Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Smart ways to make federal agencies more inclusive

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

What is your agency doing to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment?

The Interior Department appears to be moving in the right direction in part by adopting a unique management approach. Each of the agency’s eight bureaus – from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the National Park Service – created their own mission-oriented, program-oriented strategies that have translated into measurable progress. In addition, scattered throughout the country in DOI offices are diversity-trained change agents who help to create work places that are open, respectful and tolerant of all people. Top leadership has also made it clear that the focus is not on quotas or getting the numbers right but on improved mission accomplishment through a more engaged and inclusive workforce.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation launched an internal TED-like distinguished speakers series as a forum for inviting notable experts to share their diverse perspectives with employees. Because the series moves away from some of the more traditional diversity-related activities, they have also drawn larger crowds to the conversation.

While hiring talented and diverse workers is an important step in this process, it is not enough. As a federal leader, you also must find ways to create an inclusive work environment that welcomes, supports and makes optimal use of employees from all backgrounds. This includes providing opportunities for growth and advancement. Such efforts not only make common sense, but ultimately will lead to a more satisfied and engaged workforce, and better employee performance. Of course, periodically checking to make sure these goals are being met is also quite important.

As part of a “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” analysis of 2012 federal employee survey data, the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte recently examined a range of workplace diversity issues, finding among other things that women throughout government feel slightly less empowered than men, that Asian employees have the highest levels of job satisfaction among all racial and ethnic groups, and that employees with disabilities have less favorable views of their work environment than their colleagues who did not report a disability.

The analysis also showed that the views of men and women, of those with disabilities and of employees from different racial and ethnic groups varied by agency, presenting leaders with a responsibility to explore the survey data to see if there are employee concerns that need to be addressed.

Employee surveys, however, do not provide all the answers – more likely they suggest the questions that should be asked. If the survey data suggest something is amiss at your agency, you should follow up by asking your employees for feedback, perhaps through individual discussions or focus groups, and then use the information to determine what activities should be developed and implemented to improve the situation.

Here are some steps as a federal manager you can take to create more welcoming and inclusive work environments:

  •     Establish a shared vision, shared values and practices. As a senior agency leader, it is important that you and your colleagues are aligned around a common message of diversity and inclusion, and that you connect its importance to the accomplishment of the agency’s mission.
  •     Build a culture of commitment to diversity and inclusion among all employees. Create discrete opportunities that help people identify, celebrate and remind one another of commonalities, such as shared organizational values and commitment to the mission. Supporting employee participation in affinity groups or resource groups that offer an opportunity to network, address common issues and concerns, and receive support from those who share similar backgrounds, experiences or interests may help.
  •     Use internship programs. Make special efforts to reach out to highly qualified individuals from underrepresented groups in agency recruitment efforts, particularly when using student internship and fellowship programs.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jul 29, 2013 at 4:02 PM

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