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How to Start a Diversity Council in Government — ICYMI

This week, the “In Case You Missed It” crew get a crash course in creating a diversity and inclusion council from two Tennessee government workers who spearheaded an effort at the state’s IT agency.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are not only beneficial to people, they’re beneficial to organizations as a whole.

Having a diverse staff has been shown to increase productivity, improve decision-making and boost financial success, according to multiple studies examining the topic.

A 2021 public service workforce report by MissionSquare Research Institute found that having an inclusive and accepting workplace increases employee job performance by 56 percent.

A diverse workforce also builds trust with the public, important during these times when trust in government is near an all-time low.

Shortly after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the national discussion afterward, two high-level employees of the Tennessee Strategic Technology Solutions agency (STS), Lawrence Sanders and Todd Bartine, pushed for the formation of a diversity council in their agency.

In this week’s episode, the “In Case You Missed It” crew talked with Sanders and Bartine about how their diversity council came together, the steps they took to develop a charter and the best practices other agencies can follow to create diversity councils of their own.


Also this week, in light of recent reports that employers (including governments) are having difficulty finding workers, we take a look at a school-to-public-service pipeline program developed by Arizona State University.

Lastly, the world’s eyes are on Ukraine as Russia pushes further into the country after invading in late February. Russian cyber attacks have made headlines in the past, however, President Vladimir Putin’s use of cyber warfare has been limited against Ukraine, so far.

But Russia isn’t the only bad actor in cyber space. A recent report found six U.S. states were attacked by Chinese-backed hackers during a strike that began last year. The “In Case You Missed It” crew broke down the recent attack and what it means for state governments going forward.



The following interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity:

Q: What stoked you to create the diversity and inclusion committee? And when did it become official?

Todd Bartine: It started off as just a conversation between two friends that care about each other. Lawrence and I have been friends for some time. And after the events involved in the death of George Floyd, we were checking in with each other. And we started talking about how we were feeling and how we could tell that many of our friends at work were suffering. They were carrying heavy burdens. And in a way, they were being expected to leave that at the door. And that’s when Lawrence mentioned that he had this idea some time ago the formation of a council dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. And that in the past, it hadn’t gotten traction. But now it felt like this was the moment, this was a bit of a lightning in a bottle moment. There’s a big focus, I think, across the industry, across the country, on DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion]. And so we thought that this was the time to do it. And it turns out, we were right.

Lawrence Sanders: If you look at what happened with the murder of George Floyd, it brought a lot of attention across the world to what could happen, right? And this is actually the anniversary this week of Bloody Sunday, which occurred in Selma in March of 1965. That was when they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to fight for the right to vote. We saw what happened there with the police, the dogs and the batons. And all of the attention that it brought to this country. The George Floyd murder did a similar thing. But looking at that now, and if you think about when that occurred, all you heard across the world was that Black lives matter. And now ... almost two years later, people are afraid to say that because of the backlash. But we wanted to ensure that there was something long-lasting that came along with this effort. And so we wanted to put some things in place that would be practiced in our organization, so that long after that phase is over, we have something that continues from now on.

Q: Where did you go for guidance for best practices? Can you give us some insight in terms of where you turned for assistance in creating and developing the council?

Todd: That wound up being easier than one might expect in terms of — we’re not the first ones, of course, into the DEI space. A lot of companies and organizations have already made significant strides and they’ve done us all a favor. They put their road maps online for the benefit of others. And so I think what Lawrence and I found was quite a bounty out there of people publishing their lessons learned. Some people even put their charter out there. And that allowed us to pull all those together and kind of do what we thought was a best-of-breed — take the best of all those charters, all those road maps and put together something that we thought hit all the bases.

The most important thing for us, though, was that this had to look like a real significant effort. It could not be a gesture, or some sort of lip service, it had to look like what a major company or organization does when they’re taking this seriously.

Lawrence: Also, I would add that, in taking this seriously, we’re also ensuring that the state is competitive. A lot of corporations out there have these programs and a lot of people that are looking for a place to work look for these types of things to be in place. We want to be competitive, especially in the current market. But what’s happening with people walking out of jobs and things of that sort, you have to have this kind of program in place.

Q: When many people think of DEI programs, their minds typically think of recruitment efforts. Recruitment is a big part of this, obviously. But it’s not the only part. You’ve got four teams and more than a dozen people on the council. Tell us what your teams are doing to help translate your DEI story into action.

