Avoiding Root Causes: Stakeholders passively and actively avoid explicitly naming racism, sexism or other systems of oppression as the challenge. Board members, employers, partners, funders and staff take the position that focusing on race/ethnicity, gender or other demographic groups is either inappropriate or unnecessary for a variety of different reasons. They prefer to focus on proxies such as class and education level.

It may be difficult, but it is important to be explicit about how race and inequity are intertwined when it comes to job quality. Who gets good jobs (and who doesn’t) is a direct result of intentional racist and sexist policies, practices and systems—even when controlling for class and education. We must become comfortable being race-explicit as an agency to increase awareness, maintain focus and drive progress toward our goal of a more inclusive community.

If tackling the topic head on is challenging in your community, consider starting from the perspective that we want our community to thrive and all workers to reach their goals. We need strategies to ensure that happens.

Limited Racial Metrics: Limited tracking of racial disparities and outcomes

What gets measured is what ends up mattering to organizations. If we care about closing racial equity gaps, we need to increase our system’s ability to collect and interpret outcomes data by race, gender, age and other demographic factors we care about.

The way most workforce initiatives are evaluated perpetuates and exacerbates inequities. As one report put it: “Research has shown that the practice of setting standards and managing performance within the public workforce system has for decades led to adverse incentives among practitioners to prioritize or 'cream' participants who are more likely to be employed with or without services while avoiding serving groups of workers who are more likely to benefit from more employment and training support.”

Fear of Losing Face and Funds: The agency and specific employees worry that taking a hard look at the data may reveal how specific programs and/or the agency overall perpetuates economic inequality. They fear that this could cause a loss of funding, damage the organization’s reputation and even lead to job losses.

If not us, then who? It takes leadership and courage to “look under the hood,” see the unseen, and do our part to increase equity in our community.

Structural advocacy can accelerate change. Redefining funding requirements and partnership agreements to specifically prioritize equity throughout job quality programs will clarify what the goals of the job quality initiative are and help drive better outcomes.

What About Equal Opportunity?: Staff question whether the agency is allowed to focus on race/ethnicity or gender in programs, citing equal opportunity requirements and other compliance considerations.

Our equity-centered job quality strategy is not changing enrollment or eligibility requirements in our programs. It is sharpening our focus on where we want to have the most impact, how we understand that impact and how we ensure that we are serving the communities these funds are intended to serve in the best way possible.

Difficulty Overriding Biases: Overcoming biases to accelerate change is difficult.

All of us have gaps when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. The impact we want to have in the community starts and ends with the work we do internally, both as individuals and as an agency. We are investing the necessary time and money to build our own internal competencies and awareness needed to advance our equity agenda.

Behavioral economics can help shed light on biases and help individuals and organizations develop strategies to overcome them. Consider how cognitive biases—such as the status quo bias (our preference to maintain things as they are) and fundamental attribution error (our tendency to emphasize individual failures vs. external or systemic factors)—hinder engagement with workforce initiatives, especially those related to equity.