In 1976, I had a conversation with a coach from a rival high school basketball team after his dynasty beat my America Indian high school for their 78th straight victory at home. He proclaimed, “It is great to win but it is so lonely at the top.”
That must be how white people in the federal government feel this week after the release of the 2016 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government Rankings. Once again, agencies with predominately white workforces are the winners in this annual engagement horse race.
The emotion of winning something over and over again gives white people tremendous advantage in a bureaucracy that rewards connection, uniformity and the status quo. In workplace environments controlled by a homogeneous group of people, confirmation and experience bias take root as these privileged members can:
• Rest assured that people like them are represented in leadership.
• Make an individual mistake without it being attached to their whiteness.
• Seek information without being labeled needy.
• Be confident that leadership has their best interests at heart.
• Speak with someone in leadership and feel certain they will understand the unique needs of white people.
• Render a complaint or seek justice without having their group membership called into question.
Being #1 has additional benefits. As the largest demographic group in the federal government, white people have the insider edge. This dominance translates into rewards like:
• Most likely to fill human resource positions that decide who gets a job.
• Dominate the Senior Executive Service which gives them access to power and resources.
• Position themselves for plum assignments.
• Insure the perpetuation of supremacy since they overpopulate the pipelines for managerial and supervisory positions.
• An exemption from certain liabilities that subordinate groups do not enjoy.
Hidden in all of the hoopla of white privilege when it comes to engagement in the federal government, are other things that do not seem to change when it comes to the granddaddy of all workplace surveys:
• Private sector engagement still outpaces public sector engagement
• Senior Executive Service engagement remains higher than the employees they supervise.
• Asians overall were the most engaged racial group.
• American Indians/Alaska Natives were the most disengaged racial group.
• Heterosexual employees are still more engaged than lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.
• Male federal employees are more satisfied than their female counterparts.
• Older federal workers were more satisfied than their younger colleagues.
It may be lonely at the top of the engagement mountain. It is just as desolate in the valley of disengagement as we wait for that day when our engagement ship comes in. Whenever that will be?