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The future of diversity, equity and inclusion in government

Insights In Depth: The future of government

Government needs a workforce as diverse as the constituents it serves. Getting—and keeping—that workforce isn’t easy, but guests Jonathan McBride, C.C. Durall and Kim Myers have insights on how to get it done.

Tanya Ott: The science is clear … 

Kelly Monahan: We tend to be drawn toward people who represent our own image and make us comfortable, and that’s a really natural thing for us to do as humans.

Tanya: And that can lead to organisational monoculture …

Carey Miller: As female that works every day in the defence industry, it seems like no matter what group I’m a part of, whether it’s a meeting or a panel or an event of some kind, you can look around and see that there are fewer minorities and fewer women in most of those rooms. 

Tanya: Those sorts of monocultures can be bad for business … and for the people who work there. 

Katie Dudtschak: We all, as human beings, have a shared need for psychological safety and belonging. We all have a need as whole people for connection, to be heard and to be respected.

Tanya: After the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, many large corporations pledged to fight racism 1 Some were vague statements about standing in solidarity, but other were more specific—with concrete targets they aimed to reach. A year later, many still struggle with diversity, equity and inclusion.2

What’s true in the private sector carries over into the public sector. Government is arguably the largest company there is. In the United States, the federal government employs more than two million civilian workers3 and serves hundreds of millions of customers.4

And like the private sector, government’s approach to workplace diversity has evolved over time.

Jonathan McBride: So if you went back 20 years or so, a lot of people with my type of a job would be called chief diversity officers. 

Tanya: Jonathan McBride served in the Obama administration as deputy director and then head of presidential personnel, with a special focus on diversity and inclusion. These days, he’s a partner in the CHRO and DEI practices at staffing and recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Jonathan: Diversity is the demographics and the makeup and it just tells you who’s around the table. And candidly, as a concept it’s global, but it is applied differently in different parts of the world. You measure different things depending on what culture community you sit in. And diversity argues for the fact that you want a lot of perspectives and a lot of experience around the table when you’re solving problems coming out of a diverse, interconnected world.

Then you had heads of diversity and inclusion as a nod to the fact that it’s not just the demographics, but it’s how people are treated at work that matters. In other words, what’s happening for the people as we diversify the team. Is it working better, less well, whatever the case may be, because diversity can create conflict. It certainly can have people feeling more in or out. So the question is what’s going on for people in the workplace? And inclusion was a measure of how are we doing. Are our buildings accessible? Are our leaders inclusive? Are our benefits policies inclusive? And we realised, wait, what’s the outcome we want? It’s actually that people feel like they belong, which is how that word came into being. 

Then you had them invert and inclusion go first when people realised we were spending a lot of time on the D and not enough on the I. And so people were shifting their focus. And then the introduction of concepts like belonging and other things, the biggest being equity, which is a conversation we’re having across communities, across cultures right now.

The equity conversation we’re having right now is about fairness across the enterprise. It is experienced through recruitment. It’s experienced through your day-to-day interaction with your manager and benefits and all these other things. 

Kim Myers: It’s a difficult concept to articulate—the difference between equity and equality. 

Tanya: That’s Kim Myers. 

Kim: I have a PhD in virology and spent five years working at the National Institutes of Health before coming to Deloitte, where I wear two hats now. 

Tanya: She’s the lead client partner for several health and science nonprofit organisations and leads the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the Government Public Services practice. 

Kim: There are some graphics out there that I don’t like to illustrate this and there are some that I do. One that is particularly helpful around the topic is the one that shows track athletes. We all know that a track is a circular or oval shaped item. So, if you are a track athlete and everyone’s start line is exactly the same position on that circle, those who have to run on the outer edge of the circle have farther to run than those on the inner edge of the circle. So they stagger the starting position of where people run from. That is what equity looks like. It looks like us giving individuals the tools, resources, etc. needed to start at the same place in order to get to an outcome that is equitable, fair and equal. 

