Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Disabled in the Workplace: Designing Work for Access and Inclusion

three people collaborating on a project
by Kayla Schwoerer:

Whether navigating a new work environment at home or developing a greater reliance on technology to meet, manage, and coordinate work-related tasks and responsibilities, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to adapt to new ways of working.

But, for many of the 10.9 million workers in the U.S. with a disability, working from home helped break down the barriers people with disabilities face in the workplace, enabling them to engage with their work in new ways thanks to advancements in technology that enhanced accessibility and provided greater control over their work environment.

A 2017 study[1] found that 30% of college-educated workers report having a disability, yet only 3.2% disclosed their disability to their employers. Of the 30% of people who reported having a disability (according to the Americans with Disabilities Act definition), 62% said their disability was “invisible” to others, and 26% said it was “sometimes visible” depending on the circumstances. Invisible disabilities, also known as hidden disabilities, refer to the spectrum of physical, mental, or neurological disabilities (or challenges) not obvious to the eye. Some of the most common hidden disabilities are anxiety and depression, diabetes, chronic pain or fatigue, and neurodivergence, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and dyslexia.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates reasonable accommodations for those with physical and mental impairments, visible or not, people with disabilities still encounter many obstacles to accessing accommodations in the workplace. For people with disabilities, working from home might mean increased access to helpful and often necessary accommodations that they may not have had access to previously.  Not to mention, employers are only required to provide accommodations if workers have disclosed their disability formally, which in many cases, requires people to provide “proof” that their disability significantly interferes with their ability to do certain things.  This is undoubtedly a product of ableism in the workplace and society at large. Still, as disability activist Mia Mingus[2] argues, it also subjects disabled people to “forced intimacy” by placing undue burden on people to disclose personal and sensitive details about themselves as a requirement for the access and accommodations they need to be successful. In reality, there are many reasons why someone would make the choice not to disclose their disability. Cultural and personal attitudes and beliefs as well as fear of or past experiences with discrimination, disparate treatment, or not being believed because their disability is not visible to others have a profound impact on whether someone chooses to disclose (or not).

There is a vast spectrum of disabilities, visible, invisible, and somewhere in between. The ways in which disability impacts one’s experience navigating life and work is unique to everyone, as is the “work from home” experience. However, for many, the ability to work from home has meant they no longer have to navigate inaccessible workplaces or inaccessible transportation and infrastructure to even get to work in the first place. They also might find that they have greater control over designing an environment that supports and accommodates their disability or greater access to new resources and supports not previously available to them. Additionally, for those with invisible disabilities or fear of disclosing a disability, it might even mean reduced stress from the time and effort spent concealing or working extra hard to compensate for one’s disability.

The new and ongoing developments in telework technology, including video platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet, offer a number of accessibility features, including live closed captioning, screen readers, as well as downloadable transcriptions of meetings. Microsoft Teams even provides speech to text, chat translation, and the ability to magnify and adjust the color contrast of the screen and interface. These features increase accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing community, the visually impaired, and they also aid neurodivergent folks with information processing, comprehension, memory, and attention in ways that were not previously possible.

As workers return to the office or perhaps transition to work from home arrangements permanently, it’s important for organizations and managers to take this opportunity to re-think access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Disability accommodations are not one-size-fits-all and most workplaces are not equipped to adequately accommodate the wide range of disabilities and lived experiences of people with disabilities. There are many excellent technological tools and resources such as those mentioned above, and the technology is continually evolving with more and more accessibility features added regularly. Leveraging these tools in the workplace can be crucial for access and inclusion but technology is not the only answer. One of the best, but often overlooked, places to start is empathy and understanding by asking people what they need to feel supported and be successful, regardless of disability status. Organizations can begin to break down the barriers that exist by signalling support, making available accommodations transparent and easily accessible, and proactively pursuing and promoting inclusive and accessible tools and policies with or without individuals having to disclose a disability. Lastly, leaders can look to the Principles of Universal Design,[3] a framework developed to guide the process of designing usable products and environments. Doing so can help to inform the design of accessible, inclusive, and equitable environments, policies, and communications for all in the workplace.



[3] The Center for Universal Design (1997). The Principles of Universal Design. Accessed from:

◂Return to blog homepage

About the author:

Kayla Schwoerer is a Doctoral Candidate at Rutgers-Newark in the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA). Her research focuses broadly on the intersection of public management, science and technology policy, and social equity. She is particularly interested in understanding the ways that public and nonprofit organizations leverage science, technology, and design to engage the public, enhance equity, and provide public value.

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.

◂Return to blog homepage

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.

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. 

◂Return to blog homepage

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.

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.

