Local Government Managers Share Insights on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives

At its October meeting, the Regional Managers Group had a virtual, focused conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in local governments. Members of the group, comprised of municipal and county managers and assistant managers, shared their experiences with DEI work both internally amongst their staff and boards and externally within their communities. The meeting featured an informal panel discussion with four representatives from local governments that are at various stages along the DEI journey:

  • Karen Whichard (Davidson Assistant Town Manager) described steps the town recently started implementing in support of its DEI work, including a training program for board members and town staff that will focus on implicit biases and racial equity. Additionally, the town hired its first Housing and Equity Director to lead its affordable housing and racial equity programs.
  • Todd Carpenter (Gastonia Deputy City Manager) recounted how management began working with the City Council on a DEI initiative as part of the city’s strategic plan in 2018. He explained that the city has taken a targeted approach, recognizing the benefit inclusivity has to team productivity.  
  • Dena Diorio (Mecklenburg County Manager) mentioned that the county’s DEI efforts began in 2016 following the officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. She described the county’s work with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and outlined the goals and strategies in its Equity Action Plan.
  • Kim Eagle (Gaston County Manager) discussed how the county is getting started with its DEI work, which began with the addition of an internal audit team and a two-step approach involving a needs assessment and a review of current policies and procedures.

5 Key Lessons

Among the many insights shared during the meeting were five key lessons learned that other local government managers may find helpful when launching a DEI initiative:

  • Start from the inside out. Prioritizing training, policy reviews and other internal efforts first will allow the organization to design strategies for modelling equity and inclusion in its service delivery and community engagement activities.  
  • Identify a champion within the organization. Having someone who can drive this work – whether that is a full-time staff position or a standing committee – will help build the local government’s commitment to DEI across all departments and within the community.
  • Be mindful of the local context. Because stakeholder buy-in and influence are important, understanding community history and dynamics will assist with developing and successfully implementing new DEI policies and practices.
  • Recognize successes and build from there. Learning from previous instances where the local government’s work has effectively advanced DEI helps replicate similar success in the future.
  • Be methodical and intentional. Transformation does not happen overnight. Using a change management approach will help achieve meaningful, lasting progress. 

As a next step, Centralina will create a DEI resources page on our Member Portal section of our website that will be available next month. Here, member governments will have access to sample plans, templates and other materials that can help further their DEI goals. Additionally, we will continue supporting our region’s local governments in their DEI efforts by creating future opportunities for leaders to convene around this topic.

If you are a local government manager interested in continuing the conversation about DEI or sharing resources, please contact Kelly Weston at kweston@centralina.org.

Written by: Kelly Weston