Diversity and representation are critical in civic technology and government, especially now that digital service delivery is becoming essential for government services to reach the U.S. public.
These products and services need to account for the diverse perspectives, backgrounds and abilities of the people using them; otherwise, they will not have the greatest reach, and inequity is bound to occur.
One way to prevent this is to hire diverse talent and, when possible, hire from the communities you are trying to serve to ensure that the experiences and needs of these communities are reflected in the products and services.
Not only is diversity and representation, throughout an organization, key to creating and delivering equitable and accessible products and services, it’s also critical to recruiting and retaining talent. A lack of diversity in leadership and management may be understood as a sign that minorities are not seen as leaders and are not valued, which could send your diverse talent out the door.
I’ve experienced this personally. Early in my career, I worked at a company in multiple locations and had the opportunity to see leadership and diversity in each region. After noting the lack of diversity in one region, I moved to another region, where I saw diversity not only among individual contributors but at all levels of the organization.
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How the Federal Government can Support Early-Career Workers
Working with early-career and junior technologists is a complex challenge for managers in the federal government because our field is just starting to build what a career path might look like, from entry level to more senior positions. On top of that, civic tech isn’t necessarily a popular career option for people graduating from college or other tech training programs — yet.
One way agencies and leaders can support their junior technologists is by assuming a continuous-learning mindset and stepping out of their comfort zones to identify mentors, communities and sources of support for early-career staff.
DIVE DEEPER: How local governments can elevate DEI principles across agencies.
At a previous agency, I helped stand up an organization that had a communication specialist on the team. However, my background is in computer engineering technology, and I didn’t know the first thing about supervising and advising a communications specialist. I had to take the initiative to identify a mentor for that team member.
In terms of fostering connections, I’m in the process of growing a BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) Slack channel for civic technologists. Once we reach a significant number and achieve proper coordination, I hope it can be seen as a support system for minority civic technologists.
Other resources include broader Slack communities, such as Black Code Collective and Techqueria, that can offer additional support to early-career employees as they get their footing in government.
Advising Diversity and Inclusion for the Future
My first piece of advice is to ensure that you can take care of the fundamentals. Make sure that your starting offer can cover the bills, and that the organization you are joining will help you grow your technical skills. Government programs such as the new U.S. Digital Corps understand this and offer recruitment incentives, a fair starting salary, remote work, and training and mentoring opportunities.
Once you’re in your job, investigate the culture and team structure of an organization. Find a mentor inside or outside of your organization to help you learn more about the value of multidisciplinary teams and how they create products. Working together and respecting different expertise is the key to success in any role, especially in government.
EXPLORE: The large gender gap in local government leadership.
Finally, expand your network. Get to know people in government — and not just other technologists — with the intention of learning what they do, what tools they use, the experiences they’ve had, and what hurdles exist for making change. During my time at the General Services Administration, I really enjoyed participating in the Diversity Guild because it was a cross-cutting space for employees of all identities and backgrounds.
These three tips should ensure your bills are paid, your skills are sharp and you transition into government with your eyes wide open.
We are definitely making progress in ensuring the government is a comfortable place to work for diverse talent, but there are still areas in which we need to grow. Those include demystifying the path into government for interested candidates and building communities to support retention of diverse technologists already in government.
Leaders across all agencies, myself included, are aware of these needs and are working to make government, especially in tech fields, a great place to work.