As initiatives both in individual local governments and in local government professional associations have emerged across the country to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), tracking progress has remained challenging due to limited and inconsistent data availability.
CivicPulse has been working hard to address this issue to make assessment of these initiatives more effective. To that end, in 2022 we developed a standardized tool for benchmarking gender in local government.
In 2023, we expanded this tool to race and ethnicity. With the support of the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), we developed national benchmarks for tracking the diversity of those serving in the top local government financial leadership positions as well as local government finance staff, more generally.
Our latest findings show that, while women are well-represented in the profession, the same is not true of some racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore, the racial and ethnic diversity that is present among staff does not translate to leadership.
Diversity of the profession in 2023
As you can see in Figure 1, women are well represented, constituting approximately 63% of finance staff and 68% of finance leadership positions. One important caveat to this, however: as we reported in 2022, the likelihood of a top finance official being a woman decreases substantially as the population size of a community increases.
Turning to race and ethnicity, Asian/Pacific Islanders are also well-represented among local government finance staff. However, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx staff percentages are lower than their national population shares.
When it comes to racial/ethnic diversity among leadership, representation is poor across the board. We estimated that less than 1% of top finance officials were Asian/Pacific Islander, 4% were Black/African American and 4% were Hispanic/Latinx.
How diversity is — and isn’t — changing over time
One of the most exciting aspects of this work is our ability to now track these changes overtime. For example, we can now ask the question: is racial/ethnic diversity improving over time?
To get at this question—and so as not to overwhelm our readers—below we aggregate the measures of racial/ethnic diversity into one summary measure: the percentage of nonwhite individuals. (Readers can explore the results broken down for each demographic group using our online tool.
With this measure, we then look at how it is changing across time going back to 2013, for both staff and leadership.
For financial staff, racial/ethnic diversity seems to be increasing steadily over time, notwithstanding a significant dip in 2020. However, the same cannot be said for local government finance leadership. The percentage of nonwhite leaders, 9%, remains roughly where it was ten years ago.
Further research—and further conversations among those leading diversity initiatives—might consider how the increasing diversity in the broader professional community can translate into leadership positions in the coming years.
Using a combination of name and image-based coding, we estimated the proportions of local government finance leadership and staff who are women, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black/African American, and Hispanic/Latinx. Local government finance leadership includes top finance officials serving all local governments in the United States with a population of 1,000 or more and estimates for local government finance staff are based on GFOA membership data. While this method has been validated against self-reported data and manual coding, these numbers should still be interpreted as estimates only. Moreover, the method does not provide reliable estimates for the Native American population, nor for the gender nonbinary population.
Nathan Lee, PhD