The Long Road to Diversity
#evolve Magazine
October 22, 2021

Within his first week in office, President Biden issued a series of executive orders and presidential memoranda directing federal agencies to undertake a comprehensive review of government-administered programs, such as housing and education, and develop an action plan to address any inequities.

Later, Biden turned his attention inward. His executive order, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEIA) in the Federal Workforce, issued on June 25, tackles inequities in federal government employment.

Although the executive order’s focus is on the federal government’s employment practices, many of the president’s recommendations provide a roadmap for private employers interested in launching a DEIA program, as well as those that already have a robust program in place but are looking for new strategies.

Federal contractors would be wise to take note of the recommendations included in the executive order, because they are likely to come up during routine compliance reviews initiated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Defining Diversity

The order defines diversity broadly to promote inclusion for all employees. Many employers, particularly those for which diversity in the workplace is a new initiative, have zeroed in on race, ethnicity and gender. However, diversity also includes sexual orientation and gender identity, religion and veteran and disability status. As noted in the order, the intersection of these characteristics is also important.

Employers interested in fostering a truly inclusive environment must be responsive to all groups. The appropriate response depends largely on the makeup of the current workforce, representation goals going forward and the barriers to diverse representation and inclusion.

Implement a Tailored Program

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to DEIA. For this reason, each agency is required to conduct a “preliminary assessment of the current state of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility” as an initial step to developing a successful program. A robust and data-driven assessment will identify any gaps — and the root causes for those gaps — providing the necessary foundation for developing a targeted program.

All employers collect race, ethnicity and gender data from employees. Federal contractors collect this data from applicants as well. This data can be used to conduct statistical analyses to identify representation gaps. If possible, intersectionality (the combination of race/ethnicity and gender of applicants and employees) should be taken into account when conducting diversity analytics. The assessment should focus on all stages of employment.

Begin by determining whether your workforce at various levels generally mirrors the area from which you recruit. If it does not, determine what is driving the disparity and implement a strategy for resolving these issues. Those disparities could be caused by such factors as: ineffective recruiting practices; unnecessary hiring requirements; availability of professional development and promotional opportunities; performance appraisal process; compensation; or some combination of factors.

It is critically important that employers protect these analyses under the attorney-client privilege to avoid being required to release the drafts and final results in response to a government investigation or litigation. To take full advantage of legal privileges, in-house and outside counsel should be consulted before any work begins.

“Ultimately, there is no DEIA without pay equity. The “E” in DEIA is about equity in all aspects of employment, including pay equity.”

Think Long Term

Employers are under significant pressure to show progress toward a more diverse and inclusive work- force. Thus, the focus is on getting results fast. To achieve lasting and meaningful change, employers must play a long game. The order recognizes this and includes these suggestions for building a pipe- line of diverse talent:

  • Create a pipeline of qualified applicants by increasing the availability of paid internships, fellowships and apprenticeships that are designed to develop talent, knowledge and skills.
  • Expand your pool of qualified applicants by targeting underserved communities for temporary and permanent employment opportunities. Many employers already recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions and women’s colleges. Consider building a relationship with Tribal Colleges and Universities, Native American-serving institutions, community colleges, vocational programs for individuals with disabilities, veterans’ programs and programs assisting formerly incarcerated individuals.
  • Evaluate minimum and preferred qualifications for positions to ensure they are necessary to performance of the job. For example, can certain skills be learned on the job? Reconsider whether multiple years of experience is necessary for certain positions.
  • Participate in professional development programs to help develop and attract future talent. Think beyond just colleges and professional organizations. Consider partnering with public high schools in disadvantaged communities to create a mentoring program or job-related training opportunities for students.

The key is to think differently. Reimagine recruiting strategies, opportunities for on-the-job training and professional development opportunities.

Implement a DEIA Strategic Plan

What gets measured gets done. Identify short-term and long-term goals. Here, “goals” means not only representation benchmarks but a strategic plan for advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the workplace. The plans should include a detailed description of the program, and should identify the desired outcomes, name the person(s) responsible for leading the effort and establish a timeline for implementation and benchmarks for measuring success.

Periodic Training for All Managers and Employees

Diversity training is a critical component of any DEIA initiative. Training should focus on the company’s values, overcoming unconscious biases, the value diversity brings to the workplace and how to build and sustain an inclusive environment.

Ultimately, there is no DEIA without pay equity. The “E” in DEIA is about equity in all aspects of employment, including pay equity. Yet, much of the discussion around DEIA focuses on equal access to opportunities for employment and advancement.

Pay equity is critical to creating and maintaining an equitable and inclusive workplace. All advancements in diversity will be for nothing if diverse talent leaves because they are not being paid fairly.

Biden’s executive order is easy for private-sector employers to overlook. Federal employment practices are uniquely different from the private sector in many ways. But there are some important similarities. In both sectors, success depends largely on attracting and retaining the most qualified talent.

Regardless of the employer, employees are looking for more than a paycheck. They want to work where they are respected, their contributions are recognized and valued, and their opinions matter. And they are willing to change jobs to find what they want.

While there are certainly elements of the federal-sector plan that simply do not apply to private employers, there are certainly some helpful nuggets — particularly for those employers just starting their DEIA journey. 

Related WorldatWork Resources
Making a Business Case for DEI Amid Concerns of Legal Challenges
Shifting the Workplace to Human-Centered Leadership
Zoom Asking Some Employees Back to the Office
Related WorldatWork Courses
Committing to Pay Equity
Performing a Pay Equity Analysis
Pay Equity Course Series
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