How can government agencies be more diverse and equitable?
Now is the time for government agency diversity initiatives.
The State Department recently created a position of Director of Diversity, reporting directly to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. This is a dramatic change, as the previous administration ordered federal agencies last year to end programs deemed divisive by the White House, and following that earlier order, the Department of The state has suspended all training programs for employees related to diversity and inclusion.
Additional actions signaled that the positive uptake of DEI programs is here to stay. The Pentagon has appointed Bishop Garrison to a direct advisory role to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, focusing on DEI issues. President Joe Biden’s overall wave of nominations has been historically diverse, with The Hill even calling it his “big difference.” Reports are coming due on how government agencies are advancing equity issues, and there is a reinvigorated spirit around DEI topics in the government sector.
The right people fall into the right roles. Responsibility for diversity initiatives and overall equity literally rests with the President’s office. At this time, how can agencies and supplier partners ensure that diversity is done properly?
Realize that government agencies cannot be easily put in a box
The government as a whole comprises an incredibly diverse group of talented, science-driven people. Equity initiatives are complex in scope, but government agencies can manage them. Are there areas and agencies that move more slowly, according to common government branding? Yes, but the agencies are globally diverse, talented and innovative.
Adjust rulers and divisions
The previous administration attempted to merge the Office of Personnel Management with the Office of Management and Budget, which would have expanded the power of the executive. The effort was unsuccessful, but OPM reform is not a new problem. In 2010, the Obama-Biden administration attempted to reform OPM hiring practices.
OPM reform is believed to be due to outdated talent acquisition policies for the federal civilian workforce, which impede the hiring of managers. In short, they can’t move quickly on elite-level recruits (or often any recruits), and they can’t reach a broad and diverse talent pool.
A recent National Academy of Public Administration report on OPM said the agency needed three things: more independence, more authority over workforce policies covering every civilian employee – with emphasis on all — and more budget to modernize and operate better.
Move underlying focus
DEI initiatives in private companies can certainly inform DEI initiatives in federal agencies, but if partners and suppliers are focused on results, that’s how we’ve been trained to think about diversity over the last decade – i.e. “make the business Cas.” In government sectors, this is important, but the “business case” is a “talent case”. Governments want to attract and retain the best talent possible. They want to compete with tech jobs and entrepreneurial options for new graduates and established professionals. Acquisition and retention, not hitting the top and bottom numbers, should be the focus of DEI’s work.
Lead with science
This is where the Neuroleadership Institute is well placed to help government agencies. Many agencies deeply believe in science, facts, experimentation, split testing, etc., to determine the best course of action. DEI initiatives, and their internal justification, should be largely scientific discussions. Diverse teams are smarter, and we know that from research, but they feel less comfortable.
To bridge the gap, some established managers, or conflict-averse managers, need to have one-on-one conversations with their teams about change, team needs, shifting priorities, and why a more diverse team is ultimately better for the team. ‘agency. The facts are there about the strong performance of diverse teams, but the facts need to be put into context in a way that will matter to every person with varying degrees of concern. Manage and communicate with the one, not the many.
The bottom line
These initiatives are not easy and it will take years and multiple administrations to achieve all of the necessary changes. This moment, however, is a good start. If we fix broken processes, focus on talent retention, and lead with science while communicating the importance of these goals, we can create a diverse federal workforce where individuals see many paths and opportunities to individual professional growth.
David Rock is co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute.