Moving Diversity Forward in the Federal Government

In 2010, federal agencies are still struggling to understand diversity and many are still entrenched in the “count heads” mentality.  Leadership from several federal departments have been hauled before Congress repeatedly to explain why they cannot diversity their workforce as national affinity groups such as Blacks in Government (BIG) and Federally Employed Women (FEW) continue to sound the alarm.  Federal agencies tend to be large, bureaucratic institutions that work hard to defend and support the bureaucracy.  Many fail to grasp the challenge of managing diversity for competitive advantage or to leverage diversity to increase organizational capability. 

Diversity management has to be customized to an agencies culture and goals; however, there must be federal guidelines established by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that layout a minimum framework.  For too long, diversity has been bandied about between the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program and the Human Capital program, neither of which has the bandwidth the deal with the concept in its fullest and mature form. 

To move federal agencies forward several strategies must be considered:

  • Chief Diversity Officers (CDO)

President Obama must require each federal agency to select a Chief Diversity Officer at the Senior Executive Service level, who reports directly to the head of the agency.  Much like other CXOs in the federal government a CDO is necessary to have a dedicated senior leader driving diversity through focused and deliberate attention.  This also elevates diversity to the same level as other mission critical functions within an agency. 

  • Dedicated Space

The Diversity program must be a separate program from the EEO office and the Human Capital office, but must work collaboratively with those entities to achieve organizational effectiveness.  In order to broaden the scope and perception of diversity it must be separated from the EEO program, which may have a negative connotation.  The Human Capital office has so many requirements around the “care and feeding” of an agency’s employees, that diversity often times gets lost.

  • Strategic Plans

Agencies must be required to develop and submit diversity strategic plans that are reviewed and monitored by the Office of Personnel Management.  Defining the agency’s diversity vision and then planning to achieve the stated outcomes is paramount to organizational effectiveness and accountability.

  • Consequences

Simply put, people do what they do because of the consequences of what they do.  For too long, there have been no consequences for not moving diversity forward.  The use of special hiring authorities such as “direct hire” and rehired annuitants must be based on the agencies development of viable workforce planning models and succession plans with an emphasis on diversity and diversity management. 

  • Performance Management

A measurable, specific diversity performance element must be included in every executive performance work plan with required feedback from the Chief Diversity Officer.  If executives are engaged and embracing the vision, the CDO should know and be able to provide feedback for the performance review.

  • Federal Diversity Summit

OPM should host an annual Federal Diversity Summit with mandatory participation from all federal agencies leaders to provide training and engage in a broader discussion about managing and leveraging diversity as an organizational capability within the federal government.

  • Mandatory Training for Agency Heads

Require mandatory diversity training, approved by the Office of Personnel Management, for each agency head within 90 days of appointment.  This will provide baseline knowledge and establish conceptual clarity for political appointees who can come from near and far, some with little or no understanding of the federal sector.

  • Think Outside of the Box

Apply innovation to the development of federal diversity programs to expand beyond workforce demographics and consider supplier diversity (in collaboration with the Acquisition Office), recruitment, employee engagement, mentoring and coaching, and facilitation.

  • Embed the Concept

Require diversity management training at all agency conferences, off-sites, and large gatherings, of which there are many each year.  Diversity management training must be integrated to enhance managerial and supervisory capabilities.

  • Change Initiative

Getting diverse employees is a necessary and agencies must work on the demographics.  However, federal agencies must ensure that systems, processes, and practices are in place to leverage diversity into an organizational capability.  Several things must change within an organization to successfully manage diversity.  Not just the people and the systems, but the mindset,

If these strategies are adopted, we can begin to move the federal government forward in the diversity dialogue.  It will take time, but small incremental changes can lead to big results.  In the end, we can say Yes We Did not just Yes We Can!

2 thoughts on “Moving Diversity Forward in the Federal Government

  1. This is such an awesome response to what is needed for a viable Federal Diversity Program. I hope that someone, somewhere takes notice and implement these suggestions. It would serve the greater good to D&I programs, that usually tend to get lost within the EEO (Diversity) Programs. Thank you for this blog.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. Do you have any suggestions onhowto move diversity forwad in the federal or public sector? I am always interested in the the challenges and opportunities that others have faced. Feel free to subcribe to the blod and help generate good conversation for D & I professionals.

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