Tanya: Kim says particularly these days you can’t ignore the inequities around us. 

Kim: We know that the pandemic has shortened the life span, the average life span of Black Americans by about three years. For Hispanic [or] Latin Americans, it’s shortened their life span by about two years. For white Americans, the number is one year. So we have to start to think about why that is and how did we get to [this] place: this pandemic that we’re all experiencing, we are experiencing in ways that are not the same and result in these disparities down the road. That’s not a new conversation. It’s a conversation that we have been having for many, many years. But I do think that the events of the last 18 months, the pandemic and then the deaths of Black Americans, has had a significant impact on how we think about this topic.

Tanya: It’s also shaped President Biden’s first term. The administration has issued several directives and even an executive order that mandated that within one hundred days of taking effect, government agencies must identify barriers to employment and develop strategic plans to eliminate those barriers. The order doesn’t just focus on race and gender. It also included immigrants, first generation professionals, members of religious minorities, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, people who live in rural areas, or those affected by persistent poverty.5 Kim says there are real opportunities and real challenges when painting with such a broad-stroke approach. 

Kim: The opportunity that we have there is to recognise that there are many groups in many ways that suffer inequity in their experiences. And we would be remiss to not recognise that, to not honor that and not understand that those experiences are unique, are driven by different factors and have different outcomes. So with the executive order, we have the opportunity to really think through that in a way that is meaningful. The challenge of that is that there are nuances to all of those experiences. Those experiences are different and unique and we can’t lump them all together and assume that the experience of a black individual, that the experience of an individual who is a woman, that the experience of an LGBTQ individual, that those individuals are all the same, that those experiences are all the same. When we talk about these things in broad strokes, we miss those nuances and at the same time, we often end up diluting the efforts. 

Tanya: Another challenge … measuring diversity is pretty easy. How many of this type of person? How many of that type of person? But equity and inclusion are a little tougher. 

Kim: Measurement is difficult. I don’t think that anyone has quite cracked the code around how we do it. But we have to get better at it. 

I believe that diversity is a byproduct of inclusion and equity. So when we measure diversity, I do think that we’re measuring an endpoint along a longer process. When you look at the representation data at the end and if you look and you see that the representation data isn’t quite right, you have to ask yourself, what are the keys all along the process that got you there? That’s where you uncover the issues around equity and the issues around inclusion.

We have to get better at asking people about their experiences and understanding their experiences. Are they positive, negative, somewhere in between and how those experiences may differ for a white male versus a Black female versus an LGBTQ identifying individual? We have to get better at asking those questions, gathering that data and we also have to get better at measuring what equity looks like. 

Tanya: Kim says one thing government needs to do is rethink its recruitment pipelines and channels. 

Kim: We often talk about when we recruit individuals, for a good quote unquote cultural fit, or we talk about the minimal qualifications for a job. And let’s be honest, there are jobs that have minimal qualifications. I have a PhD. in virology. I would not invite someone who doesn’t have a certain amount of training to enter a lab and expect that we would get some good results out of that. But does it have to be a PhD? Probably not. There are individuals who don’t hold PhDs who are probably better scientists than I ever was. So we have to challenge some of those paradigms and some of those orthodoxies about what success looks like, what good looks like and what we require in roles and positions. 

Jonathan: If you’re competing in the private sector where they interview quickly and they turn around offers quickly and recruit you like crazy, it’s really tough to compete for talent when you don’t have a single internship programme. 

Tanya: That’s Jonathan McBride again, sharing some of the unique structural issues in hiring for government. 

Jonathan: When you apply for a job [in government] as a young person, it might take you nine months to get in. There’s just a whole bunch of things with the infrastructure of hiring and bringing people in that is way behind times. So that’s a really big problem. 

The second is that while this generation is very motivated by service—and we learned this when we were in office, because there was a study about how do you make government cool again and to younger people—that was the millennial generation, we’re now talking Generation Zs, but it’s similar—people were very motivated to service, but they didn’t look at the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Transportation when they said service. They were maybe Teach for America, maybe Peace Corps, but most of government wasn’t seen as service to them. So the offering was off, the branding and communication was off. 

