be as reflective of the community that we serve.

I think the current state of diversity could improve if more leaders made it a true priority and not just a talking point.

Needing intentional focus. Both in the area of increasing the diversity of work forces, training staff to be more inclusive and training on how to better serve diverse populations as our communities change.

Very dependent on the community that you work in.

Fairly pitiful in my region. Lots of “good ole boy” networking.

Abysmal. #13 percent women, few of any color and not a wide swath of ethnicities are represented. 

………problematic/nonexistent. I honestly feel that people of color who end up in local government happened to get there by sheer luck, a family friend, or any other mechanism of accident – and not by purposeful placement there by the local government itself.

In my organization diversity has diminished in presence.  There are no females in leadership and only one black male.  Otherwise, leadership consists of all white males.  I understand that this may be common in law enforcement but I live in an urban and progressive county, I had hoped this organization could be more progressive and not regressive.

Still struggling to find a way to ensure a diverse staff while not discriminating towards ANY skin color, sex, or ethnic group.

It depends on the place. In my organization, the leadership reflects the demographics of the City, and so in that way, I would say diversity itself is pretty strong. Though, diversity in our public safety departments need to be improved. I think that is one of the biggest issues that face local government that can have the most disastrous impacts on communities if not remedied.

Still lacking. As much as I think we have progressed in this area we have more work to do to break down barriers to diversity.

Piss poor.

Varied.  In my experience the larger (more urban) organizations have exhibited racial and gender diversity.   However, our smaller, more suburban and rural organizations have been predominantly white males at the top; females and African Americans are still represented, but in more ‘supportive’ roles.

Transitioning.  As you see the wave of boomers begin to exit the workforce I see an opportunity for the millennials and younger new workers to really impact the diversity as a whole.  The question is will the opportunity to have a more diverse workforce come to fruition. 

The racial and gender make up of employees seems to reflect the community.  However I have noticed disparity in positions of authority and spending control.  They seem to skew male and white.  What I think is most lacking is people with varying experiences, thought processes and ambitions.  Is this germane to smaller cities/counties?  I’m not sure but usually people working in City Halls of smaller communities have lived in the place their whole lives and worked that one position (or similar) their whole career.  So while some places may obtain visual diversity they lack intellectual diversity.  But everywhere skews Baby Boomer & Older Gen X.  Generational diversity is quite poor.

Lacking, but a growing movement. Diversity seems to be the new buzzword in local government. I’m cool with that. I’m cool with anything that helps change the status quo on workforce demographics, policies, and practices.

Disappointing and discouraging.

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