Strategy overview

  • Creating a more inclusive and representative workforce: Local governments have historically employed a significant share of women and people of color, but inequities in hiring and advancement remain. Cities and counties can increase the diversity of their workforce and improve career opportunities for marginalized groups by reexamining their position descriptions and job postings, refining their recruitment and selection practices, and creating ample opportunities for professional development.

  • Develop inclusive roles and job descriptions: Local governments should develop roles without requiring qualifications that can be developed while on the job or that are otherwise unnecessary to succeed in the role. Removing such requirements opens positions up to more individuals from groups that have been disproportionately excluded from higher education and professional work. Similarly, local governments should create job descriptions that are easy to understand. By using accessible language, hiring managers can ensure job postings reach a broader audience.

  • Recruit proactively: Local governments can build more diverse applicant pools by actively seeking out new candidates. Hiring managers should identify, conduct outreach to, and build relationships with organizations connected to underrepresented communities, like community-based non-profits and higher education institutions that serve a high proportion of students of color. Using digital tools beyond traditional job listing websites, like social media posts and advertisements, may also help recruiters reach new applicants. To make this possible, local governments need to provide hiring managers with the time and resources to engage in proactive recruitment.

  • Use inclusive selection practices: Local governments should develop hiring processes designed to minimize bias and allow all candidates to demonstrate their potential for the role. To do so, hiring managers should consider involving a diverse set of individuals representing different social identities, functional roles, and levels of seniority at all stages of the hiring process; developing standardized tools and rubrics to more consistently evaluate each candidate; and using performance tasks, which require candidates to show how they would approach work commonly done in the role, to more objectively evaluate candidates’ skills.

  • Develop employees’ skills and knowledge: Women and racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in senior and high-paying roles in local government. By focusing on employee development, local governments can improve upward mobility within their organizations. Identifying the skills and knowledge needed for each role in the organization allows managers and human resources staff to provide employees with training opportunities designed to develop each of those competencies. Additionally, local governments can establish a budget to support employees who identify external professional development opportunities.

What evidence supports this strategy?

While this strategy has been subject to limited rigorous, independent evaluations, it is widely-recognized as a best practice among experts in the racial-equity space.

Is this strategy right for my community?

Adopting approaches to achieve equitable local government employment has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are opportunities for income, employment opportunities, and financial security.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring opportunities for income in your community: Examine the household income at 20th, 50th, and 80th percentiles. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring financial security in your community: Examine the share of households with debt in collections. These data are available from the Urban Institute’s Debt in America website.

Best practices in implementation

  • Leverage workforce and hiring data: Local governments should regularly collect and analyze workforce and hiring data to understand barriers to workforce equity and set goals for future improvement. Disaggregating the data by job classification and demographic characteristics will give cities and counties the clearest picture of their progress. These data should be reported internally and externally to increase accountability for achieving equity goals.

  • Engage key stakeholders: To achieve workforce equity, local governments need to operationalize equity strategies in their hiring processes. Engaging hiring managers in solving recruitment, retention, and promotion issues will build buy-in and lessen resistance to these changes. Strategies that involve active participation, like creating an equity task force, are more likely to succeed than passive strategies, like a one-time training.

  • Change narratives around racial equity: As local governments seek to make public sector workplaces more equitable and inclusive, changing narratives among internal stakeholders is an important driver of success. Without a shared understanding of the historical role that government has played in creating inequities, internal stakeholders are less likely to engage in new hiring processes.
  • Use a racial equity tool to examine practices: Local governments can have hiring or employment policies that appear race-neutral but in effect create racial disparities. Racial equity tools guide cities and counties in examining their practices for implicit bias and institutional racism and developing goals to advance equity. See the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s Racial Equity Toolkit.
  • Identify organizational champions: When implementing changes to organizational culture and practices, teams need support from leaders at all levels of the organization. High-level leaders, like mayors and city managers, can help set the organization’s vision and goals, create a sense of urgency, and remove barriers to progress. Employees with less formal authority can build buy-in among their colleagues and provide feedback as changes are implemented.

  • Frame changes with an asset-based perspective: When setting goals to increase diversity, a zero-sum framing, which sees the gains of one group as coming at the expense of another, will lead to opposition from those with the most power. Framing changes as a way to strengthen the organization’s ability to achieve its mission will lessen opposition.