Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Pursuing Inclusion in Public Administration: Starting Upstream

woman in white long sleeve shirt sitting on green grass field
by Nicole Humphrey:

The field of public administration has a complex relationship with the concept of inclusion. While much of the field’s current research has sought to address the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion, if we go back to the field’s genesis and work our way forward, there are several examples of different groups being actively excluded.

As we see the politics of elected officials become increasingly divisive and challenge values often assumed inherent in public administration (i.e., equity and inclusion), there are concerns about how this impacts public servants at all levels of government and if organizations are capable of actively pursuing inclusionary practices and policies.

Recognizing the challenges that many public organizations currently face with respect to inclusion, the question becomes: how do we continue to prioritize inclusion in the field of public administration? One strategy for pursuing inclusion is that we, as a field, begin working upstream. A helpful example of working upstream is King County’s work to address issues of racial equity. Seeing many disparate racial outcomes, King County decided to take a proactive approach that involved addressing issues of racial inequity at its earliest stages. In the context of pursuing inclusion within public sector organizations, moving upstream means teaching the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the earliest stage possible for those beginning their training as public servants—undergraduate public administration programs. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), as of 2019,  provides a list of 70 programs that offer undergraduate degrees in public administration or a related field. However, additional research suggests that there are currently more than 160 programs. The pursuit of inclusion in the public sector workforce should begin here, at the undergraduate level.  

Inclusion is deeply connected to the concept of equity, and highlights the need to ensure that all groups, especially those that have been historically marginalized, are treated with fairness. There are several public organizations that have sought to prioritize inclusion and pursue organizational policies that promote racial and gender equity. However, there are still several current examples of women, people of color, and LGBT individuals facing challenges of exclusion within their organizations. While issues of organizational inclusion may seem like the responsibility of individual organizations, public administration academic programs still bear some responsibility in how prepared public organizations are at managing issues of inclusion.

Undergraduate programs are an excellent place to begin training those interested in public service on the importance of inclusion. While we tend to focus our efforts on the education of master’s students, beginning to place a greater emphasis on undergraduate programs allows us to take an upstream approach to inclusion. This is not to suggest the master’s student should not be prioritized, but that undergraduate students should receive more attention. By making a greater effort to teach undergraduate students inclusionary practices, we can help build a workforce that is ready to take on the equity related challenges facing many public organizations today.

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About the author:

Nicole Humphrey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Miami. Her work uses organizational behavior concepts grounded in public management scholarship to explore the concepts of equity and emotional labor in public organizations. She has work published in Administration & Society, Review of Public Personnel Administration, and the Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs.