Equity in Action

Where good jobs exist and who has access to them is directly connected to racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. Workforce and economic development agencies must prioritize equity in their job quality strategies. This means designing and implementing interventions with and for those disproportionately represented in low-quality jobs, setting goals to address current and historical inequity, and tracking access/outcomes metrics by race and gender—addressing disparity along the way.

Building an equitable job quality strategy requires an understanding of labor market inequalities and an acknowledgment of the current and historical racism and sexism that continue to impact workers in the United States.

Diversity: The diverse representation of people from different groups across all roles at your agency.

Equity: Fair access across all groups to job necessities, opportunities, and features.

Inclusion: Work experience that creating meaningful engagement for all groups when it comes to voice and representation, environment and culture, and purpose and meaning.

Establish policies and practices that allow individuals with lived experience to provide input into strategy, budget, and program operations. The Urban Institute describes the following best practices:

  • Hire and train permanent staff who can accurately and respectfully capture input and demands of community representatives, serving as a bridge between people with lived experience and those with professional experience

Understand the current state of existing investments by drilling down into outcomes by race, ethnicity, gender, age and other key demographics. This involves disaggregating data and then evaluating how specific groups of participants are performing. Consider these questions:

  • For which programs (e.g., Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I enrollments, CDBG funded revolving loan fund business) can we disaggregate enrollments, services provided and outcomes by race, gender, age and other key demographic factors?

  • What do these data tell us about equity within our programs?

  • Are the people we serve representative of our community?

  • Are there disparate outcomes across groups? For which programs are disaggregated data not available?

  • How might we disaggregate data going forward?

Use the available data assessment (see Strategy and Data and Measurement) on job quality, looking specifically at demographics and their intersectionality in each category. This Racial Equity Toolkit from Seattle, Washington, provides step-by-step templates to analyze your programs for equity.

Providence, Rhode Island, issued an executive order in 2020 to set the stage for gathering and analyzing the necessary data to understand the current state of inequities in the community.

This resource from the Urban Institute on geographic data offers insights about spatial inequities (i.e., access to physical resources) in your community. It may spark new ideas for how you want to collect or analyze data going forward. Additionally, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ helpful guide for improving data equity and the MITRE Corporation’s Framework for Assessing Equity in Federal Programs and Policy provide detailed guidance on everything from identifying data sources to conducting analysis and reporting results.

Develop and implement policies and practices that allow individuals with lived experience to provide input into strategy, budget and program operations. The Urban Institute describes the following best practices:

  • Hire and train permanent staff who can accurately and respectfully capture input and demands of community representatives, serving as a bridge between people with lived experience and those with professional experience.

  • Provide fair compensation that values skills gained through lived experience as you would value academic degrees or professional experience.

  • Develop a robust onboarding process and provide support throughout.

  • Be transparent about goals, resources and the parameters of what will be accomplished through involvement, being mindful not to overpromise.

  • Share all progress, decisions and next steps clearly. Offer times, locations, transportation and other logistics that make meetings accessible and welcoming to underserved populations.

  • Welcome input from individuals with lived experience with respect to developing strategy, interpreting data (via methods such as data walks), implementing well-run focus groups, developing and evaluating RFPs for contracted service providers and informing budget priorities.

Travis County, Texas, promotes the Better Builder Certification that defines job quality standards for public construction projects. These standards were defined by workers themselves and updates are driven by construction workers and their families. 

Interested in how jurisdictions have put these practices into place to drive change? Check out the Blueprints for Regional Action for Boston, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle. The Urban Institute also offers tools and resources relative to strategy, financial assistance and stakeholder engagement to support agencies seeking to advance racial equity.

Commit to measuring progress toward job quality goals for targeted groups across your agency. Think about multiple ways to effect change. For example:

If you are looking for guidance on how to combine all the pieces into a single strategy, check out the Connecticut Workforce Development Council’s 2020 Strategic Plan (p. 11), which clearly outlines equity goals.

People are your core resource. Bring your equity commitment to life by making equity a core competency in your organization. For more information on why competencies are important for talent development, take a look at this short piece describing what competencies are and how organizations can think about them. Colorado State University offers sample competencies for individuals, teams and organizations.

Once you’ve established your competencies, link them to pay, promotion and performance evaluation. Introduce and train leadership, agency staff and contracted partners on concepts related to your competency model and explain to them how workforce and economic development programs may perpetuate inequities. It may be useful to bring in a consultant or workshop facilitator who specializes in equity training. Interested in more information? Take a look at potential partners and experts.

  • Examine your own hiring, benefits and promotion practices. A tool like Working Metrics can analyze internal data related to job growth, earnings and retention by gender and race.

  • Remember that ongoing engagement, communication and change management are crucial when making a change to internal compensation, recognition or development policies. Varied or iterative engagement techniques (from town halls to individual conversations) may be needed to make sure everyone understands changes and their impacts.

Look for opportunities to use universal design approaches that take into account a broad range of abilities, ages, reading levels, learning styles, languages and cultures to develop a solution to an identified problem. The Department of State offers a variety of resources to learn more about universal design.

