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Building On Biden’s EO on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Research offers recommendations for improving transparency, access, recruitment and accountability.

President Biden’s Executive Order on diversity, equity, inclusion could have a profound effect on the federal workforce. But it's a little late. Prominent companies were on this bandwagon several years ago. Today companies like Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson link achieving diversity goals to year-end executive bonuses.  

In 2015, McKinsey undertook a research project, “Diversity Matters,” analyzing the relationship between the level of diversity (defined as a greater share of women and a more mixed ethnic/racial composition in the leadership of large companies) and financial performance. The research is based on financial data and leadership demographics compiled “from hundreds of organizations and thousands of executives.” They found companies in the top quartile of gender diversity and those in the top quartile of racial/ethnic diversity were more likely to generate financial returns above their national industry median. 

Sandra Peterson, Johnson & Johnson’s Group Worldwide Chairman, told the Wall Street Journal, “Until you actually put metrics on these things … you don’t get the right outcomes.”

A core issue is creating a psychologically safe environment where employees know they are expected to contribute, and they can make mistakes without fear of repercussions. From a practical perspective, limiting the pool of talent in filling vacancies ignores roughly half of the nation’s workforce. It also affects the way women and minorities view government.

These recommendations were edited from a statement written by “a group of employees diverse in race, gender, and political leaning from across the think tank community.” It provides recommendations and tools for leaders to actively integrate people of color and women at all levels, and in all organizations.

Action Area One: Transparency

  • Publicly publish an institutional annual report on workforce and board makeup by race and gender.
  • Use data to identify gaps. Statistics on workforce makeup allow institutions to identify where they can do better, set benchmarks to do so, and evaluate progress. 
  • Disaggregate workforce data by job function and leadership level. Increasing diversity is largely ineffective if people of color are not better represented in positions with decision-making capacity.
  • Publish data publicly. Transparency not only helps to hold us accountable, but allows women and people of color to factor inclusivity into their employment decisions. 

Action Area Two: Access

  • Establish paid internships. Pay interns a living wage or above. Candidates who do not come from wealthy backgrounds cannot access internship opportunities without a source of income.
  • Offer virtual internships. Virtual internships can increase access for students who would otherwise be unable to travel to and live in another city.
  • Create early and heightened visibility within communities of color. 
  • Offer opportunities for high school students. 
  • Partner with existing mentor-mentee programs and surrounding institutions of higher education. 

Action Area Three: Recruitment and Retention

  • ​Adopt a rule similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL and the Mansfield Rule in law firms to broaden the pool of candidates considered for open positions.  
  • Require at least three applicants of color be considered and interviewed for every open staff position. This increases the organization’s exposure to talent.
  • Ensure this standard is applied equally at all levels. At least three people of color should be interviewed for senior level positions as well. 
  • Expand current recruitment networks, including recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and widely publicize internship and employment opportunities. 
  • Ensure that every job position, even at the most senior levels, is advertised publicly.  
  • Assess possible bias in the recruitment process to insure equitable consideration of applicants.
  • Mandate name-blind recruitment by removing names when reviewing resumes and cover letters.
  • Hire an HR specialist specifically dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion.. 
  • Offer fully competitive salaries to attract graduates who need to pay off student debt. Below market salaries disproportionately eliminate economically advantaged applicants.
  • Raise starting salaries for junior staff across the board. Lack of mobility, low pay, and unclear paths to advancement create incentives to leave and take higher-paying positions in other sectors. 
  • Institutionalize transparent paths to promotion. Opportunities for advancement must have transparent prerequisites to ensure staff are considered fairly and equally for new positions.
  • Include tuition reimbursement as a benefit for all staff. Nonprofit institutions can legally offer up to $5,250 per employee, tax free, for tuition reimbursement. 
  • Correct the possible effects of implicit bias on compensation and titles of current employees.
  • Review current titles and salary levels to ensure fairness. Upon discovering any discrepancies or inequities, adjust compensation and titles accordingly.

Action Area Four: Individual Accountability & Action

  • Do not assume that training will help dismantle racism within systems. Research shows that training to eliminate bias can be detrimental to the advancement of people of color and women. 
  • If training to eliminate discrimination and bias is provided, keep track of training type and analyze potential impacts in terms of hiring and other institutional and behavioral changes. 
  • Establish an employee-led group (Employee Resource Group, or ERG) on diversity and inclusion. ERGs are volunteer, employee-led programs to provide a forum for employees to discuss issues. 
  • Solicit feedback on diversity initiatives through an ERG. Employees must have a defined avenue through which to address concerns and give feedback.
  • Ensure every diversity ERG has an executive sponsor. Executive sponsors must be senior members of the organization who support the goals of the group, and act as a channel to leaders.  
  • Ensure every diversity ERG is funded. Resources, training, speakers, events, and other efforts require funding. To be successful, organizations should invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  • Develop a more open culture better equipped to encourage constructive criticism and feedback on diversity initiatives.
  • Evaluate managers on what they have done to promote diversity and inclusion with their staff. 
  • Institutionalize actionable commitments to diversity and inclusion as part of performance reviews and promotions. Managers should have demonstrated commitments to inclusion. 
  • Ensure that women and people of color are represented on panels, at events, and in publications.
  • Strongly encourage that committees and panels include women, people of color, and younger professionals as presenters. All events should include a diverse group of participants.
  • Although not listed in the statement, a new practice in industry is linking executive incentive awards in part to the achievement of DEI performance goals.