January 2022
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TD Magazine

Representation Matters—but So Does Relationship Building

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The public sector needs to not only hire but fully engage diverse talent.

Government organizations that lack diversity in professional, manager, and chief administrative officer positions are more prone to trust issues in the communities they serve, according to MissionSquare Research Institute's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Public Service Workforce report. Amid what researchers acknowledge to be a collective wave for a more equitable society, there are glaring disparities in representations found in public sector organizations.

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African Americans, Hispanics, and women, for example, are not equally represented in leadership positions at local government organizations. That doesn't surprise most state and local government HR managers. Mission-Square confirms in its Survey Findings: State and Local Government Workforce 2021 report that more than half of them are clear that their workforces do not adequately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

But even for the portion of government organizations that succeed in terms of representation, researchers in the DEI report remind leaders that "diverse employees' presence on the payroll is not a guarantee that diverse employees feel welcome and valued within the organization." Feelings of belonging are critical to retention. Further adding to the urgent need for public sector leaders to address this issue are projections that automation will first replace many positions—such as secretarial and corrections roles—that a greater percentage of individuals from underrepresented communities hold.

While there's no one cure-all to the DEI issues that plague the public sector, organizations can take steps to immediately avoid falling further behind. MissionSquare researchers list training and onboarding programs as tools companies can use to engage employees of diverse backgrounds.

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Diving deeper, employers should develop a positive rapport and bolster trust with workers by engaging them in leadership development opportunities and involving them in the decision-making processes. Practicing those relationship-building strategies will help employees feel a greater sense of belonging, which researchers found can lead to greater job performance.

Moreover, in the DEI report, researchers note that "when area residents see themselves reflected in the public service workforce, hear from those agencies in their own languages, or feel listened to about their community concerns, there can be a more effective partnership for problem solving, and a more relationship-based pipeline to recruiting the next generation of employees."

About the Author

Derrick Thompson is a former writer/editor for ATD.

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