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6 Ideas for Promoting Public Sector Diversity and Inclusion

In today’s society, diversity isn’t just a buzzword – it’s the cornerstone of vibrant communities and thriving organizations. Public sector diversity and inclusion can bring about transformative positive change in the places where we live, work, and play.

Imagine a government that truly understands and represents the wide variety of voices and viewpoints within its populace. Together, we can create public agencies that reflect the rich tapestry of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences that define our society. This is the vision of diversity and inclusion in public sectors – a goal that transcends rhetoric and drives tangible improvements for all.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into actionable ideas for promoting diversity and inclusion in public sector organizations. Along the way, we’ll explore how these principles aren’t just moral imperatives but essential ingredients for creating effective and responsive governmental institutions. Let’s navigate the pathways to a more equitable and representative public sector together.

A few of our favorite ideas for promoting public sector diversity and inclusion:

  • Embrace inclusive hiring practices to build a more diverse workforce
  • Invest in employee training and development programs
  • Incorporate digital solutions and training programs that are accessible to all
  • Implement mechanisms for accountability and transparency throughout your organization

In this post, you’ll find:

  • Actionable ideas to promote diversity and inclusion in the public sector
  • Benefits of public sector diversity, equity, and inclusion for your organization and the community
  • Recent data and statistics on diversity in the public sector
  • Challenges in promoting diversity and inclusion – and how to overcome them
  • Tips and strategies to get leadership buy-in and commitment to diversity

What is Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Sector?

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Diversity and inclusion are indispensable in public sectors, where they serve as catalysts for equitable governance and societal progress. Embracing diversity means acknowledging the wide array of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences within our communities. Inclusion ensures that all individuals, regardless of their identity, feel valued and empowered to contribute to decision-making processes, fostering a government that reflects and serves the diverse needs of its populace.

Diversity can refer to a wide range of characteristics – including but not limited to race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, place of origin, religion, and socioeconomic status.

Inclusion is the practice of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate.

Considering the public sector’s broad mandate to serve and represent the entire population, diversity and inclusion are of critical importance in creating welcoming, affirming communities that support and uplift everyone.

Recent Data and Statistics

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In 2023, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) published the first annual report on government-wide diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. The report shares demographic information about the federal government workforce.

Highlights from the “Government-wide DEIA” report:

Figures are from fiscal year 2021 and rounded to the nearest tenth of a percentage point:

  • Women accounted for 44.4% of the public sector workforce and 37.9% of SES (Senior Executive Service).
  • White people accounted for 61.2% of the federal government workforce.
  • Black employees comprised 18.2% of the federal workforce (up .04 percentage points from 2017).
  • Hispanic & Latino employees accounted for 9.5% of the federal workforce (up .78 points from 2017).
  • Asian employees made up 6.5% of the federal workforce (an increase of .5 points).
  • American Indian / Alaska Native people totaled 1.6% of the federal workforce (down .09 points from 2017).
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander people comprised 0.6% of the federal workforce (up .05 points from 2017).
  • Mixed race workers made up 2% of federal workers (an increase of .41 points).
  • Federal workers with “targeted disabilities” (blindness, deafness, partial or complete paralysis, missing extremities, dwarfism, autism, and epilepsy) comprised 2.5% of the federal workforce.
  • Veterans made up 30% of the federal workforce, with 15% of the workforce being disabled veterans.

In local and state government institutions, demographics can vary. We recommend reviewing your city, county, and state publications to read more about diversity within your local government. Additionally, you can read our blog post on this topic to explore ideas for promoting equality and diversity within local governments.

According to MissionSquare Research Institute, workforce DEI is a high priority for 56% of local governments. This suggests that while many local governments prioritize DEI, there is still work to be done in creating governments that reflect and serve all residents.

Benefits of a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

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The benefits of public sector diversity and inclusion are plentiful and proven. Actively including diverse perspectives in your public sector workforce can lead to more effective policy-making and service delivery that meets the needs of a diverse population.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) notes three key benefits to diversity and inclusion in the public sector. First, diversity and inclusion help serve increasingly diverse communities. Secondly, a diverse workforce leads to increased innovation and creative problem-solving. OPM shares, “Some of the most creative periods in civilization have emerged when people of different backgrounds have contact and work together.” They also note that “research has shown that effective diversity management coupled with inclusive work environments improves organizational performance and innovation.” Finally, diversity and inclusion initiatives can bring a strong return on investment, helping employees become more engaged, productive, and adept at conflict resolution.

