I am nearing the end of completing graduate courses in the Masters of Public Administration in Local Government at Western University. I began the program in 2015 having taken a sabbatical in 2016 due to personal circumstances only to return in 2020. Although I have saved some money from not travelling back and forth to London, learning in an online environment has been highly challenging. Certainly, several of the other students in my cohort have felt the same.
At the same time, it has allowed me to focus on professional development racial equity and organizational change management and leadership. The latter has been a passing interest of mine for well over a decade. Now it has become a passion. My purpose is still to lead change with a racial equity lens. Over the last few months, while being immersed in 5 courses, I attended several webinars related to racial equity and organizational change: the Institute of Public Administration (IPAC) Leadership Summit and American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) Annual Conference.
The effervescent Daniele Zanotti, the CEO of United Way of Greater Toronto, moderated one of the panels at the IPAC Leadership that related to putting an effective EDI Strategy into action. The panel consisted of Nosa Era-Brown, Dr. Malinda Smith and Nouman Ashraf.
A two-word phrase from Nouman Ashraf resonated with me: culture collaboration. Cultural fit or adds, have been problematic as they are known to expose conscious or unconscious biases. Some organizations, as part of their inclusion efforts are recognizing the need for collaboration. There is proof that inclusiveness at an organization enhances performance and employee career longevity. Many organizations rely on multidisciplinary teams comprised of a collective of women and men, those from racialized communities, and are intergenerational. Organizations should be moving away from partnerships to influencing and shaping cultural collaboration. Organizations should be paying close attention to their values and behaviours and backup up their commitment to improving their workplace culture by allowing for authenticity. Leaders should showcase their organizational effectiveness.
The theme of the ASPA conference was Picking Up the Pieces: Protests, Pandemics and the Future of Public Service.
The streams that interested me, naturally, were related to equity, inclusion and organizational change. While this an academic conference, several presentations were relatable. The presentations that interested me centred around the following:
- Equity in budgeting
- Representative bureaucracy and organizational performance
- Employee outcomes of working remotely
- Structural inequity in the public sector
- Cross-sector collaboration
- Diversity and inclusion in city management
Some takeaways from these sessions were that:
- The politics-administration dichotomy must be rethought. There is a disconnect from public value and the politics, especially where inclusion and equity are concerned
- Reframe budget submissions to include equity. A perfect example is in policing. Rather than the full-out “defund the police” narrative, look at each item in the police budget to determine where the most money is spent. Then determine if that money can be spent in other areas such as community and social services.
- As with my earlier point, organizational performance thrives when equity and inclusion are part of the equation. It is not about “fit” anymore.
- Equity initiatives must reach up, down and outside of the organization. Community engagement is just as crucial as having CAOs/City Managers understand and trained on the importance of equity, inclusion and justice within the various government agencies.
Overall, organizational change that includes equity and inclusion is a long-term process. It requires the commitment of political and administrative leaders to see this through. Justice does not end until the nervousness of public managers ceases and when communities can thrive equitably.