◂Return to blog homepage

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.

Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Public Sector Inclusion: Beyond Legal Requirements

businesspeople having a meeting
by Dr. Maren Trochmann:

Current and future leaders in the public sector need an understanding of the legal requirements which protect against discrimination. Yet, these legal parameters, enshrined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and subsequent legislation, provide only a baseline. While necessary to shield individuals from specific types of employment discrimination, these laws do not necessarily guide public sector workplaces toward meaningful inclusion.

The legal foundations provide a basis upon which we can – and must – build more inclusive and equitable practices and policies. An inclusive public sector workplace requires both individual action and structural change. Individuals must be committed to deep self-reflection on their implicit biases and an honest reckoning with historic and structural barriers and imbedded inequities.

Simple compliance with EEO laws will not be enough to foster a diverse workplace, let alone an inclusive one. As Professor john a. powell notes, though most of us actively disavow racism [or sexism or other types of identity-based discrimination], our actions and decisions do not always align with our professed ideals. Only through continual and intentional grappling with our own implicit bias – leaning further into that which makes us uncomfortable – might we overcome these insidious barriers to an inclusive workplace. Whether through tools like Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, targeted group trainings and meaningful conversations around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), building and fostering relationships across difference, and/or individual learning from books or podcasts by DEI experts, the work of unpacking our biases is a continual process. It requires we shift from a mentality of box-checking (i.e., compliance with EEO laws or posting a non-discrimination statement) to one of continual curiosity and growth. It assumes our internal work to be more equitable and inclusive is never done.

In my MPA class on managing public sector human resources, we do an activity in which I ask students how they will ensure equity and promote diversity in a hypothetical hiring process for a public or nonprofit organization. Inevitably, one or more students will say they will do a “blind” evaluation of application materials – assuming they can provide a completely neutral review of the candidates, ignoring elements of identity such as gender, race, or ethnicity. I push back on such a sentiment, well-intentioned as it may be. We talk about examples where having a fuller picture of a candidate’s identity, background, and lived experience might actually lead us to make decisions that are more equitable and actively promote diversity. We ask: what about the candidate who was unable to take a competitive, unpaid internship opportunity due to their socioeconomic status and financial need? What about the mother or caregiver who has great experience but gaps in their résumé? What about a candidate who has relevant lived experiences that will help them to relate to and advocate for the citizens your organization serves?

Not only may a so-called neutral approach lead to a less diverse workforce, but it may also preclude the possibility of an inclusive organization in which people are encouraged to bring their whole, authentic selves. It implies that aspects of individual identities are barriers or challenges to overcome rather than strengths to be acknowledged and developed.

Bernice King asserts, “Being ‘colorblind’ is not the solution to racism. See people fully. Love people deeply.” The same could be said of sexism, transphobia, ableism, and all forms of intersectional oppression that are often perpetuated both within systems and organizations and by individuals who may be unaware of their own implicit biases. An inclusive, diverse, and equitable public service means both compliance with EEO laws and going beyond the mere legal requirements. It compels us to see people fully and, in doing so, allow them to bring their full, authentic selves to the workplace.

◂Return to blog homepage

About the author:

Maren Trochmann, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and the MPA Program at the College of Charleston (SC). Dr. Trochmann’s research focuses broadly on how the public sector can be more equitable, just, and humane for both the individuals working in public organizations and for the public they serve. Her areas of research interest include social equity, public personnel administration, and housing policy. You can find her publications in Administrative Theory & Praxis, Politics & Policy (forthcoming), and in several edited scholarly volumes. She teaches classes on public administration, public sector HRM, housing policy, ethics, and research methods.

Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Two Steps Forward on the Road to Gender Equity…and Many More Needed

road between pine trees
by Heather Getha-Taylor:

The journey toward a public service workplace that fully embraces equal opportunity and celebrates diversity is one that is ongoing. It is marked by both strides and setbacks. We celebrate markers of progress, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

However, there remain challenges that many professional women in the United States still encounter on the road to equity. This post identifies three pressing priorities for advancing improved inclusion. 