And the last is if you’re trying to get a diverse group of people to do something, one of the challenges is if they don’t know anybody who’s ever done it, what’s the probability they show up at your front door and want to work for you? 

Tanya: How do they win? Jonathan says it’s all about properly conveying the size of the impact government makes. 

Jonathan: All the companies we’re talking about are nice teeny little operations compared to the US government, because it’s a whole bunch of companies wrapped into one and a bunch of companies no one’s going to start because they’re providing services as a last resort. So the ability to have impact at scale does motivate really ambitious and smart people. It definitely motivates people generally across the board and is particularly appealing to the younger generation in the workforce right now. Competing about impact at scale is the way to win. 

Let me be clear. Most private sector companies are trying really hard right now to talk about their purpose beyond profit. Government is not profit motivated, it is impact motivated, it is outcomes motivated. Now, sometimes it’s behavioural motivativation too, but the point is on the things that people are caring more and more about and that the private sector is trying harder and harder to make itself sound like—it sounds a lot more like what you do in government at scale. I’m talking locally in your city, your state and your federal government at any level. 

Tanya: But that’s not the end of the story.

Kim: Once we do that, once we bring people in, we have to think about how we actually nurture those individuals and create a positive talent experience such that they want to stay in roles within the government and elsewhere. And they want to stay and they want to be successful. They want to grow careers and they want to join the ranks of senior executives within a place. Tanya: Of course, “the government” is not as monolithic as it sounds. Not all agencies are created equal. 

C.C. Durall: When you think about [US Department of] Housing and Urban Development, [US Department of] Health and Human Services, [it’s] pretty easy to see what kind of services they should be providing to the American public. 

Tanya: But C.C. Durall works in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). You might be thinking spies and you’re not wrong. But C.C. and many others like her got into intelligence work through other avenues. 

C.C.: I started as a linguist, so I was one of those people that was recruited because I understood foreign cultures. I was able to communicate and decipher things. [I am] still fluent in French, but [my] Italian and Spanish are quite dormant. 

Tanya: Today, C.C. is acting chief diversity equity inclusion officer in ODNI. 

C.C.:We publish our annual demographic report yearly and it’s available on our website. What we’re looking at is not the best of numbers when we’re thinking about the percentages, of looking at the number of minorities, women and persons with disabilities that make up our community today. Our current numbers are around 27% minorities, 39% women and 10% persons with disabilities. Our new director is adamant that that’s just not good enough. She wants to see our community reflect more the diversity found in our American society.

Tanya: C.C.’s office within ODNI is basically a startup tasked with helping intelligence professionals spread across 18 different government agencies. 

C.C.: When we talk about keeping our nation safe, we’re talking about foreign threats, domestic threats and what we’re looking for in the community is always a lot of native speakers to translate and interpret. We’re looking for experts to decipher cultural cues—basically a variety of different skill sets to really understand the creativity of some of our foreign adversaries out there and our domestic, as well. 

We want to make sure that we bring in as much diversity as possible because the threats come at us in a multitude of different ways. It’s becoming more and more complex. We aren’t in the national security landscape that we were 30, 40 years ago where we had a couple of adversaries and we would queue up for that.

Tanya: But there are barriers … like how long it takes to get a security clearance. Sometimes up to a year. 

C.C.:We’re diligently working to expedite that process with tools and revising some of our guiding documents because we know that we’re losing out on candidates, especially with that time to hire where people can’t afford to wait before they can roll into a job. It’s become a barrier when we’re talking about diverse recruiting from across the country, especially in rural areas and underserved communities. 

Tanya: C.C. says they’ve created affinity networks to support their existing employees. 

C.C.:Latin Intelligence Network, Women’s Intelligence Network, Asian American Pacific Islander, African American Affinity Network, IC Pride for our LGBTQ+ community and then finally, we have one focussed on the deaf and hard of hearing. 

