Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Introduction to the Fall 2021 Blog Series: Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

by Maja Holmes:

The current societal context is at an inflection point.  Continued inequities and barriers to full participation and recognition of individuals in society illuminated by continued racial, gender, and other social justice consciousness and amplified by the global pandemic provide an unprecedented opportunity to shape our inclusive workforce practices in the public sector. This blog series invites a variety of perspectives in examining the principles, practices, and policies that advance inclusion in public sector workplaces.  Even though there have been normative calls for the moral and business case for inclusion, the operationalization of inclusion has alluded public sector workplaces.  

So what do we mean by inclusion in the workplace? The public sector is not alone in grappling with defining the key principles of inclusion in the workplace. Drawing from growing scholarship on inclusion, there are several key principles that frame current interpretation of inclusion in the workplace:

  • Satisfying individual needs for both uniqueness and belongingness within the workplace (Shore et. al 2011).
  • Promoting a workplace culture where individuals are valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities (Riordan, 2014; Pelled et al. 1999)
  • Removing barriers to inequity in the participation and contribution of employees (Blesset et al 2019)
  • Recognizing that inclusive organizations are adaptive organizations responding to different perspectives and building trust (Sabharwal, 2014). 

Within the public sector, the language of inclusion has faced starts and fits as it is reflected in policy. In 2011, the Obama Administration issued an Executive Order establishing a coordinated  government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce.   While limited in scope, the E.O. was the first step towards federal agencies acknowledging the value of inclusion in workforce development.  The Biden Administration’s addition to advancing inclusion was a rollback of Trump Administration’s late term E.O of prohibiting diversity training within the federal government and reaffirmation of Obama’s E.O. The June 2021 E.O. provided limited guidance on how to operationalize inclusion practices specifically.  Rather the policy intertwined diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility concepts.  

While the executive branch has taken the lead in advancing inclusion at the federal level, state legislatures have advanced and amplified inclusion as part of good governance.  For example, the Commonwealth of Virginia launched a ONE Virginia Initiative based on Virginia House Bill 1993 (2021) that included the strategic goal to “create and sustain an organization/agency that respects diversity and employs inclusive practices throughout daily practices.” One of the most striking aspects of the Virginia initiative is that it provides a framework to guide state agencies towards assessing and supporting inclusive and equitable organizational development.  

So where do we go from here? In the spirit of inquiry this blog series engages the public administration community to explore the following questions:

  • What are the theoretical underpinnings of inclusion in the field of public administration and policy? How should inclusion be defined?
  • What inclusive workplace policy and practices have been adopted in the public sector? What are the implications of these inclusive policies and practices? 
  • How do public sector organizations move beyond the legal parameters and celebrations as practices of so-called inclusion? What constitutes “meaningful” inclusion in practice?
  • How do we acknowledge new conceptualizations of identity categories without isolating individuals and groups?  
  • What are strategies for addressing barriers to inclusion (for example, individuals with personal ethical objections)?

Our blog contributors address these pervasive questions by examining a wide span of topics including leadership and justice. To begin this series, Norma Riccuci explores DEI and Critical Race Theory and the Biden Administration. We welcome submissions throughout the Fall 2021 semester, if you are interested in contributing, please email us at

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About the author:

Maja Husar Holmes is an Associate Professor and serves as Chair of the Department of Public Administration at West Virginia University (WVU). Her research examines how public managers implement inclusive practices, provide leadership within and across sectors, and manage in a multi-sector environment. Her research has been published in Administration & Society, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, International Journal of Public Administration, and Innovative Higher Education. Dr. Holmes is an associate with the WVU ADVANCE Center that promotes research and practice to enhance institutional capacity by engaging faculty groups, faculty members, and faculty leaders through Dialogues training and facilitation.