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How a More Diverse Workforce Can Help Address the Public Finance Brain Drain

By Susan A. Gooding-Liburd, Chief Financial Officer, Miramar, Florida

Beginning in the summer of 2021, The Great Resignation saw many Americans quit their jobs, including those in local government  Because of COVID fatigue, a desire for better pay, and staff retirements, more employees have departed state and municipal government in the previous two years than ever before. The public finance workforce, which includes, for example, budget analysts and deputy CFOs, hasn’t gone unscathed, and the need for state and local public finance officers is outpacing the present pool of professionals in the industry, according to the recent report, Meeting Demand for State and Local Public Finance Jobs by the Government Finance Officers Association and Lightcast.

The Future of Public Finance

The 117th gathering of the Government Finance Officer Association's 2023 annual conference was recently conducted in Portland, Oregon. With the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation in the minds of many of the attendees there, it was truly motivating to have a number of young people represented at that summit. Ultimately, these younger people – who are prepared, eager and competent – are the hope of the future, as they assume the jobs of retirees. 

My career was established while attending many of the GFOA conference and working in the governmental arena, which helped me rise to the position of leader in the field of public finance. Given the poor representation of Black, Hispanic, and Asian people in public finance, I want to take the opportunity afforded in this guest column to invite my brothers and sisters of color to investigate the field.  The financial sector is slowly diversifying, but not quickly enough to meet the need for enough skilled people to make for a vibrant future in the profession. That path must be created.  

Let's all do our part to prevent the frequent use of the justification that there is a small pool of candidates from which to choose.  Minority financial professionals should be prepared to join this prospective workforce, as the Pew Research Center predicts that the Black population will increase by 70% by the year 2050.

According to Forbes EQ, a poll of minority finance professionals revealed that the top causes of their underrepresentation in the industry were a lack of mentorship, opportunities, and support.  According to a 2021 analysis by the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE); which is a membership-based charitable organization concentrating on Black communities, there are only 37 Black-owned investment and asset management firms, while Black men and women make up 8.5% of certified public accountants.  We, as Black professionals, need to do a better job of promoting the public finance career to our community.

Government Public Finance Talent Call

To raise awareness of the financial industry as a potential career route for underrepresented groups, we must engage minority organizations and associations, as well as middle and high schools, colleges, and universities.  Many of the educators in the colleges and universities do not incorporate public finance into their curriculum.  The local governments should have a government day at the higher education institutions to bring awareness of public sector careers.

In my capacity as a soon-to-be retired financial professional and as the former chair of the GFOA-Black Caucus group, I believe it is critical that minority finance professionals reach out and bring fresh perspectives to the table as we prepare to step down.  When we leave, we must make sure that everyone can find a seat at the table.  It will not be acceptable to leave the table with a less varied group of people. 

There should be more outreach to minority students and youth groups, whether through public private partnerships, mentorship initiatives, paid internship/apprenticeship programs, or other pipeline initiatives. GFOA and its local chapters should modernize their advertisement of public finance careers and spotlight a member each quarter to the higher institutions via their social media channels.  Additionally, we must keep in mind that the people speaking, coaching, or recruiting must be role models for the audience.



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