  1. Address insufficient family and medical leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 marked a significant improvement in responding to the needs of workers to attend to pressing health needs. However, nearly 30 years later, its unpaid structure offers little real support for workers, especially women. Herr, Roy, and Klerman’s 2020 study revealed that women take advantage of FMLA’s provisions more than their male colleagues, the length of their leave is longer, they are less likely to find ways to fill the pay gap during their leave, and they have greater unmet needs for family and medical leave. While FMLA served as a valuable first step, additional work is needed to advance more comprehensive coverage to help balance the different realities of caregiving that men and women face.  
  2. Investigate and correct the enduring gender pay gap. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 represented a major achievement in advancing the goal of pay equity by resetting the 180-day statute of limitations with each discriminatory paycheck. A 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office revealed some good news on this front: the gender pay gap in the federal government has narrowed from 19 cents in 1999 to 7 cents in 2017. However, a more in-depth look at the data revealed a troubling finding: the pay gap remains greater for Hispanic, Black, and American Indian or Alaska Native women. This report speaks to entrenched pay discrimination for women of color, an issue which must be identified and corrected whenever it exists in the public service workplace. 
  3. Confront gender bias to crack the glass ceiling. We still have much work to do to ensure equal paths to leadership in the public service workplace, especially at the local government level. According to the International City/County Management Association, just 20% of chief administrative officers are women (2021 data). While this disparity is the result of a variety of forces, it is important to consider how gender bias perpetuates such a pattern. According to a 2021 IBM report, gender bias remains a contemporary concern with 38% of women reporting gender bias in their workplace. An example of such bias is the double-bind that women face when they are disliked for being assertive, but not seen as leaders when they are nice. This bias blinds us to the possibility that women leaders can be both assertive and nice.  

The government workplace is the public’s workplace. Responding to these and other issues that stand in the way of gender equity should be a priority for those who work for, direct, fund, and interact with public agencies. That includes public service leaders, scholars, politicians, and citizens. It is critical that we continue to identify opportunities for greater inclusion, question how we can improve existing policies/practices, and work together to advance gender equity in meaningful and lasting ways. 

◂Return to blog homepage

About the author:

Heather Getha-Taylor, Professor in the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA), serves as Editor-in-Chief of Public Personnel Management. She is the author or co-author of over 60 articles, book chapters, and other scholarly reports. Her article, “Identifying Collaborative Competencies,” received the Best Article Award from Review of Public Personnel Administration. Her collaborative project on leadership training evaluation was recognized by the Kansas City chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (with Jonathan Morris and Michele Biddison). In 2016, she received the KU Steeples Service to Kansans Award for her commitment to engaged scholarship.  

Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Why inclusive leadership is the right thing to do

by Dr. Tanachia Ashikali:

Increased inclusivity in public organizations is needed for organizations’ representation of minority voices and responsiveness to diverse needs in society. In an inclusive work environment, diverse employees are recognized, valued and their resources are used to inform work practices[1].

Despite the push for more workforce diversity, studies shows that increased cultural diversity does not self-evidently result in enhanced inclusivity. Previous research shows that fostering inclusivity in organizations is complex, and dependent on multiple factors of which leadership is an important one[2].

Leadership is generally understood as an influencing process towards others to guide, structure, and facilitate activities in groups or organizations. Although many studies show that leadership is important for achieving goals, improved motivation and performances, how leadership contributes to inclusivity and what determines inclusive leadership is less understood. Inclusive leadership is coined as a set of leader behaviors towards supporting individuals’ feelings of belongingness and uniqueness in a team setting[3][4]. Inclusive leadership fosters inclusivity through facilitating team members’ participation and contributions as well as stimulating team members to exchange, discuss and learn from different perspectives, expertise and backgrounds diverse members bring to work.

Leadership is, however a complex phenomenon, which can be affected by both personal and organizational antecedents[5]. However, previous studies into public leadership show that public managers have multiple conflicting and competing demands while managing their teams[6][7], of which inclusivity might not be prioritized.

So, what are determinants of inclusive leadership? Results of a recent study among employees and public managers of various Dutch public organizations, shows that leader humility is a foremost predictor. Humility is a crucial organizational virtue for leaders that have to deal with a dynamic and changing environment[8]. A diversifying society and workforce makes humility an relevant subject for public management and leadership research. Humble leaders view oneself accurately and display an appreciation towards others’ strengths and contributions. Moreover, humble leaders are more likely to learn from others by utilizing information gathered in interaction with others, seeking feedback, and acknowledging mistakes.

Another important determinant is the rationale managers and organization have to promote diversity in the organization. Inclusive leadership increases, when diversity is valued as a resource that is needed to create public value in addition to striving for more equity and justice. Furthermore, inclusive leadership is stimulated in an organizational context, in which teamwork, participation and development of human capital is central.

There are also some potential barriers that could limit inclusive leadership. In an organizational context with a focus on efficiency and control, public managers are not consciously occupied with fostering inclusivity. Furthermore, when the span of control is high, public managers are placed at a greater distance of the team. This makes it difficult for them to proactively manage team processes needed to foster inclusivity. There are some factors that might intervene, even given these limitations. Firstly, public managers do enjoy some discretionary room and autonomy. When intrinsically motivated, they create opportunities to foster inclusivity even when constraint by organizational context. Secondly, support from top management is important for creating an organizational setting in which diversity and inclusivity is valued. This will promote middle and lower level public managers to show inclusive leadership. The insights into personal and organizational antecedents of public managers’ leadership give us more understanding of how inclusive leadership develops and how it can be encouraged to promote inclusivity in public organizations.