In the workforce development context, this means looking at how equity is infused in both programmatic and administrative budgets and accompanying procurement practices. Promising practices for budgeting more equitably, gleaned from the What Works Cities' City Budgeting for Equity and Recovery include:

  • Identifying key players, understanding the perspective of detractors and seeking opportunities to engage

  • Being aware of existing leadership priorities, as well as timing of electoral cycles

  • Focusing on metrics (not just language) so that results are measurable

  • In all cases, advocating for low-effort reporting and transparency initiatives

Good procurement is equitable procurement. Solutions that advance equity also support goals like value for money, efficiency and transparency. Additionally, co-creating procurement reforms and solutions with frontline workers, vendors and citizens will help enable diverse organizations to overcome barriers to entry.

In practice, these solutions can take many different forms. In 2020, the San Diego Workforce Partnership, the local workforce board, set aside $10,000,000 of funding over four years through Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I youth funds to serve youth with the highest rates of youth disconnection, including Black youth, based on the results of local research and public input.

Keep in mind that prioritizing equity is not just about using new dollars for new programs. It’s also about looking at who is making funding decisions and how they are making these decisions. Existing training funds may need to be reallocated to address legacy practices.

Concerned about challenges you might face while prioritizing equity? Go here.

What an organization measures is what ends up mattering to staff, contractors and consultants. The majority of government workforce programs evaluate performance at an aggregate level, which can create adverse effects in terms of equity. If a program’s success is measured by the total number of people who achieve employment, there is incentive to focus on those people who are the most likely to become employed (the “low-hanging fruit”).

Some data collection focuses on only binary or policy/practice questions, such as the below, which can provide insight into the work but do not fully address DEI in a robust way. Such questions can be useful as part of a workforce program's employer eligibility or procurement process but do not speak to the a program or partnership's outcomes. 

  • Does the company/organization/workforce program have an anti-harassment policy?
  • Does the company/organization/workforce program have anti-discrimination training?
  • Does the company/organization/workforce program conduct a pay equity analysis every year?
  • Dose company/organization/workforce program offer paid parental leave for all parents?
  • Does company/organization/workforce program have a second chance policy?
  • Does the company/organization/workforce program conduct an annual employee engagement survey?
  • Provide details about the modules included in your anti-discrimination training.
  • Describe the frequency and methods with which you conduct a pay equity analysis.
  • State your paid parental leave policy for mothers, fathers, adoptive parents, and foster parents/
  • Include details about which workers are eligible for health insurance coverage.

Government workforce programs should establish goals and success criteria that explicitly focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. This includes understanding differentiated outcomes by race/ethnicity, gender, age, disability status and more. Workforce programs will need to disaggregate data to validate that a program achieved intended results and to develop a plan to address any gaps.

Here are some sample metrics to jump start your thinking on measurement:

  • Ratio of Minimum/Lowest Wage to Living Wage by Worker type, Gender, Race and Ethnicity

  •  Ratio of Median Pay to U.S. Worker Median by Worker type, Gender, Race and Ethnicity

  •  Percent Increase in Year-over-Year Pay by Worker type, Gender, Race and Ethnicity

  • Hours Utilization Rate by Worker type, Gender, Race and Ethnicity

  • Total Recordable Incident Rate by Worker type, Gender, Race and Ethnicity

  • Absenteeism Rate by Worker type, Gender, Race and Ethnicity

  • Percentage of RFPs/dollars budgeted that include meaningful input by individuals with lived experience

The Center for American Progress (CAP) provides a summary of research supporting the importance of job quality measures reported at a disaggregated level. It demonstrates why indicators focused on skills and compliance are poor predictors of job quality. The CAP report also proposes a data dashboard of multiple workforce metrics and recommendations for policymakers to improve accountability systems.

To fully shift measurement and monitoring activities, create a culture of asking questions about race and gender. For example, ask what a program is doing for Latinas or Black LGBTQIA individuals.

Once racism, sexism and other discriminatory practices are identified, job quality initiatives should take deliberate steps to center their efforts on equity:

  • Use local data and examples to bring equity and job quality initiatives together
  • Develop job quality strategies (frameworks, standards and goals) with a focus on equity
  • Develop and implementing policies and practices that address equity within each component of your job quality framework
  • Obtain regular feedback from those most underrepresented in high-quality jobs
  • Set meaningful goals for specific priority populations, including those defined by race and gender
  • Budget and funding programs based on goals for priority population
  • Disaggregate measurement and outcomes reporting by race and gender
  • These steps outline how to center job quality initiatives on equity for the long term, ensuring that your efforts positively affect residents and communities most impacted by low quality jobs.
  • Recommended actions can help workforce and economic development agencies advance strategies to finance their job quality strategy for the long term.

Opportunities for Change

Explore actions you can take to gain a holistic, inclusive view of what makes a good job taking into consideration not only basic needs or economic drivers, but also impacts on workers beyond compensation, benefits and safety.