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OPM official Griffin emphasizes workplace diversity

OPM's Christine Griffin uses a wheelchair.
OPM's Christine Griffin uses a wheelchair. (Courtesy Of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - Courtesy Of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)
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By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

As a woman who uses a wheelchair, Christine Griffin knows a thing or two about discrimination in the workplace.

But now, more than ever, she's in a position to do something about it.

Griffin is in her second week as deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management. Her boss, John Berry, has made her the point person to improve Uncle Sam's record on diversity in hiring and promotions.

"I've done a lot of things in my life where women weren't particularly accepted at the time," she said during an interview in an office with pictures still unpacked. "I've certainly experienced discrimination and know what that feels like."

She has also been a "twofer," someone who fills two demographics, acknowledging opportunities she was offered because someone "particularly wanted a woman with a disability in their workplace."

Griffin brings more than gender and her wheels to the discussion. Her experience extends from the personal to the professional. A labor and employment lawyer by trade, until recently she was a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she wasn't shy about criticizing the OPM. Before that she was executive director of the Disability Law Center in Boston. She is also an Army veteran.

At the EEOC, Griffin launched Project LEAD (Leadership for the Employment of Americans With Disabilities), which was designed to increase federal hiring of disabled people.

Despite that project and other efforts, Uncle Sam's hiring of people with disabilities has been in a steady and disturbing decline. Every year since fiscal 1994, with one exception, the percentage of people with disabilities in the federal workforce has dropped, from a measly 1.24 percent to an all but invisible 0.97 percent in 2006, according to EEOC data. The next year saw a small increase, to 1.03 percent, but the percentage fell to 0.98 percent in 2008.

Latinos are also significantly underrepresented in the federal workplace. They account for 8 percent of Uncle Sam's employees. In other cases, demographic groups may be well represented in the total workforce, but are too few in the upper levels of government. African Americans, for example, are 18 percent of the total workforce, more than their percentage in the general population, but hold just 6.7 percent of the jobs at senior pay levels. Women, representing 44 percent of the workforce, are 27.7 percent of those who make the big bucks.

Griffin joins the agency as it prepares an overhaul of the government's defective hiring process. At "every avenue into the federal government," she said, "I want to make sure that we're also talking about how to increase diversity."

Griffin said agencies should do some introspection and look at their unintended barriers to hiring and advancement. "What is your particular area where you are lacking in advancement for people, and opportunity for people to come in the door, and why is that?" she wants them to ask themselves. "Start doing some barrier analysis."

Too many agency officials regard that kind of activity as time-consuming work that doesn't rise to the top of their priority lists. Instead, it needs to be part of their strategic plan "to be the agency of choice for people who have the skills that I need," Griffin said. It's "getting off your butt and going out there and making people know that you really do want to cast that wide net and get people in the door."

Griffin is praised by people who have worked with her on improving diversity.

"I would give her high marks," said Jorge E. Ponce, co-chair of the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives. Her new position provides "a wonderful opportunity," he said, for the EEOC and the OPM to better coordinate their activities.

In 2006, the Government Accountability Office "found little evidence of coordination at the operating level between EEOC and OPM in developing policy, providing guidance, and exercising oversight, despite overlapping responsibilities in federal workplace EEO. . . . Good management practice as well as federal statute and executive order call for coordination, and not doing so results in lost opportunity to realize consistency, efficiency, and public value in EEO policy making and oversight."

Ponce said it is unrealistic to think that the government "cannot find Hispanics with the citizenship and educational requirements to be better represented" in the federal workforce.

To make diversity a greater priority in the government, Berry created an office within the OPM to focus on it. A diversity professional "is going to look at government-wide diversity strategy . . . to create a more diverse workforce," Griffin said. "That's a concrete thing that has been done."


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