[1] Nishii, L. H. (2013). The benefits of climate for inclusion for gender-diverse groups. Academy of Management journal, 56(6), 1754-1774.

[2] Shore, L. M., Cleveland, J. N., & Sanchez, D. (2018). Inclusive workplaces: A review and model. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), 176-189.

[3] Ashikali, T., Groeneveld, S., & Kuipers, B. (2021). The Role of Inclusive Leadership in Supporting an Inclusive Climate in Diverse Public Sector Teams. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 41(3), 497–519.

[4] Randel, A. E., Galvin, B. M., Shore, L. M., Ehrhart, K. H., Chung, B. G., Dean, M. A., & Kedharnath, U. (2018). Inclusive leadership: Realizing positive outcomes through belongingness and being valued for uniqueness. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), 190-203.

[5] Antonakis, J. E., Cianciolo, A. T., & Sternberg, R. J. (2004). The nature of leadership. Sage Publications, Inc.

[6] Hood, C. (1991). A public management for all seasons?. Public Administration, 69(1), 3-19.

[7] Van der Wal, Z., Nabatchi, T., & De Graaf, G. (2015). From galaxies to universe: A cross-disciplinary review and analysis of public values publications from 1969 to 2012. The American Review of Public Administration, 45(1), 13-28.

[8] Owens, B. P., Johnson, M. D., & Mitchell, T. R. (2013). Expressed humility in organizations: Implications for performance, teams, and leadership. Organization Science, 24(5), 1517-1538.

◂Return to blog homepage

About the author:

Tanachia Ashikali is an Assistant Professor of Public Management at the Institute of Public Administration at Leiden University. Her research expertise includes diversity management, leadership and inclusion in public organizations, with a focus on quantitative research methods and techniques. She teaches courses on public management and leadership. As a research fellow at the Leiden Leadership Centre, Tanachia acts as a speaker at practitioners’ seminars and engages in research collaborations on inclusive leadership with practitioners in various Dutch public organizations. As a member of the Faculty Governance and Global Affairs’ Diversity & Inclusion Taskforce she is involved in developing and implementing an action agenda to develop and maintain inclusive spaces for learning, working (teaching and research) and collaboration.

Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Pandemic Community: The shifting role of Academic Twitter

by Meril Antony:

In 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States, higher education leaders were faced with an unexpected role to navigate- ensure the wheels of knowledge continued to churn as academicians, students, administrators, and staff worked through navigating the digital environment while continuing to provide effective learning.

In between these changes, many decisions got delayed, including tenure decisions of professors, graduate school funding for doctoral students, research studies, and grants, among others. Of course, these issues existed even before the pandemic. However, the shift to an online environment for work and otherwise garnered more attention to these issues, with increased public scrutiny, especially from civil society. 

Academic Twitter has quickly become a platform with an open discussion between most scholars and students to engage and discuss some of these challenges. Topics include sharing insights on navigating the ‘work from home,’ openly sharing resources such as syllabi adjustments, curriculum changes, assignments, or projects that can be effective in a virtual setting. Recent examples also include a growing coherence being built among the academic community, openly discussing the varying degrees of inclusion that currently exist, the challenges, and sensible solutions that might pave the way for greater inclusion. From affordable virtual conferences for students to inviting guest speakers in a virtual setting, as opposed to a traditional fly-out, many of these strategies are practical and equitable. 

We see now not just inclusiveness of thoughts but strategies that cut through the challenges of geographic boundaries and give students and academics from varied backgrounds opportunities to take advantage of the information and knowledge sharing. This form of a shift to an online medium of engagement such as Twitter also led to increased participation and engagement of critical thought and debate around core public administration issues such as workplace promotion policies, child-care responsibilities, publishing deadlines, tackling mental health issues, among others. As academic institutions continue to provide remote instruction and navigate this new post-pandemic mode, I believe few lessons are here to stay.