The data back up these claims. For instance, Forbes reports that companies with ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform others when it comes to profitability. Additionally, Forbes found that organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability. Age diversity is also important; age-diverse management teams report higher innovation revenue – i.e., revenue from new products and services. When it comes to the bottom line and creative thinking, diversity is key.

Furthermore, diversity and inclusion practices can help with recruitment and retention. The Pew Research Center found that among employed adults whose workplaces have policies to ensure fair treatment in hiring, pay, or promotions, 72% say this has a “very positive” or “somewhat positive” impact.  Additionally, Glassdoor found that up to 72% of employees surveyed over the past six years view their company’s diversity program as a positive benefit.

Current Challenges in Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

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While promoting diversity and inclusion in the public sector is a worthwhile endeavor, it’s not without challenges. Some barriers to achieving diversity and inclusion can include unconscious bias, resistance to change, lack of accountability, and ongoing systemic inequities. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is the first step toward making progress.

Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) refers to the biases that we hold without realizing it. These can be due to our upbringing and societal beliefs ingrained in our subconscious. Read about unconscious bias and how to combat it with this Forbes article on unconscious bias in the workplace.

When it comes to resistance to change, gaining leadership buy-in is key. Emphasize the benefits of diversity, referring to the statistics shared in this post, to make your case. While you may not change opinions overnight, you can plant seeds of change for the future.

A lack of accountability can be another challenge when focusing on diversity and inclusion. We recommend establishing SMART goals – those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Additionally, ensure that diversity initiatives are an ongoing, year-round endeavor. Gather employee feedback along the way to ensure programs are resonating with your team.

Finally, systemic inequities can be a significant roadblock on the journey toward diversity and inclusion. From wage and salary disparities to underrepresentation of minority groups in leadership roles, it takes conscientious and collective effort to dismantle these inequities.

Read on to discover actionable strategies to foster diversity and inclusivity on your public sector team.

6 Strategies for Promoting Public Sector Diversity and Inclusion

In the section below, you’ll learn best practices and ideas that you can incorporate into your public sector workplace to promote diversity and inclusion. Backed by research, the strategies below can lead to a more equitable workplace and community for all.

1. Get Leadership Buy-In and Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion

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When fostering diversity and inclusion in the public sector, obtaining unwavering support from your leadership team can make a big difference. In fact, LinkedIn reports that 60% of employees want to hear business leaders speak up on diversity issues. Leaders in governmental institutions wield substantial influence in shaping organizational culture and driving change.

To gain buy-in, focus on the myriad of benefits that diversity and inclusion bring, supported by research findings and tangible examples. Using the statistics shared in this post, and your own research, you can demonstrate how diverse and inclusive workplaces foster innovation, improve decision-making, and elevate overall employee engagement and productivity.

Additionally, be sure to align your diversity and inclusion objectives with broader organizational goals and strategic plans. This can more deeply underscore the significance of these efforts, emphasizing their integral role in achieving mission-critical outcomes such as enhanced service delivery, strengthened public confidence, and increased community involvement.

Providing public sector leaders with comprehensive training and resources on topics like unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and hiring, and effective communication is crucial in equipping them with the tools and knowledge to champion DEI efforts throughout their respective teams and departments.

Moreover, you can encourage executives to lead by example through active participation in diversity and inclusion initiatives, modeling inclusive practices, and fostering open dialogue about diversity-related issues. Along the way, you may encounter challenges or skepticism about the benefits of diversity and inclusion programs. However, by prioritizing transparent communication and promptly addressing concerns, you can help create a culture that is conducive to positive change, resulting in lasting impacts and equity and inclusion for all.

2. Invest in Employee Training & Development Programs

A team of employees, one with hand raised, sits around a work table

Employee training and development programs can help introduce and reinforce DEI topics while encouraging team bonding and growth. In one study, Glassdoor found that Government & Public Administration was the only sector where access to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs declined from 2019 to 2022. With this in mind, now is the time to begin, reinstate, or revamp your workforce’s DEI programs.

Implementing these training programs entails several key steps. First, ask yourself: what results are you aiming to accomplish? Assess your team’s needs by surveying employees, meeting with organizational leaders, or engaging an independent consultant.

From there, implement training programs that address a range of topics. These may include unconscious bias, inclusive hiring practices, cultural competency, and effective communication across diverse groups. Programs can be tailored to meet the needs and challenges of your team.

