Commentary

Hire for inclusion, not just diversity

Sampriti Ganguli is managing director of the Corporate Executive Board's government practice.

Executive Order 13583 encourages federal agencies to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce — a laudable goal toward which the government has already made some level of progress.

Although many agencies lap the private sector on diversity metrics, they continue to struggle with making sustainable progress on inclusion strategies. That’s partly because diversity is easier to measure on the surface than inclusion, though perhaps no easier to manage. Agencies can report on their progress over time and the investment in a more diverse workforce is evident, whereas an inclusive workplace is inherently harder to measure.

Yet diversity and inclusion are fundamentally linked. Too often, organizational perceptions and definitions of diversity can be narrowly centered on the needs of diverse employees, when in reality, diversity also requires creating an inclusive culture. The best diversity employers encourage an inclusive environment in which individual differences are respected and valued.

Data from last year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey by the Office of Personnel Management revealed significant room for improvement on creating an inclusive workforce. More than 33 percent of federal employees disagreed with the statement that their supervisors work well with employees of different backgrounds. More troubling, some federal employees question the value of inclusion and diversity initiatives, according to a recent survey conducted by Federal News Radio. More than half of the 900 federal employees surveyed expressed skepticism that the executive order would make a difference in their workplaces, and more than a third called the initiative a political ploy.

This doesn’t mean employees devalue the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Rather, it suggests they have some strong misgivings about how these strategies get implemented.

Part of what agencies need to focus on is why diversity and inclusion continue to be paramount objectives. Beyond just being the right thing to do, diversity and inclusion can result in substantial benefits for individuals and agencies, as revealed by Corporate Executive Board research.

Employees of diverse, inclusive work environments exhibit a 12 percent higher level of discretionary effort. That means they are more willing to put in extra effort to get work done. They also show a 19 percent higher intent to stay with their organization. Inclusive environments also encourage employee collaboration and innovation and introduce diverse perspectives that ultimately lead to better decision-making. In the current budgetary environment in which agencies are being asked to support more complex missions with no funding increases — and, in many cases, with funding decreases — innovative solutions are even more important.

But although many recognize the value in promoting inclusion, few have a detailed road map showing them how to create those environments in their organizations. The Corporate Executive Board has identified several tactics that can promote an inclusive workforce. Two practices in particular have emerged as especially helpful.

First, organizations should incorporate what is called inclusion recruiting and evaluate job candidates based on inclusive values and behaviors by asking them questions that will indicate whether their behavior supports inclusiveness, such as:

  • Have you ever seen any bias against someone from a background that wasn’t typical in your organization? What did you do?
  • How have you handled a situation in which a colleague was not accepting of another’s background, values or experiences?

Second, because executives and supervisors manage what they are measured on, organizations should establish meaningful inclusion indicators using data sources such as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. That way they can track their progress over time and detect whether diversity and inclusion investments are paying dividends.

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Reader comments

Wed, Aug 29, 2012

While I think everyone makes a good point about hiring people with the appropriate skills and background, I think its important to consider that not everyone has the same access to valid educational programs, apprenticeships and pre-workforce training. Perhaps discrepancies in hiring and forced diversity would not become an issue if we spent more money on education. Targeting the problem at the source would increase the talent pool that the government has to choose from, resulting in a more efficient and highly skilled government.

Tue, Aug 28, 2012

Diversity programs, or maybe the metrics used, focus in on the physical, (the old be careful what you measure). Often focusing first racial then cultural diversity. But what is diversity? A competance-based system would focus on the inclusion of personality and how it affects behavior. Why it is not done may be the result of difficulty. Think about which personality types typically tilt toward certain occupations and the integration of introverts and extroverts. Diversity in governmet is just an end-run around affirmative action.

Tue, Aug 28, 2012

Jim S. hits the nail on the head. One of the big problems with government agencies is that for the past 40 years they have been working more and more towards hiring, retaining, and favoring people based on "minority status" rather than competence. Add that to the government and other political groups trying to make the private sector follow the same practice. It is no wonder why our technological and economic standing in the world is slipping when politics starts to trump common sense.

Tue, Aug 28, 2012 JimS

Ms. Ganguli: I read the Federal News Radio study that you reference and, well, I think you are trying to "put lipstick on a pig"(to borrow a phrase). Your analysis skips over the fact that there is a great divide amongst federal employees on the issue of diversity. Those groups that benefit from "diversity hiring practices" are in favor of it. Some of those that don't benefit have argued that competence should trump race. To me, this really boils down to the fundamental problem we have in government today: too many people looking for a government gift, and not enough personal responsibility. If you possess the skills & background to perform a particular job well, you should be considered. If you don't, you shouldn't. Period. Our government needs to get leaner, more efficient and more skilled...especially from an IT perspective. We won't get there by hiring folks based on their family background as opposed to their professional credentials.

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