  • Building a curriculum that includes scholars from diverse demographic backgrounds such as race, gender, ethnicity, etc.
  • Building on an equitable path for the students and early career scholars to help navigate the academic journey
  • An active acknowledgment and discussion of changes needed in workplace policies such as child-care and family-friendly policies
  • Building on the growing solidarity among academics to discuss and debate the tough questions

◂Return to blog homepage

About the author:

Meril Antony is a doctoral candidate at the School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers University-Newark. Her research primarily focuses on public management, social equity and leadership, and organizational level reforms, with a specific focus on urban education. Her dissertation focuses on the role of co-production theory in the U.S. school context. She is particularly interested in how schools can improve or sometimes hinder the co-production efforts of parents from different socioeconomic or racial backgrounds—and what individual efforts and organizational arrangements might pave the way. Over the last few years, Meril has been an active member of ASPA, and currently serves on committees in Section for Women in Public Administration (SWPA), and South Asian Section of Public Administration (SASPA). She is also an active member of Academic Women in Public Administration (AWPA).

Blog Inclusion in Public Sector Workplaces

Biden, DEI and Critical Race Theory

by Norma M. Riccucci:

President Biden has pledged his commitment, like President Obama before him, to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the U.S. federal government workforce. President Biden on his first day in office ended Trump’s efforts to restrict diversity training in the federal service and shortly afterward rescinded his ban on transgender persons serving openly in the military.

But there is still a lot of work to be done if President Biden genuinely seeks to achieve his goal of fostering diversity and social equity in the federal service. For example, the positions classified as the Senior Executive Service (SES), which are the highest positions of power, pay and prestige in the federal government, continue to be dominated by White persons. In 2013, 80.1 percent were White, and by 2017 they still held close to 80 percent of those high-level, policymaking positions. Women held 33.7 percent in 2013, and only 34 percent by 2017. Between those two time periods, Blacks lost 3.4 percent of those positions; Latinx lost 4.6 percent, and Indigenous Americans/Alaska Natives lost 1.1 percent; this, despite President Obama’s 2011 executive order calling on federal agencies to diversify the ranks of the SES.

In addition, the lowest income earners in non-SES positions in the federal government between 2010 and 2019 were Black women and men. In 2010, their median salary was $57,643. By 2019, it rose to $69,340. The median salary for Whites in 2010 was $70,509 and by 2019 it was $83,398. So why do these inequities persist? 

The answer lies in the myth or cult of merit, which continues to produce social inequality and injustice in the federal workplace. Since passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, the presumption has been that the federal service is a meritocracy. But merit never meant being “qualified” for a job; rather it was a means to keep patronage or politics out of the workplace. The merit system was never neutral and today it continues to allow for biased decision making in hiring and promotion. Indeed, a survey of federal employees in 2019 revealed that Black workers do not view merit as the primary driver of hiring or promotions. Instead, the biases stem from “homosocial reproduction,” the tendency for individuals making hiring and promotion decisions to select those who mirror their own social characteristics. 

Critical race theory (CRT) provides justification for President Biden to dismantle the merit system. CRT holds that law and policies are neither value-free nor neutral and are inextricably entwined with historical and social narratives, thus advancing and maintaining existing racial hierarchies. Racism under CRT is not limited to individual acts or interpersonal bigotry, but rather, it is structural and systemic and accomplished by laws and policies such as merit systems which may seem unintentional but are cloaked in choices that are racist. 

CRT training in the federal government is also needed. It would help to dispel the belief among workers that if you work hard, you can achieve anything, the common narrative of a meritocracy. The federal government has had diversity training programs in place for decades, but, although necessary, they have not gone far enough to produce structural and social change; if they had, there would be greater justice and equity in the workplace by now. The SES positions in federal government would be much more racially- and gender-balanced and federal pay would be more equitable. 

CRT training requires tackling not race head on, but as Kimberlé Crenshaw has said, the racial anxieties held by Americans. Telling White people that their privilege stems from historic, persistent racism may trigger defensiveness, denial or anger. This may be inevitable, but unless everyone works to change the institutions which provide privilege to some and oppression to others, social inequalities and injustice will persist and White supremacy will remain the norm. CRT has been so intellectualized and politicized in our society that putting it into practice has been challenging. Nonetheless, training companies have already begun to develop CRT training toolkits with a variety of strategies for educating workers. There will surely be bumps in the road, but now, President Biden stands at the threshold of effecting real, enduring change. And aggressive action certainly comports with his executive order issued on his first day in office, which calls for federal agencies to root out systemic racism and to take an institutional approach to redressing inequities throughout the federal government.

◂Return to blog homepage

About the author:

Dr. Norma M. Riccucci is a Board of Governors Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University–Newark. She is the author of numerous publications and books including most recently, Policy Drift: Shared Powers and the Making of U.S. Law and Policy (New York University Press, 2018). Riccucci’s research interests lie in the broad area of public management, with specific interests in social equity policies and representative bureaucracy.

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

◂Return to blog homepage

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.