BUILDING TRUST through Diversity and Inclusion.

Author:Kavanagh, Shayne

Trustworthiness has its foundations in empathy--being concerned for others who don't share your beliefs, religion, ethnic background, etc. This is important in the context of a local government finance office because communities are constantly changing. Embracing diversity and fostering inclusiveness helps finance offices cultivate organizations and promote policies that reflect the communities they serve. When people feel included and they see that the finance office is concerned for their wellbeing, then they will feel that the finance office is worthy of their trust.

Trust in public finance starts with trust in the finance office.

To learn more about how finance officers can enhance their trustworthiness, GFOA surveyed the members of two large state/provincial GFOA associations.' We asked these members to identify other finance officers in their state or province who they thought were particularly trustworthy. We then conducted face-to-face interviews with the finance officers who received the most nominations, seeking to learn the behaviors they engaged in that helped them build trust with others.

We then organized our findings into the five elements of trustworthiness suggested by the GFOA's Code of Ethics (, which is focused on enhancing the trustworthiness of the local government finance office. One of these five elements is "diversity and inclusion," and in this article, we will focus on what we learned about diversity and inclusion when it comes to building trust in the finance office.

TRUST BEGINS AT HOME A good place to start with building trust through including people and valuing diversity is in the finance office itself. For example, one chief finance officer (CFO) we interviewed makes a special effort to send non-management staff to conferences and other training opportunities that might normally only be attended by management staff. If necessary, the CFO gives up her own chance to attend so finance office staff can be included in these training opportunities. This CFO also creates in-house training opportunities for staff, including a monthly training session where a different staff member is responsible for coordinating and delivering the training. The CFO is intentional in providing just enough support to make sure the staff member succeeds, but that person is otherwise free to develop the training as they see fit. This builds trust in two ways: 1) providing regular professional development shows that the finance office cares about its staff and their future career; and 2) asking staff members to provide training shows that the CFO trusts all staff members to be involved in shaping the professional development program.

The example we just provided was a formal and structured approach to making everyone in the finance office feel included, but finance officers also need to be mindful of how their everyday demeanor and approach affects others.

To illustrate, one of our interviewees emphasized the importance of being fully present for conversations with other members of the finance office. This means avoiding obvious signs that your mind is somewhere else, like checking emails while the other person is talking. And...

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