"As we stand on the cusp of an America in which most of us will be people of color, the halls of government should reflect the racial composition of the populace."

As recently reported in Fast Company, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has succeeded in hiring the most diverse staff in his city’s history. Mayor Peduto scrutinized his entire administration—from boards, to commissions and authorities—to reform the predominantly white, male workforce he inherited from former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. He even used civic tech to do it, relying on a web platform called Talent City to find the best and brightest minds from outside government’s typical channels.

Mayor Peduto has brought all his techniques to the table to radically rethink his city’s hiring practices, and for good reason. Recent reports have shown that men hold 79% of all federal government jobs and 83% of all government workers are white. There is little reason to believe local government’s statistics are much better. As we stand on the cusp of an America in which most of us will be people of color, the halls of government should reflect the racial composition of the populace. More importantly, given the dire racial disparities we currently face, preserving the American promise and furthering our nation’s social and economic health will require a fundamental pivot. Building a cadre of public leaders who thoroughly understand these challenges is an excellent start.

Government’s Diversity Problem

83% 83% of all government workers are white. Men hold 79% of all federal government jobs.

Like Pittsburgh, other cities across the country also are beginning to address issues of race and diversity from the inside, out. Seattle, for example, has adopted an ambitious effort to look at all of its operations through a lens of racial equity and inclusion. It’s Office for Civil Rights has launched a Race and Social Justice Initiative that is explicitly devoted to combating institutional and structural racism. Among other gains, the initiative has increased the diversity of city contractors, engaged communities of color during city planning processes, and created a cross-sector Community Roundtable that works with local organizations to feed the field. Composed of interdepartmental staff, the initiative has the potential to inculcate a culture of change throughout city government. Building on the Seattle model, other cities have become part of a growing Governing for Racial Equity Network, a working group of localities that are learning from Seattle and each other on how best to tackle these issues head on. They are all moving away from simple, programmatic interventions, e.g., starting a mentoring program or conducting a series of public hearings, towards structural, more enduring changes that can achieve even better results over time.

America’s cities are coming to a common conclusion—they must both hold a mirror up to challenge their traditional ways of operating and embrace race-based strategies to begin intentionally dismantling entrenched barriers to opportunity . At Living Cities, we view this type of approach to tackling inequitable outcomes as a critical part of an evolving, new urban practice committed to achieving dramatically better results for low-income people of color faster. Reality requires no less.