Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Situating Inclusion: Shifting Perspectives in Public Sector Workplaces

woman writing in paper
by Dr. Karen Sweeting:

Inclusion is intertwined with diversity, equity, justice, and representation. The problem is that public sector workplaces continue to be tainted by issues of general diversity categorization, demographic disparities, as well as various types of “isms” that continue to exclude marginalized communities, generate inequities, promote disparities, and present barriers to full participation in public organizations.

Historically marginalized communities, particularly black and brown people, women, LGBTQA, and people of specific national origins remain more cautious in how they navigate public sector workplaces and spend an inordinate amount of time negotiating several pervasive fears: of not being good enough, of being profiled negatively, of not getting hired, of being fired based on harsher discipline guidelines, of not being promoted based on merit, of not having access to equal opportunity; of not having a voice, and a general and resounding fear of being labeled. Feelings such as these are exhausting emotional work that takes time away from more productive endeavors.

It is critical that organizations recognize that ingrained systemic and structural barriers continue to privilege some and denigrate others. When employees feel a sense of belonging and can participate and feel valued in organizations, they experience inclusion and are more motivated to engage in and contribute to an organization. The extent to which employees identify with their organization may lead to feelings of value, respect, belonginess, and engagement, or, conversely, feelings of separation, discrimination, isolation, disengagement, and/or alienation and suppression. Employees’ sense of inclusion or exclusion will influence their responses, perceptions, engagement, and commitment to organizations.

The definition of inclusion has expanded and can be defined as the fostering of a sense of belonging and acceptance for employees to be able to maintain the unique attributes of their diverse identities. Inclusion encompasses the ability of diverse employees to participate; have a voice; feel connected, feel respected, and valued; and be able to participate and contribute to organizations without losing a sense of self and individual attributes and identity (integrate, not assimilate). Inclusion also denotes engaging, empowering, and fostering equity to leverage differences, and alludes to an organization connecting its members through practices, values, ideologies, leadership, and behavior to foster a sense of belonging and responsiveness. Inclusion is not about assimilating, conforming, or trying to fit into dominant norms and cultures of an organization. 

Experiences of inclusion at the individual and organizational level can be influenced by a variety of factors that include leadership, culture, norms, policies, practices, representation, access, perceptions, value systems, job satisfaction, and engagement. Fostering inclusion requires an integration of differences between people and organizations as well as the integration of theoretical, conceptual, operational, technical, and practical efforts. Public organizations can institute meaningful change to actively engage in responsive and committed actions that recognize the intrinsic value of diverse employees. There are no absolute formulas as the requirement for each organization will be different, so strategies and initiatives need to be anchored in eliminating discrimination, racism, stereotypes, exclusion, biases, disparities, and marginalization. 

Public organizations should consistently work to incorporate goals and strategies that promote equity, fairness, justice, and transparency in the workplace. Steps to foster and integrate inclusion in strategies and goals and eliminate barriers include but are not limited to addressing 1) leadership engagement, sensitivity, and responsiveness to diversity, equity, and inclusion; 2) specifying intentional strategic and operational goals; 3) cultural awareness and sensitivity in policies, practices, programs, and procedures; 4)integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into human resource management to build a diverse and representative workforce; 5) cultivating a supportive, inclusive, and equitable organizational culture and climate; 6) reinforcing and sustaining a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; 7) employing sensitive and inclusive communications; 8) and implementing targeted training and professional development on diversity, equity, and inclusion. These strategies offer ways for organizations to actively engage in setting action-oriented goals targeting ingrained, systemic, and institutionalized disparities and moving beyond diversity management. 

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About the author:

Dr. Karen Sweeting is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Sweeting’s focus in public administration is diverse and incorporates over 20+ years of practitioner experience and human resource management background. In her research, she focuses on disparities in public administration; policy development, implementation, and outcomes; organizational learning; cultural competence; representative bureaucracy; and human resource management. Secondary research interests include public management; ethics; emotions; and marginalization in public administration, public policy, and public and non-profit management.