Factoring In Diversity

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Almost two years ago, President Obama issued an executive order establishing a governmentwide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce. “Our nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all,” the order reads. “We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.”

So what is the federal government’s record on diversity and inclusion in the eyes of its employees? Are there groups that are experiencing the workplace differently than others? The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and consulting firm Deloitte set out to answer these questions in the latest “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” analysis of data collected in a 2012 employee survey.

At the broadest level, the government is doing a laudable job on these issues, with a few points of concern. There was parity between men and women in overall satisfaction and commitment to their jobs and organizations, with men scoring 64.3 and women scoring 63.9 out of 100. Women, however, expressed lower satisfaction by roughly four points in the areas of empowerment and fairness—an issue worth exploring.

Likewise, while there was parity in the satisfaction and commitment scores among white, black, and Hispanic or Latino employees—those groups scored 64.4, 64.9, and 64.4 points, respectively—Native Americans and multiracial employees were less positive, scoring 58.3 and 56.9, respectively. Asian employees expressed the highest satisfaction levels, scoring 68.8.

While it is a positive sign that many ethnic and racial groups are experiencing the workplace similarly, agencies should try to understand the perspectives of multiracial and Native American employees to determine why their satisfaction scores are lower.

The data also highlight another area agencies should explore: Employees with disabilities scored 58 for overall satisfaction, a full 7.2 points less than those without disabilities.

In addition to overall satisfaction and commitment, the analysis also examined employee perspectives on how well agencies convey support for diversity. In the aggregate, employees did not give their agencies particularly high ratings on diversity, with a score of only 55.5 out of 100. White and Asian employees gave the highest ratings, with scores of 60.1 and 61.1, respectively. But many minority groups gave much lower marks. Native American and multiracial employees, in particular, were the least positive about support for diversity, with scores of 48.4 and 51.7.

Employees with disabilities also responded less favorably when asked about diversity issues. A little more than half of employees with disabilities felt their managers worked well with people of different backgrounds and even fewer felt that policies and programs promoted diversity in the workplace. Given the importance of diversity to the Obama administration, there is more work to do.

As revealing as this governmentwide analysis is, there is much more insight to be gained by looking at specific agencies. For example, while the satisfaction and commitment score was similar for men and women across government, women were less satisfied by at least four points at the Labor Department and Army. Women were 13.1 points more satisfied than men at the Federal Election Commission.

Agency leaders should examine the survey data to determine whether there are differences in employee perceptions that can be attributed to gender, race and ethnicity, disability or other factors. If so, agencies need to examine why these employees are not experiencing the workplace the same way as their colleagues and involve them in developing a strategy to build a more inclusive environment.

Lara Shane is vice president for research and communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. 

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