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To Serve the Public Interest
To Serve the Public Interest: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
By Madison Rorschach, Megan Ko, and Virginia Garcia
“A distinguishing mark of an auditor is acceptance of responsibility to serve the public interest” (Yellow Book, 3.06). The public interest is the first of five fundamental ethical principles for government auditors and is defined by the Yellow Book (3.07) as “the collective well-being of the community of people and entities that the auditors serve”—a definition that calls to mind a diverse, equitable, and inclusive public.
THE DEI COMMITTEE
The Board of the Association of Local Government Auditors recently demonstrated its responsibility to the public interest by creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. The committee envisions an ALGA that “recognizes and promotes DEI as inherent parts of its culture that contribute to its organizational strength.” Guided by this vision, the committee began its work by developing ALGA’s Non-Discrimination Policy, providing feedback on the Board’s Strategic Plan, and developing its own Communications Plan. Looking forward, the DEI Committee hopes to partner with individual audit agencies to develop strategies and tools that increase the consideration of diverse communities and equity impacts in every audit.
The DEI Committee is currently working to provide support to all ALGA committees by pairing up each of its 12 members with another ALGA committee as a DEI liaison. These liaisons will act as a resource and partner to promote DEI throughout the association. In addition, the committee is collecting ALGA’s demographic data to establish a baseline for measuring organizational diversity. By understanding who ALGA members and leaders are, we can learn whether they are reflective of the audit industry and the communities we serve—creating a direct connection between the association and the public.
DEFINING DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
As auditors, we rely on our auditees’ willingness to listen and implement findings and recommendations from individuals with different experiences, knowledge, and training. As an association and profession, we should demonstrate that same willingness, not only to listen, but to change.
Listening can start by understanding what we mean by DEI. The following are ALGA’s definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion—annotated to explore how DEI can be included in your audits.
The condition that represents ALGA through different elements, which include, but are not limited to, type of organization, region and shop size, age, experience, race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.
In short, diversity means difference. The public is made up of an assortment of people and entities whose interest we, as auditors, serve. What people, as individuals and members of institutions, value is not determined by their demographic characteristics, but it isn’t difficult to see that people of different ages, experiences, and regions, for example, often face different challenges and pursue different goals. To serve the public interest, we first need to understand these challenges and goals. Increasing the number and variety of people we consider and contact when recording user stories can increase our understanding of how to serve the public interest and thus our ability to do so.
A proactive approach to improve outcomes for all, free from historical bias or favoritism that recognizes structural differences and burdens.
Equity means justice, not equality. If half of the homes in a neighborhood lacked access to clean water while the other half did not, it would be equal to give every household the same amount of clean water; it would not be equitable. Households that have access to clean water would not need more water, while households without access would need more or less based on, for example, the size of their household. Equity accounts for the different resources and opportunities communities have in the context of the history and systems that contribute to those differences. Auditors should consider whether and how their audit topics, methodologies, and recommendations perpetuate or challenge inequities that undermine public well-being with their ability to address root causes.
Embracing diversity and welcoming all through extended access and opportunities.
Inclusion means engagement. Not only leaving the door open but listening to and respecting all who enter. An inclusive auditor does not reach out to people only to increase their diversity quotient, but also to understand what they have been missing. To ensure we have a full picture of the public interest, auditors must not only ask who is included in their audit plan, but who isn’t. Working to expand our level of engagement is crucial to serving the public.
DEI IN ACTION
Every audit shop is at its own stage of engagement with DEI, and many of us are only getting started. The following are just a few examples of how audit shops are working to further DEI.
Implicit Bias Training
I’m biased. So are you. In general, we tend to like and trust people we deem to be “like us” more than people we deem to be “not like us.” This tendency is often unconscious and can be called implicit bias. It can affect how we think about and treat other people, including our peers and auditees. Taking implicit bias training or tests—check out Harvard’s Project Implicit—can help you and your teams identify and acknowledge your own unconscious biases, which is an important and difficult first step towards promoting DEI.
When it comes to DEI, does your audit plan consider who is being excluded? Ensuring that your office considers the effects of program costs and constraints on various groups further promotes the public interest. More auditors around the country are starting to ask themselves about equity impacts when they design their audits. A DEI tool typically prompts auditors to think about the potential for their audit projects to have equity impacts. At a minimum, a tool should include questions that enable auditors to expand their assumptions about who is affected by government programs. Some suggestions include:
What impacts does the audited program have on the community?
Does the audit subject involve any type of outreach?
Who experiences the program’s impacts? Do any groups experience disproportionate impacts?
Are there certain racial/ethnic groups that are significantly or disproportionally affected by the audit subject?
How does the audited program disproportionately affect these groups?
The answers to these questions should aid auditors in further brainstorming potential impacts, methodologies, and recommendations to guide audit planning and fieldwork. A DEI tool should be tailored to the audit shop to capture specific regional conditions and processes.
In Texas, while many residents are Spanish-speakers with limited English proficiency, most audit shops only publish their reports in English. If more auditors provided translated reports, it would not only encourage more residents to participate in local government, but also provide assurance on programs and functions that serve citizens and residents with limited English proficiency. Local governments are translating their documents into an increasing number of languages to ensure that their services are inclusive. In fact, auditors in Seattle offer to translate the highlights of their reports in several languages on request. While this does not guarantee engagement, it is an important first step towards inclusion.
These examples are just a few ways to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in your audit shop. If you have more examples, ideas, or questions, please share them on ALGA’s new
or join us at ALGA’s Annual Conference in Kansas City, MO, on May 6-7, 2019, for a panel discussion on equity tools for auditors, an equity-focused round of FAST (back-to-back five-minute presentations
For Auditor’s Short on Time
), and a DEI-themed welcome reception.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions. See you at the conference!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
is a Staff Auditor at the City of Denton, TX. She became a Certified Internal Auditor in 2017 and has been a part of two Knighton Award-winning audits in just three years. Currently a member of ALGA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, Madison believes local government auditing is key to protecting the public’s interest. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Texas A&M University and enjoys regression analysis more than any person should.
is a Management Auditor with the King County Auditor’s Office (Seattle, WA) and an inaugural member of ALGA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. She has worked on audit topics ranging from paratransit to elections and homeless services. Before moving westward, Megan worked in the private and nonprofit sectors in mainland China and Hong Kong. She earned a Master of Public Administration from the Evans School of Policy and Governance, University of Washington, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of North Texas. She is a proponent of equitable, effective, and transparent governance.
is an Assistant City Auditor with the Seattle Office of City Auditor. Her audits have focused on civil rights, labor standards, and affordable housing, three of which earned ALGA’s Knighton Awards while she was auditor-in-charge. Virginia is ALGA’s first chair of its new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and serves on her office’s Race and Social Justice team. She began her career with the General Accounting Office in Washington D.C., then worked at the City of Seattle in analyst and management positions, before operating a consulting firm contracting with municipal and non-profit organizations. Virginia has a BA in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara and a MA in Public Administration from the University of Washington. She is committed to serving her community and is currently a scholarship application reader and mentor for organizations supporting aspiring and current university students.
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