Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Inclusion: Intent or Impact?

diverse successful businesswomen smiling and walking together in modern workplace
by Dr. Schnequa N. Diggs:

Greater attention and resources are intentionally directed to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in the United States. Just recently, I had the opportunity to service on a faculty search community and this experience led me to question whether people genuinely understand what constitutes “meaningful” inclusion in public sector workplaces.

Teaching at a minority-serving institution has been a unique experience where shying away from DEI concerns is a disservice for students and the field. As a search committee member, it was extremely important for me to consider potential candidates with experience working with diverse students and creating an inclusive learning environment.

Interestingly enough, it became apparent that intentional efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion proved to be a daunting task for senior and junior faculty. Candidates responses ranged from uncertainty to “cookie-cutter” which clearly indicated a miseducation of the complexities in defining and developing DEI strategies. One candidate’s strategy for inclusion was to treat all students the same, despite their diversity. This strategy directly contradicts the purpose of DEI efforts and perpetuates exclusive practices. I started to really think about the idea of celebrating diversity and so-called inclusion in the public sector. I question whether we have entered into an era of color-blind or gender-blind administration as a plausible response to issues of inclusion?

We are well aware of the legal mandates to increase workplace opportunities for underrepresented persons regardless of their social categories. Laws such as Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), have been put in place to protect vulnerable populations from discriminatory hiring practices. It is through these laws we cultivate equitable workspaces, or so it appears. Yet, beyond these legal parameters, we seem to have missed the mark for “meaningful” inclusive policies and practices.

A possible justification, for incremental achievements to “meaningful” inclusion, could be explained by the oppressive state of America. Oppressive systems, by definition and practice, are in direct opposition to equitable access “for all”, especially when “for all” is narrowly defined by “whiteness” and “maleness”. Thus instead of fixing the real problem, oppression, we continually discuss and implement catchy concepts and create positions (i.e. diversity and inclusion officers) to mitigate exclusionary practices. We also accept ambiguous definitions of inclusion and how we should measure inclusive practices. Although the push for inclusive workplaces has risen as a top priority in the public sector, the question remains whether the goal should extend beyond measuring intent and focus more on impact?

In May 2021, the Harvard Business Review discussed this very topic by indicating ways to measure inclusion in the workplace. Through the use of the Gartner Inclusive Index, public organizations can capture employee perceptions of inclusion on seven dimensions: fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity. This index is useful for setting baselines and identifying inconsistencies in employee perceptions of inclusion. The overall goal is for public organizations, specifically, to critically rethink traditional policies and practices and incorporate audits and accountability structures to sustain inclusion (    

By no means is it my intent for this blog entry to criticize or discredit specific positions that promote, support, and advance equity and inclusion. I believe this initiative is a step in the right direction. I’m just simply saying that we need to think beyond the intention of these positions and focus more on the impact of these positions and other strategies towards “meaningful” inclusion in practice.

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About the author:

Dr. Schnequa N. Diggs is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Public Administration at North Carolina Central University. Dr. Diggs teaches courses in the MPA core curriculum and select electives in the Urban and Regional Planning and Law and Society specializations. She completed her Ph.D. in Public Administration in 2015 from Florida Atlantic University where she examined factors influencing the level of cultural competence in emergency medical services. She also holds an MPA with a specialization in urban research and planning from Old Dominion University and a BBA in finance and marketing from North Carolina Central University. Dr. Diggs’ research interests focus on social justice advocacy and crafting effective policies to reduce generational inequities in interrelated policy areas: housing, planning, health, and environmental. Her research interest has been guided by volunteer efforts in grass-roots organizations with a commitment to community development. She has a strong commitment to educate and encourage future public administrators furthering their education in graduate studies. Dr. Diggs currently serves on the board for the Conference of Minority Public Administrators (COMPA) and the Section on Democracy and Social Justice (DSJ). She also serves on the Durham Affordable Housing Implementation Committee in Durham, North Carolina.