It’s been two years since President Obama signed the Executive Order on Diversity and Inclusion in the federal workplace. As we all know, organizations and organizational culture take a great deal of time to change. This is especially the case for government agencies, which are often over a hundred years old.
Today, I attended an event by the Partnership for Public Service on Diversity and Inclusion Leadership in the 21st Century. The panel discussion included leaders in the Department of Interior who have made great progress in building a culture of diversity and inclusion in their departments. It was enriching to learn the challenges, strategies and future outlook of enabling a diverse federal workforce.
The panelists included:
Rhea Suh – Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, DOI
Suzette Kimball – Acting Director, U.S. Geological Survey
Rowan Gould – Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Context of Diversity in Government
Rhea Suh began the discussion by highlighting how current diversity and inclusion programs are different from years past. She told the audience that statements regarding diversity have consistently been a part of various administrative government mandates for the last 15 years, but tangible results were lacking.
Previous programs seemed to operate similar to quote systems, which did little to instill constructive conversations on diversity in the workplace. The missing component in past initiatives was a focus on building the capacity and culture that weaves diversity into the organizational mission.
Passion as a Common Ground
While diversity is importantly related to the realms of EEO and human capital, Suh emphasized that it needs to be connected to programs and agency missions. The recurring theme in the discussion was that employees in public service are passionate about their area of work and agency mission. Driving a culture of diversity necessitates that employees recognize it as a key part of sustaining their mission. For example, having a diverse team managing the nations parks is important to the mission of getting people of various demographics to visit these parks.
Top and Bottom Down Approaches
The DOI created an overarching Diversity and Inclusion Plan, but asked each bureau to create their own specific strategies. Kimball and Gould highlighted how the top-down guidance served as a solid starting point and how their offices are implementing bottle up initiatives. In particular, over 500 employees across the USGS, FWS and other DOI bureaus have been trained as “diversity changes agents.” These change agents serve as champions for understanding and propelling the importance of diversity in their everyday work.
Lastly, the DOI Secretary Sally Jewell stopped by to give her perspective on the topic and particularly touched upon the engagement of younger generations into the federal workforce. She said that diversity is a public service imperative that is both a marathon and a sprint. Secretary Jewell, noted that, even given hiring constraints, providing opportunities for young graduates to experience government is essential to having workplace diversity and preparing future leadership.
Preparing future leadership is also important to GovLoop. We’re holding the Next Generation of Government Training Summit in just two weeks. Among the 25 breakout sessions, one will be on Diversity’s New Frontier. It’s not too late to sign up for the two day, OPM approved training. Check out the schedule and register here!
Read the Partnership’s latest report on diversity and inclusion in federal agencies here.