Bird Guess, CEO of Racial Equity Group, speaks during the Massachusetts Select Board Association’s Annual Business Meeting on Jan. 20.

During the Massachusetts Select Board Association’s Annual Business Meeting on Jan. 20, Bird Guess, CEO of the Racial Equity Group, discussed best practices for select boards to gauge their municipality’s diversity, equity and inclusion needs and to initiate DEI work.

Guess, who has been working with the MMA’s DEI Committee to develop a strategic plan for the advancement of municipal DEI efforts, recommended starting with local data to identify “significant disparities” in employment, services, public engagement, procurement, and other aspects of town government.

“Significant disparities are inequities,” he said.

Data can help local officials to understand “what inequities really mean,” including the effect they have on community members, and identify strategies for resolving them. This framework is what Guess calls an “equity mindset.”

Guess said there’s often a gap between the representation of different racial and ethnic groups in the municipal workforce compared to their representation in the community’s population. As an example, he reviewed data from a Massachusetts town of 15,000 residents where the representation of municipal workers of color was disproportionately low compared to their availability locally, while white workers had disproportionately high employment rates.

As a result of historical policies and practices, Guess said, municipalities inherited inequities that continue to deter people of color, women and gender-diverse people, disabled people, and others with marginalized identities from fully participating in local government. But the responsibility to remove barriers does not fall to any one individual, he said.

“Equity should be the mindset of all boards and departments,” he said, so that all community members “have the fair opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.”

The MSA business meeting, held during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show in Boston, included remarks from MSA President and Williamstown Select Board Member Andrew Hogeland and a report from the MSA Nominating Committee and subsequent vote on the 2024 MSA officers and district 5 and 2 representatives.

The MSA Handbook Committee also unveiled the 2024 edition of the Handbook for Massachusetts Select Board Members, in a reimagined online format with extensive content updates, and new chapters on climate change and DEI.

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