The Washington Post

Fixing diversity gaps in the federal workforce

While the federal government is a leader in employing a diverse workforce, a report issued this week by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) spotlighted specific areas that need improvement.

Looking specifically at fiscal 2010, the EEOC said the percentage of women, as well as the percentage of some male minorities, is lower in the federal workforce than in the labor force overall. In addition, the number of employees with targeted disabilities is well below goals set by the Obama administration.

As a federal manager, you need to pay attention to the findings in this report. Agencies can and should do more -- not only out of sense of fairness and because it’s federal policy, but because a diverse and inclusive work environment will improve performance and results.

That's one of the lessons we should take from leaders at the Department of Interior, which is looking at inclusion as a way to directly link a highly skilled, diverse workforce with the department’s mission. This means to achieve its goals and redress its shortcomings, Interior intends to look to every segment of American society to recruit, hire, develop and engage employees.

As you begin to implement your agencies’ diversity plans, which were submitted to the Office of Personnel Management last week, you might consider some of the ideas being tried at the Interior Department:

Start with your senior leaders, the champions and the skeptics. To shift the conversation from one about simple statistical goals to a broader one about finding and engaging great talent, it was critical for Interior’s leaders to include both their political and career senior executives in the discussion. For some executives, the need was apparent. For others, there was concern this was just the latest flavor of the month. As a result, Interior’s chief diversity officer, John Burden, discussed the new approach and objectives with these senior leaders. Once they realized this was about achieving program goals and finding great talent, they were hooked.

Engage employees. After the department's leaders began driving the process, the diversity team revamped its traditional EEO training with employees. They moved away from a compliance-only approach. Instead, the new program focused on employees' understanding of inclusion and empathy towards others. The sessions have been intended to ensure that all employees understand they play a key role in implementing diversity strategies at the department.

Make it clear through actions and words that diversity is about an effective organization.  As a federal manager, it’s important to demonstrate that you have a dual goal when hiring – you’re looking for highly talented employees who are both among the very best and able contribute to the diversity of the organization in multiple ways.   

Try new approaches. To help expand their outreach beyond, Interior has been experimenting with new avenues for reaching qualified, diverse job candidates. For example, they are participating in an "ambassadors" program where their most talented interns become their most effective recruiters on college campuses nationwide. Through this program, Interior has found that the best messengers to reach students about federal job and internship opportunities are their peers who have been there, done that.

The most successful organizations – whether in the public, private or nonprofit sectors – embrace diversity to support their missions and goals, and Interior is one of the most recent examples of a federal agency trying to move in this direction. What is your agency doing to fulfill its diversity and inclusion goals? Or, what is standing in the way?

Please share your stories and maybe even your new ideas for recruiting, hiring and engaging highly qualified, diverse public servants capable of delivering results by leaving comments below or sending an e-mail to

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View Photo Gallery: Leadership experts from Warren Bennis to Tom Peters share their picks of the best leadership books to hit shelves this year.

More from On Leadership:

How to become a great federal leader

Rocking the boat in federal agencies

Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.



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