Tanya: Group members speak frankly about the challenges they face; then executive leaders are tasked with taking action. 

C.C.:Everybody’s got biases. So it’s asking them to lean in and to roll up their sleeves and make this a part of their charge, not just working on the products and services that keep our nation safe, but also how are we taking care of our people. The second goal is really focussed on compliance and really nurturing all those equal employment opportunity officers out there across the community and growing that field. It’s also talking about ensuring that we adhere to all the laws with regards to harassment and other areas and ensuring that we have a safe place to work, as well. And how we are going to put a lot of emphasis on building relationships and strengthening relationships with academic institutions, as well as minority serving institutions, small businesses and to really tap into the talent that’s available out there.

Tanya:Goals are vital—but it’s equally important to understand that the path to equity and includion is winding.

Jonathan: If you’re going to move the needle on the conversation about fairness in a community or in a place of work, it’s not linear and it’s not clean. It’s messy. 

Tanya: That’s Jonathan McBride again. 

Jonathan: As leaders, you need to be comfortable and as organisations you need to be comfortable that you’re not going to make everybody happy. You’re not going to be right all the time. You need to figure out what right looks like for you and then get better at it. 

Kim: Too often when it comes to DEI, we have laser-focussed attention on short-term success. 

Tanya: Kim Myers.

Kim: So we will say, this year we promoted X number of Black professionals and we’ll feel really good about that. But the challenge that we have to have at organisations is to say, it’s not just about this year, it’s about next year and the year after and the year after. It’s not enough to say this year we recruited and brought in and hired X number of Black professionals. If those professionals ultimately leave your organisation because they find that it is not a place that has the greatest talent experience for them, then the fact that you brought them in becomes less meaningful.

Jonathan: If you don’t have critical mass, if you’re the only person within line of sight in an office that looks like you, while demographics might be very great elsewhere, you might not feel that included. But on the flip side, if you could prove you are a really, really inclusive organisation without much diversity, a lot of diversity might show up at your door because they might feel like they get a fairer shot. So these things interrelate. You need critical mass for people to feel like they’re being included and eventually belong and vice versa. You also need critical mass at certain levels to create the broad range of perspectives that lead to more fairness, to interrupt biases or blind spots that go on when there’s fewer types of people at the top. 

Tanya: That’s Jonathan McBride. He was head of personnel for the Obama administration and had a focus on diversity and inclusion. These days he is a partner in the CHRO and DEI practices at staffing and recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. We also heard from C.C. Durall, acting chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Kim Myers, a diversity, equity and inclusion leader for Deloitte’s Government Public Services practice. She also leads Deloitte’s Health Care practice. 

Thanks for joining us for season 1 of The Future of Government. We’re already working on season 2 of the series, which is spinning off to its own feed. Don’t worry, it’s easy to find—just look for “The Future of Government” in your preferred podcatcher. 

We’ll be talking about the future of health care, of justice, of regulations, of cities … and more. In the meantime, you can check out our research and insights on government at Deloitte Insights.

You can also connect with us on Twitter at @DeloitteInsight. I’m on Twitter at @tanyaott1. I am Tanya Ott. Have a great day! 

This podcast is produced by Deloitte. The views and opinions expressed by podcast speakers and guests are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Deloitte. This podcast provides general information only and is not intended to constitute advice or services of any kind. For additional information about Deloitte, go to

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  1. Gillian Friedman, “Here’s what companies are promising to do to fight racism,” New York Times, August 23, 2020.

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  2. Meredith Somers, “Tech companies lag behind their Black Lives Matter pledges,” MIT Management Sloan School, June 22, 2021.

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  3. Congressional Research Service, Federal Workforce statistics sources, June 24, 2021, pg 4.

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  4. United States Census Bureau, “U.S. and world population clock,” August 10, 2021.

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  5. Federal Register, “Advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government,” January 25, 2021.

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