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Chapter 5

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Local Level

In recent years, there has been a new emphasis placed on implementing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion concepts, policies and practices in the workplace and in the world. Excerpts from the Massachusetts Municipal DEI  Coalition’s 2022 DEI Guide provide an introduction to these values with respect to municipal government:

While Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are interconnected concepts, they are also distinct values that municipal leaders should actively seek to understand, define, and incorporate into their daily practice. An individual’s definition and understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion will reflect how that person approaches their role in the workplace and in the world. At its best, DEI is a part of everything we do, every environment we create, every transaction and interaction that we have. It is a lens through which we see the world, make choices, and build relationships.

“In this moment, when so many people understand the importance of DEI, we must push toward structural and sustainable change in our municipal governments. We must create spaces of belonging for those that have been left out of governmental policies and institutions, or actively and intentionally harmed by them. We must reimagine DEI as a core function of government, not an afterthought or the job of just one individual. We must come to think of DEI as everyone’s responsibility.”

Support from the MMA

The MMA aims to support municipalities in incorporating DEI values into their practices, policies and cultures, and making it a core function of local government. Select Board members can play a critical role in furthering this work within town halls and throughout their communities.

In the fall of 2022, the MMA formed a DEI Advisory Committee, composed of current and former elected and appointed officials, to research the most effective ways to connect MMA members with resources, education and training for those interested in engaging in this work. The DEI Advisory Committee drafted and adopted a framework outlining the DEI perspective and setting goals, which focused on increasing and enhancing DEI efforts within the internal operations of local government, including boards and committees serving a community.

Racial Equity Group CEO Bird Guess conducts a training session with the MMA’s DEI committee: (top row, l-r) Lily Rancatore, MMA; Guess; Katie McCue, MMA; North Andover Deputy Town Manager Dee Casey; (middle row, l-r) Sharon Select Board Member Kiana Pierre-Louis; Lexington Select Board Member Jill Hai; MMA Executive Director Adam Chapdelaine; Candace Pierce, MMA; and (bottom row, l-r) North Adams Councillor Michael Obasohan; Westwood Town Administrator Christopher Coleman.

The DEI Advisory Committee also conducted a survey of municipalities across the Commonwealth about the extent of their DEI work. Ninety-four of the 119 responding communities reported that they have begun to strengthen their DEI efforts, including addressing human resources policies, training employees, developing mission statements, and similar activities. The remaining communities identified obstacles to getting started, but many expressed an interest in overcoming these barriers.

In 2023, the DEI Advisory Committee contracted with Racial Equity Group to develop a strategic plan to expand and enhance DEI work within the internal operations of local government. They will also develop a digital toolkit of DEI resources for municipalities. The MMA will be providing specific training and tools to help Select Board members engage in DEI work when the implementation of the DEI strategic plan begins in 2024.

To learn more about MMA’s commitment to this issue, see this MMA Executive Director’s Report, published in March 2023.

Engaging in DEI Work in Towns

Some towns are taking a leadership role with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, while others have not yet been able to make it a priority for a variety of reasons. By understanding the benefits and opportunities of a comprehensive approach to DEI, and then implementing a DEI strategy, a Select Board can advance the interests of the town as a whole.

The DEI Guide created by the Massachusetts Municipal DEI Coalition — made up of DEI practitioners working for municipalities, with funding from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council — includes a range of tools to help communities.

The DEI Guide covers how to get started with DEI work and the many factors to consider, including tips on considering whether your municipality is ready to hire a DEI leader. It’s important to note, as the guide points out, this work isn’t something that a DEI officer can do alone; everyone in a municipality has a role to play. A chart published in the DEI Guide (and added below) outlines shared DEI responsibilities and specific DEI responsibilities across town departments.


MMA's Handbook for Massachusetts Select Boards: Chapter 5: Last Updated: January 17, 2024
MMA's Handbook for Massachusetts Select Boards: Last Updated: March 25, 2024
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MMA's Handbook for Massachusetts Select Boards: Chapter 5: Last Updated: January 17, 2024


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