Strategies to Increase Diversity and Equity in Civic Leadership

Part One - Gateway Cities Innovation Institute Awards and Summit

In recent years, MassINC has become increasingly concerned that our civic leaders do not reflect our growing diversity. This has significant ramifications for public policy, and our ability to heal the economic divide that has only deepened since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

We cannot continue to ignore this issue, especially in our Gateway Cities. As we wrestle with conversations around race, class, equity, inclusion and power, we must recognize how urgent the challenge before us is.

Of the 26 Gateway Cities, only in Chelsea and Lawrence do the elected officials accurately reflect the proportion of residents of color. In Brockton, residents of color make up 64% of the population, but only 8% of all elected leaders. Holyoke, Haverhill, Lowell and Fitchburg show similarly striking numbers.

The disparities are even more startling in the nonprofit sector. In every Gateway City, nonprofit leaders are far more white than the population they serve. In Lawrence, for example, last year people of color made up 85 percent of Lawrence residents, yet they accounted for less than 15 percent of nonprofit CEOs.

We know that more diversity and inclusion in civic leadership will allow for more creative, innovative and effective solutions to the challenges our Gateway Cities face.

The question we must now answer is: how do we remove barriers and create more opportunities for people of color to join the ranks of civic and elected leadership in our Gateway Cities? And how do we ensure their success once they get there?

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Gladys Vega, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative 

Joan Kulash, Executive Director of Community InRoads

MassINC Resources

Research Report: MassForward – Advancing Democratic Innovation and Electoral Reform in Massachusetts 

This report argues Massachusetts will need the varied experience, expertise, and service of its diverse population in order to tackle the numerous and increasingly complex challenges that the future promises to hold. The analysis reveals four major structural forces that inhibit many residents from participating fully in state and local civic life. The authors review a comprehensive set of strategies to counter these forces, highlighting four with major potential.

Research Report: From Transactional to Transformative: The Case for Equity in Gateway City Transit-Oriented Development

This report expands on our 2018 recommendations and lays the groundwork for a series of future policy briefs that will explore the issues covered here in more depth. Over the past 50 years, demographic change has divided people and communities socially and economically in Gateway City metropolitan regions. We must adjust and call for infusing equity into transit-oriented development policies and practices.

Gateways Podcast – Diverse Voices Needed in Gateway City Leadership 

Excerpt: Imbalances prevalent in Gateway Cities extend all the way to the State House, where, as Ben points out, “About 30% of the Massachusetts population is people of color but only 13% of state legislators and only 5% of legislative leadership.” That last data point is important, MassINC Director of Research Ben Forman explains. “In Massachusetts, the leadership really dictates the policy.”

Policies that the historically white-dominant leadership have put in place aren’t designed for Gateway City residents who on average take home less pay than those living in Boston’s core, Tracy explains. The Commuter Rail serves as an example. “That system has been designed to shuttle people who are working in higher-paying, white collar jobs from the suburbs and from our Gateway Cities into downtown Boston,” MassINC’s Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Fellow Dr. Tracy Corley says.


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