Building a Culture of Inclusion and Diversity Today to Innovate and Transform Government Tomorrow

“What is the best way to strengthen any organization?” It’s an all-too-often heard question these days. Is it through IT modernization? Through acquisition reform? Workforce retraining or right-sizing? While each of these may be important parts to the future of an organization, they are not foundational. The one vital component that is consistent across all organizations and is key to ensuring a foundational future based on the most innovative and accurate ideas is the richness and diversity of its workforce. To harvest the ideas that will transform tomorrow, it is vital that every organization cultivates a culture of inclusion where different ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives can create business and operational value. As described by in The Office of Personnel Management website[i],

“America was founded on the ideal that from many, we are one, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is the rationale for inclusion. To gain the maximum benefit from our increasingly diverse workforce, we must make every employee feel welcome and motivated to work their hardest and rise through the ranks. We must affirm that we work better together because of our differences, not despite them.”

Understanding Diversity for Future Success

Diversity is a fundamental strength of our country and must be understood to be a strategic enabler for future success. In other words, it is vital for America’s tomorrow that our leaders understand the business case for diversity. As with most things in modern life, the American workforce is rapidly changing.

  • Millennials have surpassed Generation X and Baby Boomers to become the largest share of the American workforce. More than one in three American workers today are Millennials.[ii]
  • Currently, people of color make up 22% of the labor force, and that is only increasing.[iii] By mid-century, there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the country.[iv]
  • The number of women in the workforce is growing and currently stands at 57% of the total workforce.[v]
  • Although comprehensive numbers are not yet available, LGBTQ employees comprise a notable proportion of the workforce.[vi]
  • Americans with disabilities contribute to all facets of an organization but are largely underrepresented in the workforce.[vii]
  • In many scientific and technology industries, there has been an increase of individuals to the US workforce who are born and/or educated outside of the US.[viii]

When organizations embrace a culture of diversity and inclusion, an organization can become more successful through increased innovation and creativity, greater productivity, less absenteeism, and improved customer satisfaction.

Five Tips for Government Leaders to Enable Success

Government leaders are faced with increasing pressure to better meet their agencies’ missions. By understanding the business case for diversity and by embracing, understanding, and valuing people’s uniqueness, a welcoming culture where every person brings something to the table will permeate through the organization. This can allow for innovations to develop that will transform tomorrow.

Below are five tips for government leaders to reap the inherent advantages that diversity brings.

  1. Understand that diversity is not limited to the categories found on most questionnaires. Diversity is broader than race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and disability. True strength is found in the broad range of personality types, education, work experience, thinking styles, sense of humor, accent, tenure, and more.
  2. Become aware of your exclusive behaviors. Our brain is wired to look for safety and similarities. Our mental cultural schemas may lead us to assume someone’s ability without checking, consistently mispronounce someone’s name, or interrupting a person mid-sentence. These exclusive behaviors when displayed by leaders are especially noticed. If not changed, the behaviors can cause discord among the workforce. Plus, to self-identify these behaviors is not natural for most people.
    Therefore, it is often beneficial to leverage coaching to help people recognize when they are making nonproductive assumptions about colleagues that cause feelings of exclusion. Through coaching, individuals become self-aware and can turn exclusive thinking into inclusive behaviors.
  3. Become a champion for diversity and inclusion. Draw upon personal experiences of feeling excluded to create an inclusion story that will guide your organization’s commitment to creating an environment that welcomes diversity.
  4. Develop inclusion skills as though they were problem solving or strategic planning skills—because they are. Being inclusive is not easy. Unconscious biases can play a critical role in how we treat others and how we make decisions. Training that incorporates scenario-based activities can provide the leader with the knowledge, tools, and hands-on experience to apply inclusive leadership behaviors and foster an inclusive environment. It is also important to recognize that not everyone in your organization may view diversity and inclusion as a strength so it is important to practice the skill of inclusion by including those who may resist in the conversation.
  5. Challenge unconscious bias in decision making. To ensure unconscious biases do not enter decision making, set clear and objective criteria for decisions that impact an organization—from hiring decisions, to resource allocations, to future direction. Throughout the decision-making process, identify assumptions that may be confused with fact. When leaders can differentiate a bias-driven assumption from a fact, they help themselves and others to make fair and objective decisions.
    This self-awareness often does not come naturally, and coaching can help leaders identify and eliminate biasing assumptions and improve their ability to make objective fact-based decisions.

Federal leaders face a rapidly changing environment. However, when the combined wisdom of the workforce is leveraged, the organization is significantly strengthened by enabling individuals and teams to succeed. “We must affirm that we work better together because of our differences, not despite them.”

Written by Sandra Tibbs and Ariann Harrison

[i] “Diversity and Inclusion (Policy Section).” U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Web. 07 May 2019.

[ii] Fry, Richard. “Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force.” Pew Research Center. Web. 11 Apr. 2018.

[iii] “Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2017.” U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics. Web. Aug. 2018.

[iv] By Burns et al. “The State of Diversity in Today’s Workforce.” Center for American Progress. Web. 12 Jul. 2012.

[v] “2016 Current Population Survey and 2024 Employment Projections: Labor Force Participation Rates, 2016 Annual Averages.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web. 07 May 2019.

[vi] Newport, Frank. “In U.S., Estimate of LGBT Population Rises to 4.5% (Section 4).” Gallup, Inc. Web. 22 May 2019.

[vii] “Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary (Economic News Release).” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web. 26 Feb. 2019.

[viii] “Foreign-born STEM Workers in the United States (Fact Sheet).” American Immigration Council. Web. 14 Jun. 2017.