To ensure inclusivity throughout the organization, make sure training sessions are accessible to all employees, regardless of their role or level within the organization. This may involve offering a variety of delivery methods, such as in-person workshops, online courses, and interactive learning modules to accommodate diverse learning styles. Be sure to also offer alternative formats and accommodations for people with disabilities.

To maximize the effectiveness of DEI training initiatives, provide ongoing support and resources. This could include mentorship programs, employee resource groups, and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.

Finally, measuring the impact of your training programs is essential in evaluating their effectiveness and identifying areas for improvement. Use anonymous surveys to track indicators such as employee satisfaction, diversity representation, and changes in attitudes and behaviors. Collecting feedback can provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of training initiatives, informing future program updates.

By investing in employee training and development programs that prioritize diversity and inclusion, public sector organizations can foster a culture of belonging, respect, and equity, ultimately empowering each team member to become an agent for positive change.

3. Incorporate Digital Solutions

Woman sits at desk looking at computer screen with video call attendees - virtual employee programs for diversity and inclusivity

As mentioned above, digital government solutions can be an accessible way for team members to connect around DEI topics. For instance, Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training offers a wide variety of live virtual diversity and inclusion training programs. Our expert guides lead participants through DEI topics in engaging ways. Think: virtual field trips, engaging trivia, hands-on activities, and fascinating history lessons.

Corporate Wellness Magazine shares that virtual learning initiatives come with a variety of benefits. These include increased accessibility and convenience, personalized learning experiences, enhanced engagement, and real-time monitoring and feedback.

Digital DEI initiatives allow team members to join programs from wherever they are, removing barriers of geography and access to a physical office. Additionally, self-paced digital solutions allow employees to pause, replay, and review information until they feel comfortable with it. Moreover, digital assessment tools like the Implicit Association Test from Project Implicit allow employees to gauge their own areas of potential bias on an independent basis, leading to greater understanding of each team member’s needs and challenges.

In group settings, digital government training initiatives offer real-time reactions and feedback. For example, by utilizing online features like polls, chat boxes, and “reaction” responses, session leaders can immediately take note of how information is being received.

By making use of virtual tools for learning about diversity and inclusion, government entities can make it all the more convenient and scalable for teams to engage in meaningful DEI programs.

4. Embrace Inclusive Hiring Practices

Group of four workers with two of them shaking hands

Inclusive hiring practices can help you build a strong team that reflects your community’s voices and priorities. This is even more crucial as many people depart from the public sector to retire, change jobs, or leave the workforce altogether.

A report from ICMA, the leading organization of local government professionals, found that found that 52% of state and local workers surveyed are considering leaving their jobs. The same survey found that in 2022, 53% of state and local government human resources professionals shared that their retirement-eligible employees had accelerated their retirement plans in the past year.

As employees leave public sector jobs, effective recruitment is critical to ensure adequate staffing levels and prevent burnout for employees who remain. Inclusive hiring practices can help you find the best-quality candidates, while minimizing the role that biases can play in the hiring process.

Inclusive hiring practices can entail:

  • Outreach and partnerships with community organizations, educational institutions, and diversity-focused initiatives to actively recruit candidates from underrepresented groups.
  • Representing diversity on your hiring brochures, website, and other print and digital materials.
  • Posting jobs on a wide variety of job boards, including those geared toward minority and underserved groups.
  • Blind resume screening, which involves removing identifying information (names, photos, age, gender) from applications before they are reviewed.
  • Diverse interview panels that reflect a broad range of perspectives and backgrounds.
  • Flexible work arrangements (i.e., remote and hybrid work, alternative schedules) to accommodate candidates with various needs.
  • Accessible job postings, application forms, and interviews that welcome candidates with disabilities to participate. This may include providing alternative formats and accommodations as needed.

Learn more by reading this post from CivicPulse on the role of DEI in public sector hiring. Additionally, you can find recruiting tips to grow a diverse public sector workforce in this post from CPS HR Consulting.

5. Create an Inclusive Workplace Culture

Two seated women chat over a laptop

According to the American Psychological Association, “cultivating connection and community in the workplace makes for happier, healthier, and more productive employees.” In fact, 94% of survey respondents said that it’s either “somewhat” or “very” important to them that their workplace is somewhere they feel they belong.