Lawrence: We started with four teams, but we actually have five teams now. We determined that we needed to add a communications team. And that’s a really crucial piece. To do all the work, but not have a way to communicate and get it out to the people that need to know about it, and be able to participate in it, makes it somewhat less impactful, less meaningful, right? So we found out early on that we needed to add that component. And we do have a recruitment team, which you mentioned. But we’ve ensured that is also recruitment and retention. So it’s all about maintaining the staff we have as well as looking at recruiting new staff. We also have an inclusion team. They help with handling training events and workshops. We have an outreach team that reaches out into the community, to form those relationships, and that’s something that you don’t typically see in state government — especially with an IT organization. So that’s been an awesome experience. And lastly, we have a data and analytics team. We want to make sure that this is a measurable, data-driven exercise. In order to change the culture, you have to take deliberate steps. And that’s what we’re doing through all of these teams.

Q: The council has been around for a few months now. In what ways have you seen success and how have you delivered on your original vision?

Todd: In the first year you find out how much work there is to do. Our poor data team, you know, they’re trying to figure out just what data we have and what data we don’t have. We’re trying to think about how we can collect it and what we can compare it to, so that we have some sort of idea of meaningfulness. We also had a lot of conversations with STS employee engagement, and with the Tennessee Department of Human Resources, to see what training is available, what plans are already in the works, what hiring pipelines already exist.

A lot of it was finding the lay of the land. And, of course, starting to plan out ways the members of our organization can be involved, whether that’s volunteering opportunities, mentorship programs, training and workshops, other things like that. This whole time we’re communicating to the IT community in Tennessee that we’re here, these are our goals, this is what we’re doing. And we want you to aspire to this, we want you to believe in this, to get kind of hopeful and optimistic about it, and to get excited about how this year you can take part. We also tell them, you know, watch for our website, because there are going to be opportunities for everybody to take part in some way that they enjoy and that they personally find meaningful.

Q: What advice would you have for other jurisdictions, be it a state, city, county, school or university, that might be thinking about creating something similar?

Todd: I have so many recommendations. The first one is, don’t start with the blank page. Like I said, there’s no need. People are already out there. And it seems like the kinds of people in groups that are engaged in this are the kinds of people in groups that want to share. They want to share that information [to] help other people get started; that includes us. We like helping other groups get started in this. So go out, find what resources are already available and look at some other people’s charters. I think you’ll see a lot that you can make use of.

The other thing is: Don’t wait. Your organization likely already has people who are passionate about this, all you have to do is engage them. When we put our feelers out and asked “Is anybody interested in joining the council?” we got the most wonderful application submissions that resulted in a fantastic group of people who are passionate. We’re not paid for this. This is a volunteer effort within our organization. Everybody on the council has day jobs. And yet they’re putting in their time, their effort, their sweat into making this happen, because this is something that they genuinely care about. I bet whoever you are, whatever organization you’re working for, you have those people too. You just need to tap them as a resource.

Lawrence: Also, make sure that you maintain communication with your executive leadership, as well as department of human resources. You want to make sure you’re following all of the policies and procedures and things within the state as you march down this path. You want to make sure that everyone is comfortable with what you’re doing. And when I say comfortable, I don’t mean compromise the effort. Just make sure that you’re incorporating their thoughts and things into what you’re doing.

Also, ensure you keep the focus on diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity. Sometimes there’s, you know, personnel matters that may relate to this. But there’s already policies in place to handle that. So you don’t want to take that on, you want to direct people towards human resources to deal with those types of issues. I would add, this is my personal opinion, just to be aware of the politics of your state. Because the state is run by elected officials. So you want to make sure that you factor those things in. Again, not compromising, but making sure you take all that into account as you approach this type of network.

If you have questions for Lawrence or Todd about starting a diversity council, you can email them at



“In Case You Missed It” returns March 18 with special guest Jim Richberg, public sector field chief information security officer of Fortinet.

“In Case You Missed It” is Government Technology’s weekly news roundup and interview live show featuring e.Republic* Chief Innovation Officer Dustin Haisler, Deputy Chief Innovation Officer Joe Morris and GovTech Assistant News Editor Jed Pressgrove as they bring their analysis and insight to the week’s most important stories in state and local government.

Follow along live each Friday at 12 p.m. PST on LinkedIn and YouTube.

*e.Republic is Government Technology’s parent company.
Dustin Haisler is the Chief Innovation Officer of Government Technology's parent company e.Republic. Previously the finance director and later CIO for Manor, Texas, a small city outside Austin, Haisler quickly built a track record and reputation as an early innovator in civic tech. As President, Haisler drives exponential growth, implements new ideas and promotes a corporate culture that rewards creativity. Read his full bio.
Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.
Joseph Morris is the Chief Innovation Officer of <i>Government Technology's</i> parent company e.Republic and a national keynote speaker on issues, trends and drivers impacting state and local government and education. He has authored publications and reports on funding streams, technology investment areas and public-sector priorities, and has led roundtables, projects and initiatives focused on issues within the public sector. Joe has conducted state and local government research with e.Republic since 2007 and knows the ins and outs of government on all levels. He received his Bachelor of Arts in government and international relations from the California State University, Sacramento.