Biden’s chief diversity officer is headed to the private sector
Janice Underwood, who serves as the governmentwide chief diversity officer and as director of the Office of Personnel Management’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility office, will be vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion talent outreach and development at Disney.
After nearly two years leading the federal government’s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion issues, the first governmentwide chief diversity officer, Janice Underwood, will depart for the private sector, joining the Walt Disney Company’s parks division as vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion talent outreach and development.
Underwood was appointed chief diversity officer in May 2022, and simultaneously served as the Office of Personnel Management’s director in the agency’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility. President Biden created the position of governmentwide chief diversity officer as part of his 2021 executive order aimed at improving diversity, equity and inclusion both within the federal workforce and in how federal agencies serve the public.
Disney announced that it had hired Underwood via a post on LinkedIn. Prior to her role in the Biden administration, she was Virginia’s first chief diversity officer, serving under Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
During her time in government, Underwood oversaw the creation and dissemination of the first-ever report analyzing the state of diversity initiatives across the federal government as well as a strategic plan for how to advance governmental diversity initiatives, while the Office of Personnel Management designed a new performance index within the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey focused on diversity-related issues. Last year, in the index’s second year, the government saw a two-point increase from its baseline 2022 score, with 71% of respondents reporting positive perceptions of their agencies’ DEIA efforts.
In December 2022, Underwood told GovExec’s erstwhile podcast, GovExec Daily, that efforts to improve diversity are rooted in a desire to improve mission delivery and customer service.
“Each of those letters [of DEIA] carries a definition and we certainly do not allow those letters to compete against each other,” she said. “But they really work together to operationally define: What does professionalism in the workforce look like? How can we all work together? How can we hire the best, most qualified candidates across all lived experiences and dimensions of diversity, so that we can serve the American people better. The federal government wins on mission is what OPM Director Kiran Ahuja says, but the only way we can do that is if we have a diverse workforce that reflects the diversity of the American people.”
In a statement, Ahuja applauded Underwood’s work over the last two years.
“I want to thank Dr. Underwood for her service as a dedicated champion of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the nation,” Ahuja said. “Thanks to her leadership, federal agencies are better equipped and supported as they advance DEIA and build a workforce that better serves the American people. Employees bring their best to work when they feel supported and empowered, and Dr. Underwood has played a critical role in helping to position the federal government as a leader in DEIA. This work is essential in our ability to recruit, hire and retain the best talent from across the country.”