Editor's Note: Ask an ICMA Manager, Ask an Equity Officer is a recurring blog where ICMA asks a current or former equity officer and/or local government professional tasked with equity work to answer a question on an equity issue facing local government.
How did you end up involved in ICMA’s Equity Officer Cohort?
Smith-Hanes: People may say, “Wait! He’s not an equity officer. He’s a county administrator.” True. But like a couple thousand smaller organizations managed by ICMA members, my county does not have a designated equity officer (at least not yet). So, you know, “other duties as assigned.”
How has your experience in administration roles helped you understand the challenges equity officers face?
Smith-Hanes: In my career, I’ve been the county administrator/budget director in a room full of finance professionals. The county administrator/HR director in a room full of human resource professionals. The county administrator/purchasing agent in a room full of procurement professionals. Often in these experiences, I am reminded that the breadth of view that we have of our organizations and communities is, despite our best efforts, not shared by everyone in our organizations. Miles’ Law still prevails—where people stand depends on where they sit.
What I have found to be unique about equity officers, however, is that they feel many of the same pressures that those of us in the chief administrator role face. Because their roles are new, not clearly defined in scope, and politically charged, the equity officers in our cohort have made a number of comments about “being at the table but not on the menu,” “surprised about the multiple constituencies I have to address,” “feeling like my job is on the line every week.” Do any of those sound familiar? Like every conversation among city and county managers.
[Related: Register for ICMA Regionals, including topics on addressing racial, structural, and systemic inequities in public health and economic opportunities]
How can chief administration officers support their equity officers?
Smith-Hanes: Because equity officers are feeling this strain, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I can support an equity officer when our organization gets one (and support my own work in this area until then)—and how those colleagues who are blessed to have equity officers in their organizations can support them now.
Since the stresses are like what we experience as chief administrators, I think the prescription is similar, too: provide equity officers with space to engage in networking with peers. Respect the time these professionals need to exercise self-care. If you support their commitment of time to a training or networking opportunity, don’t interrupt that commitment.
How do you see the equity officer role evolving?
Smith-Hanes: There might come a time when the equity function within local government is so ingrained that it doesn’t require special care—perhaps not even a designated position to guide the work. Or it might be that equity officers become as ubiquitous as public works directors. For now, though, those organizations that are ready to take on the challenge of equity work at a level that justifies a position or office need to recognize the personal toll on the employees dedicated to that role. And as chief administrators, we should do what we can to support the individuals taking on this work.
Send questions to SpeakUp@icma.org, and we will ask an equity officer to answer!
Check out our glossary of terms.