Several strategies can help organizations cultivate an environment where all individuals feel appreciated, respected, and valued. First, as shared above, leadership plays a critical role in setting the tone for an inclusive culture. Leaders should prioritize diversity and inclusion initiatives, actively champion diversity efforts, and hold themselves and others accountable for creating an inclusive environment. In leading by example, leaders can inspire trust and confidence among employees.

Second, work with your organization’s leadership and human resources to establish clear policies and practices that promote fairness and equity. This includes anti-discrimination policies, providing equal opportunities for career advancement and professional development, and ensuring that hiring and promotion decisions are based on merit.

Furthermore, open communication and dialogue is essential for creating an inclusive workplace culture. Encouraging employees to voice their experiences, concerns, and ideas for improvement builds transparency and trust within the organization. 

Lastly, celebrating diversity and recognizing the contributions of all employees is key to building an inclusive culture. Hosting programs that highlight diverse backgrounds and experiences can help create a sense of belonging and unity within the organization. Pro tip: Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training offers turnkey DEI programs to celebrate holidays like Women’s History Month, Black History Month, AAPI Heritage Month, Juneteenth, Pride, Hispanic Heritage Month, and so much more.

By implementing these strategies, your organization can create a diverse and inclusive public service culture where all employees feel empowered to reach their full potential. This, in turn, promotes employee engagement, fosters innovation, and contributes to the overall success and effectiveness of the organization.

6. Implement Accountability & Transparency Mechanisms

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By holding organizations and individuals accountable for their actions and decisions – and by ensuring transparency in processes and outcomes – public sector entities can build trust, promote fairness, and drive meaningful progress towards diversity and inclusion goals.

One vital step is to establish clear policies and guidelines that outline expectations regarding diversity and inclusion initiatives and behaviors. To ensure accountability, these policies should articulate the organization’s commitment to diversity, outline specific goals and objectives, and delineate the roles and responsibilities of leaders, managers, and employees in promoting diversity and inclusion.

Additionally, organizations should implement mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating progress towards DEI goals. This may involve collecting and analyzing data on diversity representation, employee satisfaction, and incidents of discrimination or bias. Regular reporting on these indicators and outcomes can help identify areas for improvement and hold stakeholders accountable for achieving meaningful results.

Transparency is also critical in promoting trust and accountability. Public sector organizations should strive to communicate openly and honestly about their diversity and inclusion efforts – including successes, challenges, and areas for improvement. This may involve sharing information about initiatives, soliciting feedback from employees and stakeholders, and addressing concerns or questions in a transparent manner.

By implementing robust accountability and transparency mechanisms, public sector organizations can demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion, build trust among employees and stakeholders, and drive meaningful progress towards creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces. This, in turn, can lead to improved employee engagement, enhanced organizational performance, and better outcomes for the communities they serve.

How You Can Contribute to a More Diverse and Inclusive Public Sector

In conclusion, diversity in the public sector isn’t just a goal – it’s an imperative for building stronger, more inclusive societies. By embracing diversity and fostering an environment of inclusion within government organizations, we not only reflect the rich diversity of our communities – we also unlock a wealth of creativity, innovation, and effectiveness in governance.

By incorporating the tips and guidance shared in this blog post, you can be a part of creating a more diverse and inclusive public sector, creating a ripple effect that benefits your entire community. As you move forward, we encourage you to continue to champion diversity and equity in the public sector, recognizing that by valuing and harnessing the unique strengths of every individual, we can create a brighter and more equitable future for all.

Unexpected Virtual Tours and Training

Join Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training for a live virtual DEI training session! As a minority-owned and woman-owned business, we offer creative and engaging ways for public sector teams to learn and connect together over DEI topics. We’re also a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) through the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

With our interactive virtual sessions, your team will learn about topics like women’s history, AAPI heritage, LGBTQ+ Pride, Black history, Native American and Indigenous history, and so much more. Our programs aren’t lectures – instead, they are fully immersive experiences that encourage learning through fun activities like virtual field trips, trivia, team challenges, and hands-on activities.

Book your team’s session today and see why our programs have a 5-star rating on Google – with over 2,200 reviews!

Reach out below to inquire about virtual training programs to promote diversity and inclusion on your public sector team:

Looking for additional resources on diversity and inclusivity in the public sector? Explore our blog post on effective DEI methods for workplace training. For those not working in executive or leadership roles, check out this post on how to promote diversity and inclusion as an employee.

Additionally, you can delve into the importance of diversity in the workplace to help make the case to leadership for why it matters. We hope to see you soon at one of our live virtual DEI training programs!