Daily Dose: How Would You Promote Diversity and Inclusion At Work?

Could your agency be doing a better job fostering diversity during the hiring process? Or maybe your agency does a good job recruiting diverse candidates but struggles with retention or employee development.

While there are already structures in place to promote fair hiring, the White House wants the Federal workforce to become “a model of equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion.” Last week, President Obama signed an Executive Order that establishes a coordinated, government-wide effort to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

In the executive order, Obama instructed Berry and other officials to issue a “Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan” within 90 days of Aug. 18, the date of the order. The document also says that within 120 days after the plan is issued, the heads of executive departments shall develop “an agency-specific Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan for recruiting, hiring, training, developing, advancing, promoting and retaining a diverse workforce….”

Berry Defends Obama’s Executive Order on Workplace Diversity

OPM Director John Berry recently discussed the new initiative at the Blacks in Government conference, underscoring that the White House had gotten buy-in from across the government. All organizations can benefit from the unique skills and experiences that characterize a diverse workforce. Since each agency has to develop their own strategic plan for recruitment and retention, we thought we’d turn to you for ideas and examples. What are some ways that organizations can create a diverse and inclusive workplace? How should agencies best recruit and retain diverse employees?


“Daily Dose of the Washington Post” is a blog series created by GovLoop in partnership with The Washington Post. If you see great a story in the Post and want to ask a question around it, please send it to [email protected].

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Paul Homan

It is interesting that “diversity and inclusion” immediately invokes the subject of racial diversity, when in fact diversity truly expands all areas that makes us individuals.

Julie Chase

The EO’s regarding diversity are only as good as the funding that follows them. July 2010, it was the EO to hire 100,000 folks with disabilities to the fed. Yeah, that is great, yeah, all agencies had to have a plan set up by such and such a date, however, here it comes. There is NO FUNDING attached to the order &, the icing on the cake, “is” while each agency has to have a plan, it is up to the agency itself to hire, (or not) & set aside funding from their already strapped budgets to do this. Now a few weeks ago, there was the “hire the spouse of military person”, yeah, great, good, get a plan in place by such and such a date, “and” no funding. So here we go. Just a week ago, the buzz was hiring more veterans. Yeah, great, wonderful. Except for one thing. AGENCIES WERE TOLD TO CUT, CUT, CUT EMPLOYEES AND FREEZE HIRING. Oh yeah, <as she sheepishly backs out of the room> Buyouts are now the order of the day in over 5 agencies announced in the last month alone. As soon as “big poppa”, DoD, and all his little minions get the go for a VSIP, all the EO’s in the world aren’t going to help until the hiring freeze is over.

I truly believe with organizations such as BIG and HIG, disabilities, veterans, spouses, we are pretty much as diverse as it gets. Adding too much salt to the America stew is just that, too much salt. People need to read EO’s very carefully especially regarding the diversity and inclusion in hiring. Look for the $$$ at the end of the rainbow, chances are, you won’t see any. Agencies are huddling down, doing more with less as they have been told to do all year long. We have been working under an CR all this fiscal year. A good example of recruiting is the new Pathways Program to bring college grads into the fold. According to vet groups, they are going to shut Pathways down before it even has a chance to take a breath. Each one of the EO feel good programs, cost each agency money. It would be like me telling you that I want you to have more cats in your neighborhood, because there are too many dogs and we must be fair. All the cats and their families clap and say “here, here”, finally someone who speaks for us. However, what the proclamation doesn’t do, it give the neighborhood the money to set up the importing of cats into the community, the foods they will need, the medical care they will require, etc. etc. It is “expected” that the neighborhood should pony up and pay for this new diversity initiative out of their cash strapped budget, while at the same time offering the dogs a one way ticket out. I am still trying to find out where the Italians in Government hold their meetings and conferences…..

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Julie hit the nail on the head. We are facing major budget cuts, hiring freezes, voluntary early outs, furloughs, and other budget crises. This is not a good environment for diversity, however you define it. Diversity is a vague concept to most, not longer limited exclusively to race. Until we have measures of these diverse dimensions, this EO is yet another well-intentioned directive that will most likely be ignored.

Mark Hammer

1) I was attending an “employment systems” conference some years back, and attended a session on diversity. Personally, I tend to get disillusioned by these things because they end up being “rah-rah-for-diversity” flag-waving exercises, and little else of practical use that lets me know how to achieve it. As the session was winding down, I stuck my hand up and asked the folks in the room if they had ever been involved in a diversity initiative within their branch/unit that had floundered, and if so, why. A bunch had, and to a person, they all said “We had a champion, but then once things started to get working that person moved on to another job, and it all ground to a halt”. Stability of leadership is absolutely critical to such initiatives.

2) As good and right as diversity initiatives are, sometimes you have to realize you can’t make everyone want or be available for every job. One of the first things I read on entering government, was a 1996 (or thereabouts) Presidential Commission report on underrepresentation of Hispanic-Americans in the US Public Service. And there, on page 7 or something like that, they noted that (at that time, obviously) around 86% of Hispanic Americans lived in those states where only 34% of the federal jobs were located. It was a challenge, not an excuse, but still the point is sometimes the barriers are something other than “mere” discrimination or will. I would also add the example of our own Foreign Service here in Canada. They have traditionally found it hard to recruit Aboriginal persons (what you would call “Native-Americans”). Some part of it likely has to do with the size of the talent pool with suitable qualifications, but I know enough about recruitment to know that being underqualified tends not to stop people from applying to things; so I have to assume it reflects a level of disinterest in jobs that would possibly station them overseas. You can open the door as wide as you want, sometimes, but people still have to want your jobs.

Mark Hammer

3) A decade or so back, I got interested in self-identification as a form of discretionary self-disclosure (much like letting an employer know you’re 4 months pregnant) during the job application process. I’ve engaged in several research exercises in the area and found, much to my dismay, that a LOT of people decline to self-ID when applying for work (my estimates range between 20% and 35% or so). This includes not only individuals belonging to a designated minority group, but also persons with disabilities (who are more likely to not self-ID during job application). Essentially any legally protected group.

It would seem that the reason for not self-ID-ing is often based in a desire to be hired for one’s merit and not for one’s group membership. In the case of persons with disabilities, they may also feel that their particular disability is completely unrelated to the job or their performance in it, so it isn’t deserving of mention.

Still, HR is stuck with whatever data they have, and if folks don’t wish to disclose, however noble and justified their reasons, then the HR data is going to reflect less success with diversity measures than may truly be the case. Equally important, having worked in test development, I can say that when we would evaluate whether a selection test had any bias or not, all we could do is compare test results from those who said they belonged to a legally protected group, against those who didn’t say they did, assuming that each group was homogenous. Much about diversity initiatives depends on people self-ID-ing consistently.

I’m happy to say that in one small study I did, we presented people with hypothetical job application scenarios and asked them how likely they would be to self-ID as a minority member (and all participants WERE minority members). If the hypothetical employer had a good track record with respect to diversity, and they knew somebody who worked there, they were much more likely to say they would self-ID when applying. So, it would seem that promoting diversity in tangible visible ways would increase the likelihood that one is better positioned to measure success in such initiatives by having higher quality (i.e., more reliable) HR data.

4) I’m glad the EO includes “training” and “developing”. It’s one thing to hire, and quite another to support an employee’s career progress.