Flexibility, Equity Are Keys to Gov Being an Employer of Choice

Sensitivity to workers’ and the public’s needs has become a necessity for agencies. The past 18 months have brought massive changes to the U.S. workforce. And flexibility and equity have become key attributes of model workplaces.

“We have to continue to make sure we are the employer of choice.”

– Melanie Saunders, Chief Resilience Officer, NASA

Saunders explains how the space agency is positioning itself as a flexible employer. And Hughey Newsome, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Wayne County, Michigan, describes how budgeting can help build equity.

NASA: No stranger to flexibility

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, NASA leaders worked to ensure continuity of operations largely by making sure workers had tools for remote access and knew how to use them. And about 10 years ago, it moved to “flex Fridays,” or working 80 hours in nine business days and taking the 10th off.

Still, the agency was largely an in-person workforce, Saunders said. Less than 10% of civil service work hours were charged to telework, even though about 40% of the workforce was approved for at least some telework. That is, until March 2020.

“The agency totally flip-flopped and went virtually remote,” Saunders said. Agency workers and leaders quickly realized they were able to do more remotely than they expected.

The pandemic helped the agency explore the long-term potential of remote work, as trends showed that many employees preferred their new remote environment and its benefits.

Survey Says

About 70% of the agency’s civil servants could work offsite most days or every day, Saunders said, citing results from a series of pulse surveys that NASA has taken since the pandemic began to inform its future of work principles and plans.

“That’s based on feedback not just from the employees and their preferences, but also their supervisors,” Saunders said. “That surprised us.”

NASA has also gotten positive feedback about remote work from employee resource groups. For instance, it’s a huge benefit to individuals with mobility impairments. “The relief of not having to go through the ordeal of the commute is really appreciated,” Saunders said.

DEIA’s Bottom Line

Sensitivity to such underserved groups must be top of mind, said Wayne County’s Newsome. And the budget plays a part.

Equity budgeting is “a conversation about making sure that the outputs and the outcomes of what we do as a government are equitable,” Newsome said. “We’re able to monitor equity and make sure that all of our constituents are not disproportionately impacted by what we do.”

He provided five steps to budget for equity:

  1. Commit to equity in budgeting.
  2. Collect data to monitor that the work being done is equitable.
  3. Analyze the data and make a plan.
  4. Implement the plan.
  5. Seek feedback.

Newsome outlined three ways he sees these steps play out:

1. Procurement

As CFO, Newsome is accountable for procurement. So as bids and requests for proposals go out, he wants to make sure there is equitable access to them and equitable representation in the awards. “That’s something that is now ingrained within my particular organization as a finance officer,” he said, “and you can have that same conversation with public service, with public safety, with any other organization within the municipality.”

2. Data collection
Newsome’s office is targeting gaps in data collection for certification of minority- and women-owned business enterprises. This is a priority because Wayne County is home to Detroit, whose population is a majority minority. But other municipalities may put their equity focus elsewhere. “We have some rural communities that are going to be more focused on access to health care or disproportionate access to health care for indigenous populations,” he said.

3. Data standardization

Newsome is watching the concept of environmental, social and corporate governance emerge. “You’ll start to see standard data that is available, not just for programmatic outputs, community by community, county by county, authority by authority. But you’ll start to see that there’s an effort to standardize, and we’re all measuring the same thing,” he said.

Lastly, Newsome touted the importance of equity officers in driving cultural change toward diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. “If you have that right level of attention and transparency, but also the resources … to make sure that equity officers can work on ways to implement equity, department by department by department — I think that’s the right way to go,” he said.

To help agencies lean forward, we gathered seven tips from GovLoop’s virtual summit, “How to Stay Productive in a Remote World: Strategies for You and Your Team.” Download the resource below for expert insights to help your agency become a sought-after employer.

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