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NASCIO Releases First Study on Diversity in State IT

NASCIO's first study focused on diversity and inclusion in state IT — building on the findings of previous workforce-related studies — includes recommendations for states to launch diversity and inclusion efforts.

diversity concept
Shutterstock/Angelina Bambina
A study released by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) this week offers insight and recommendations for state governments to improve IT workforce diversity.

The publication, titled Diversity and Inclusion: An Essential Element to the State IT Workforce, suggests that focusing on diversity and inclusion can help state agencies meet the challenges of hiring and retaining a qualified IT workforce.

It offers three primary recommendations for CIOs to initiate these efforts in their organizations: assigning a senior executive sponsor to help prioritize the work; creating a formal program or plan to set goals and create assessment metrics; and creating a comfortable culture for retaining diverse talent, which specialized councils can realize.

According to Meredith Ward, NASCIO director of policy and research, creating a comfortable culture means ensuring that everybody can be their full, authentic self at work.

“What I have heard from CIOs is they want to have a workplace where everyone feels welcome — diverse ideas and thought and backgrounds are welcome,” she said.

The study also includes other recommendations for longer-term success, underlining the need for states to embrace remote and flexible work to include traditionally underrepresented groups, like women, people of color and people with disabilities.

It also suggests creating a position to focus on diversity and inclusion, creating outreach programs that focus on K-12 girls of color, and looking at state policies that have historically generated barriers or bias.

Qualification requirements in many job descriptions, for example, can alienate potential candidates, Ward said. This has prompted states like Maryland to implement skill-based descriptions and eliminate four-year degree requirements to cast a wider net.

One of the ways that state CIOs can begin this work is by looking to the strategies used by their biggest competition: the private sector.

As Ward explained, states have had fundamental challenges for years in recruiting and retaining IT talent, particularly in the cybersecurity field. This is due in part to the wage gap between public- and private-sector jobs, which has become even larger during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report underlined other private-sector strategies, including UKG Chief Belonging, Diversity and Equity Officer Brian Reaves’ advice on the importance of using KPIs that account not only for demographic data, but also for subjective experiences, like acceptance, to better analyze both quantitative and qualitative impact.

In terms of data use and metrics, Ward said that states' approaches may vary depending on the hiring systems they have in place.

Some states may have dashboards behind the scenes that allow them to see if there is a specific point in the hiring process where an agency is losing potential candidates, allowing them to look more closely and adjust the process as needed. Other states may require CIOs to work closely with human resources to better understand recruitment and retention numbers.

“We say around NASCIO all the time, ‘If you’ve seen one state, you’ve seen one state,’” Ward said. “So, not that there are 50 different ways of doing things … but sometimes, there are 50 different ways of doing things.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.