Equity is the Best Policy
By Elizabeth Speed
Lindsay Powell planned to move to Pittsburgh just to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. But the New York City native has made Pittsburgh her permanent address. Working as the assistant chief of staff for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, she’s looking to move Carnegie Mellon’s fair city forward with a strong focus on equity.
“Whether it’s guaranteed basic income or making Pittsburgh a better place for women, in particular women of color, that’s the type of human services, program coordination, policymaking and community-building work that I do every day,” Lindsay says. “I work with an amazing team, and together, we have a hand in anything that comes from the Mayor’s Office of Equity.”
Lindsay’s work addresses inequality in a hyper-local context. For example, the Avenues of Hope initiative focuses on restoring main streets in the City of Pittsburgh, with a focus on historically Black neighborhoods. It’s a project that aims to bring commerce and culture back to business districts, including the Hill District that borders CMU’s Oakland neighborhood.
Across the country, many local governments have an Office of Equity, but what Lindsay and her team do in Pittsburgh is a little different.
“I think what's unique about our Office of Equity is that it’s a policy/program shop. Other offices that exist in the country largely or primarily focus on HR and diversity in hiring,” she says. “While it’s important to think about diversity in hiring, what sets ours apart is that we're thinking more about diversity and equity within the work we’re doing, not just who we hire to do it.”
Lindsay’s position as assistant chief of staff is a perfect fit because Mayor Peduto literally created it for her, focusing it on her passion for policy making. And she backs up that passion with skills gained while working for Congressional representatives and former President Barack Obama’s Office of Legislative Affairs. The placements were part of her Heinz College coursework, which locates fellows in Washington, D.C. for practical, meaningful work experience, an opportunity she describes as “super unique” among similar graduate programs.
“It was a really helpful experience to start a career in politics or government like that,” Lindsay says. “I didn’t have the resources to do a free summer working in the White House, and I couldn’t have done that without Heinz College’s support.”
Appealing job options in Washington, D.C. were scarce when Lindsay graduated in 2016. But she welcomed the chance to return to Pittsburgh, where she could really see the impact of her work.
“Pittsburgh is home now,” she says. “I’m definitely going to be here. I just think that there’s so much happening in Pittsburgh right now that you’d be crazy to leave!”