Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility (DEIA) has been a focus of the Biden administration from day one. On his first day in office, President Biden issued the Executive Order (EO) on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. Biden challenged the Federal Government, as the nation’s largest employer, to be a model for workforce equality.
To become that model, the government has developed new positions and processes to lead a focused effort on DEIA. Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) were added to agency leadership across government.
The inaugural report on DEIA released in February 2023 highlighted the efforts to help diversity officers collaborate in their new roles. As of that report, the government had:
- Established the Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council to inform and collaborate with public and private stakeholders on legislation and policies affecting DEIA priorities
- Convened an Employee Resource Group Summit and a national DEIA Summit discussing disability employment
- Started a DEIA Learning Community to support all federal agencies with implementing best practices
Is DEIA Making a Difference?
As agencies implement people and processes, they are finding that DEIA programs are an ‘incredibly important retention strategy.’ Employee resource groups (ERGs) are playing a big role in helping people feel included and heard in the workforce. Sangita Chari, program manager for the Office of Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion at the National Park Service, commented that “many times when they [employees] have been frustrated, they’ve been able to go to an ERG meeting and feel connected and rejuvenated.”
Of course, the next step after being heard is seeing change. Employees often expect change to happen faster than management can respond, making communication and transparency critical elements of DEIA practices.
Building DEIA Skills
Seen as a close companion to Human Resources (HR), there’s not always a direct overlap between HR skills and DEIA skills. With CDO being a new position, ongoing discussion of responsibilities and training to meet those skills is critical.
To meet this need, Accenture Federal Services and the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service offered a virtual boot camp for DEIA professionals in government. The course demonstrated how to serve in a DEIA leadership role or assist such individuals; how to communicate and advocate for an agency’s DEIA goals; and how to use data and analytics to inform DEIA decisions.
Specific skills highlighted and deemed as crucial for any federal CDO to drive transformational change included:
- DEIA practitioner basics: Understanding the evolution of DEIA and the basics of inclusive leadership.
- Business acumen: Building the ability to translate and implement sometimes-broad mission statements into concrete actions that support agency goals.
- Change management competency: The CDO needs to work with colleagues across the enterprise to drive adoption – and meaningful change – across the agency.
- Coaching ability: CDOs are responsible for introducing DEIA concepts and practices to leaders across the agency and giving them the tools they need to carry out initiatives.
- Talent management expertise: Understand the employee life cycle, including how to acquire, develop, and nurture talent, as well as how to build and implement career paths within the organization.
Transforming the approach to hiring, training, and retaining employees to create a diverse and equitable workforce will not happen overnight. With the continued focus on DEIA and supporting the leaders charged with making workforce equity a reality, the government will reap the rewards of a more diverse and motivated employee base that can push agency missions forward.