Does Diversity in Government Matter?

Most public servants are passionate about helping people.

Should it matter who they are or what they look like?


Even though a public servant might be amazing at their job does not mean that they can fully understand what it is like to be a part of every community that they serve: they might not be a certain race or low-income or homeless or criminal justice-involved or an immigrant.

Many recent initiatives have shown that government programs are most effective when designed collaboratively with the communities that the programs are for. These collaboratively designed programs ultimately reflect the true needs of the community, not just what government assumes is needed.

However, public servants themselves also need to be reflective of the communities that they serve in order to ensure that it is not just a few special initiatives that involve the community.

Hiring people who live in public housing or who receive public benefits to make policy decisions and manage programs will fundamentally improve how government operates, as well as the efficacy of its services.

So when we talk about diversity in government, what we really mean is President Lincoln's idea of self-government: "...government of the people, by the people, for the people..."

This is what diversity is all about!

How Far Do We Have to Go?

Local government diversity data usually only shows the diversity of the entire workforce. However, this obscures the fact that most of the employees of color work in frontline, low-paid jobs.

A better indicator of diversity is to compare the percent of employees of color in executive and senior management roles to the percent of residents of color.

As you can see, many major cities have a long way to go to achieve true diversity in their government workforces:

City Gov't Executives of Color Residents of Color Difference
New York City 52% 68% -16%
San Francisco 47% 59% -12%
Chicago 45% 67% -22%
Houston 59% 75% -16%
Philadelphia 40% 65% -25%

Data sources: New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia.

Impending Mass Retirement is an Opportunity

One-third of the nation’s 7.5 million local government public servants are eligible for retirement—an amazing opportunity to reimagine the government workforce.2

In city governments like Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the retirement-eligible rates are as high as 44% and 46%.3 These future retirees are at all tiers of management in government, including the employees who create policy, deliver programs, engage communities, and build technology.

2. Data source, 3. Philadelphia, Los Angeles

Civil Service Presents a Challenge

Civil service rules make backfilling any vacant job extremely difficult and the process is confusing for applicants.

Although civil service rules vary by city, generally speaking, job applicants must take an exam and are then put on an interview list ranked by exam scores. Filling a job this way can sometimes take months or years.

Moreover, students graduating from college may need a job ASAP and cannot afford to go through a long civil service hiring process.

Only an estimated 4% of college seniors join local government after graduation every year.1 Even if a student is interested in working for government, they usually have to wait until after graduation to apply for a civil service exam. Students from low-income families can literally not afford to do that.

1. Data source

A Government Talent Pipeline is the Solution

1. Create a civil service hiring process exclusively for students of nearby public universities—the largest pool of diverse, qualified, and local talent.

Guarantee graduating college students two years of full-time employment in critical government roles immediately after graduation, as long as participants pledge to take civil service exams during the program and meet other performance expectations.

2. Enable students to apply for the program during the Fall of their senior year of college and choose from a range of degree-related career paths.

Place participants into one of five different career pathways: program management; policy analysis; communications and outreach; technology development; and administration, human resources, and procurement.

3. Train your new hires on how government works and how to problem-solve in the public sector.

During a pre-program bootcamp, train participants on skills such as data analysis, project management, stakeholder research, and written communications. Enable your future leaders to hit the ground running in whatever department you send them to!

Key Innovations

1. The Pipeline builds a diverse government workforce at scale.

Typical public service fellowships recruit from top national universities and place participants into short-term roles in executive offices. In contrast, this model is about recruiting high-performing, diverse, local students to fill core jobs and preparing them for long-term careers in government.

2. The Pipeline hires expert users of public services.

A user-centric approach to public service delivery starts with understanding the lives of constituents and their different challenges. Since many participants may likely come from the communities that government serves and have benefited from public services, they will provide critical insight into how to fix these services.

3. The Pipeline trains participants to solve complex public challenges.

Most entry-level public servants do not receive any job-related training at all. In this model, all participants receive a significant amount of skills-based training focused on preparing them to tackle complex public sector challenges. These skills will also be transferable across the public sector as the participants' careers continue to develop.