3 recommendations from our Federal Racial Equity Summit
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3 recommendations from our Federal Racial Equity Summit

August 18, 2023

Recent data suggests only 33% of the public agrees that government “helps people like me,” while 28% believe it “treats all demographic groups fairly.”  

To help federal agencies address this trust gap, the Partnership for Public Service recently hosted a “Federal Racial Equity Summit,” bringing together individuals from across the federal and nonprofit sectors who have firsthand experience advancing racial equity in their organizations, programs and services.

Equity team members representing 18 federal agencies and nonprofit partners attended the Partnership’s Federal Racial Equity Summit.

Our government is uniquely positioned to build a more just, multiracial democracy by designing and implementing services that meet the needs of diverse populations. Speakers at the summit, many of whom have worked to implement the executive order aimed at increasing federal support for underserved communities, offered three main recommendations for organizations to work toward reducing the racial disparities that permeate U.S. society.  

These recommendations will help agencies meet this challenge, better serve all people and rebuild trust in our most important public institution.  

Explain equity as an initiative that lifts up all populations

Efforts to address disparities between communities may appear to be a zero-sum game, with gains for some groups coming at the expense of others.  

In truth, equity initiatives enable shared success. Panelists and guest speakers implored attendees to acknowledge how “deeply racialized systems are costly and depress outcomes and life chances for all groups.”  

As agencies implement equity initiatives, they must better articulate their vision of equity by embracing narratives of a shared societal fate and a government for all.  

Understand and recognize previous equity efforts.

Speakers emphasized that connecting with the public sector’s history to advance racial equity is not only personally meaningful, but also a strategy to help staff view equity as more than a one-time initiative.  

Individuals new to the federal government, especially senior-level appointees, may not understand how career civil servants have previously tried to address the adverse effects of historic policies– even before those efforts were considered racial equity work. Recognizing this work is critical to understanding where federal equity efforts have been and where they can go.

 2023 Federal Racial Equity Summit speakers: Carlton Eley, Julie Nelson, Cecilia Hernandez, Miranda Lynch-Smith, Shaibya Dalal, Michael McAffee, Salin Geevarghese, Kevin Johnson, Dennis Chin (not pictured). 

Invite cross-sector input to help design and deliver equitable services.  

Most federal employees do not have the expertise to implement comprehensive equity efforts. To succeed, agencies must draw on talent, knowledge and resources from other sectors.  

For example, leaders at the Department of Agriculture created a 15-member independent Equity Commission to recommend ways for USDA to reduce barriers to accessing programs and services. Each member brought a unique cross-sector perspective to these efforts, challenging staff to develop equity plans that respond to national needs and improve upon previously unsuccessful initiatives.  

Ultimately, the commission helped the department publish an interim report outlining 32 actionable recommendations to advance racial justice and equity through USDA initiatives.  

At the Department of Health and Human Services, a team within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation also worked with equity consultants and other experts to develop educational tools that aim to help staff better engage those with lived experience to improve service design and delivery. 

In addition, any agency can use equity tools, like the Results Based Accountability™ Framework, to help define a condition of well-being for the members of a specific population or community. Tools like these help leaders analyze data and articulate their vision if an equity initiative is called into question. 

For the future 

As you reflect on these recommendations, consider the following questions to help shape your organization’s racial equity work: 

  • How does your agency uplift themes of interdependence and celebrate the public sector’s investment in all people?  
  • How has your agency played a role in historical efforts to advance an equitable society
  • Whose expertise do you need to tap to inform ongoing initiatives?  

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