A Changing Workforce Makes DEIA a Priority at DHS

According to Merriam-Webster, “workforce” encompasses two connected ideas: Workers who are engaged in a specific activity or enterprise, and workers who could potentially be assigned to a purpose.

For government managers, that means the workforce is not only those who work in their agencies now, but also people they will recruit in the future. The future workforce is increasingly diverse, as is the population it will serve, and as the largest employer in the country, the government serves as a role model for other employers.

Diversity Is More Than Hiring

Although the public sector often leads in representative hiring, there’s still work to do in promotion and retention.  Government needs to manage and engage current and potential employees alike. Already understaffed before the pandemic, state and local governments have seen dramatic drops in employment since 2020 — 68,000 state jobs lost and 627,000 at the local level. The federal workforce was less hard-hit, but all are struggling with hiring and retention.  

Workers are reassessing what they want from their jobs, emphasizing flexibility, purpose and inclusion. Agencies must innovate, offering work-life options such as hybrid and remote work, and a commitment to diversity, equity inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) to attract and keep the talent they need.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has one of the most diverse workforces in the federal government — in the past three years, an average of 45% of its more than 240,000 employees identified as members of a traditionally underrepresented racial or ethnic group. (The rate for all federal agencies is 38%.) The DHS Inclusive Diversity Strategic Plan reflects that success while setting demanding goals for improvement.  

Discussion and Dialogue Promote Diversity, Too

Three years ago, the agency launched what it calls Inclusive Diversity Dialogue Programs, in which groups of 15 to 20 employees meet every other week to discuss workplace issues, especially those related to inclusive diversity. One week’s focus might be the organization’s values, for example, while another week, employees might discuss ethnicity and race. “We have such high demand that we always have a waitlist,” said Sharon Wong, DHS’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Executive Director for Strategic Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion.  

In building and supporting an increasingly diverse agency, DHS also is using data in new ways. For instance, to assess its recruiting efforts, DHS has developed the Strategic Marketing Outreach and Recruitment Engagement tool. “It tracks our outreach and recruitment in real time, and it gets metrics like where did you go, who was the target audience, what school, military installation, which state,” Wong explained.  

The agency also tracks hiring and workforce composition and uses the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to assess employee attitudes. “We have a robust set of metrics,” Wong said. “On a quarterly basis, we look at our diversity trends because we want to see what are our barriers to employment opportunities for all.”  “We look at it across the board because diversity is not just for underserved groups; it’s for every single person,” she added.

This article appeared in slightly different form in our guide, Innovations 2022: Conversations That Matter. To read more, download the guide.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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