As efforts to assess the status of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility within their organizations continue, some agencies are adding more people and resources to their DEIA initiatives in government over time.
The order, which the president signed back in June, tasked the agencies with a long to-do list that covers key moments in the federal employee experience.
That is intentional, says Peter Bonner, Deputy Director of HR Solutions in the Office of Personal Management.
“The Biden administration’s diversity and equity priorities enable agencies to improve all facets of the employee experience, from hiring and onboarding to job performance, to promotions, career growth and retirement,” he said at one last week DEIA webinar by GovExec and the agency. “The way we see it, it really bubbles from the staff.”
The agencies have assessed their current state of affairs on diversity, inclusion, equality and accessibility, a key requirement of the President’s Executive Order of June.
Now they are also adding more personnel and resources to the DEIA initiatives, said Bonner.
Javier Inclan left the National Science Foundation last year but returned in March to reorganize and lead the agency’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights. The office now has 12 employees, and Inclan said it hopes to double the size of the organization within the year or so.
Some previous diversity and inclusion efforts in government may have been compliance exercises that were “check the box,” Inclan acknowledged. But the aim of his office is to formalize and recall DEIA changes and to embed them in the agency’s culture.
“It’s different this time,” said Inclan. “All the stars align. There are the right people, the right leadership, and the right enthusiasm to move things forward. “
The Executive Ordinance for Diversity and Inclusion calls on agencies to set up Chief Diversity Officers in their organizations, a process that Inclan is comparable to filling the position of Chief Financial Officer or Chief Human Capital Officer.
These Chief Diversity Officers can advocate DEIA principles throughout the employee experience, from hiring and onboarding to the professional development of managers and aspiring leaders.
“We see that everywhere when building up DEIA competence at agency level,” says Bonner. “That then seeps into the sub-agency level. From then on, it is taken over by the personnel specialists, by the hiring manager, by the colleague who is next to you in the hallway [or] sits in the zoom box with you, who then amplifies it. This is where the resources come from. “
Bonner said agencies are looking for new tools and resources from OPM to help them implement the implementing regulation at all levels of their organizations. They are looking for DEIA advice on workplace planning, change management, professional development and onboarding, he added.
The new PO requires agencies to identify barriers to recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting people from underserved populations, as well as any barriers they might encounter in career development, pay and compensation, or training and reasonable accommodation.
“With the new Diversity, Justice, Inclusion and Accessibility Executive Ordinances, we are actually creating a sense of legacy because we want this to be the very fabric of federal government,” said Marthaellen Florence, acting director of Education for the Presidential Management Fellows program and Faculty Director for DEIA at the Federal Executive Institute of OPM.
For Florence, this means embedding the DEIA principles in the training and leadership development curriculum for the PMF program and others so that participants can advocate diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in their individual agencies.
“My hope is that they can take advantage of these tools that we are making available to them and it will be their job to inspire those in the agencies they work for as well,” she said of the PMF participants.
OPM also helps agencies understand their own DEIA HR information, a process that some have found challenging. Some agencies require their employees or job applicants to identify certain demographic information about themselves, but the government as a whole has no systematic way of accurately collecting this information.
Inclan has also noticed this challenge.
“The data is also the problem, or the lack of data, I should say. The demographic data is provided or requested voluntarily by applicants and others, this is a matter of concern. Some people have a general distrust of the government, ”he said. “We have to be very transparent about collecting this data and build that trust with our stakeholders and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have to collect this information for shameful reasons, but because we want to know where we are.'”
Bonner said the OPM Bureau for Diversity, Equal Opportunities, Inclusion and Accessibility participates in the weekly DEIA “office hours” hosted by the Office of Management and Budget. These meetings allow DEIA practitioners to share best practices, ideas and other challenges they encountered while drafting the new implementing regulation.
These meetings have inspired authorities and the federal community to form informal groups to discuss DEIA. Inclan has attended some sort of informal chief diversity officer council that the partnership has organized for the civil service, he said.
“People have to believe in the effort,” Inclan said. “You have to want to do it, and you need the people to do it. We need HR specialists to hire people. We need budget people who bring in the money. We certainly need people in the DEIA arena, formal or informal, to focus on these efforts. If that happens, I think it will spread like wildfire and take root in our culture. “