The Department of Defense is firmly committed to developing and sustaining a culture and fostering an environment where diversity is valued and leveraged, all employees are treated with dignity and respect, and have equal access to opportunity. Moreover, our workforce should be reflective of society as a whole. To that end, the pursuit of diversity in the workforce can best be advanced by a combination of commitment from top management coupled with a diligent desire from the remaining workforce to harness the strengths of our individual differences. Practicing inclusive management creates a high performing work environment where all employees are optimal contributors to the mission objectives which are directly linked to the strategic plan.
The Secretary of Defense has declared a critical agency need to “get much more energy into achieving diversity at senior levels.” The Defense Human Resources Board (DHRB) is charged with overseeing the “way forward” to improving the diversity of both the Senior Executive Service (SES) and the General Officer/Flag Officer (GO/FO) Corps.
The DHRB formed the Diversity Working Group (DWG) to analyze the situation, exchange ideas on improvement, share creative strategies, generate ideas to jumpstart the process, and get senior leadership to speak out on this matter. The DWG has held several meetings on this initiative with representatives from the Services and Washington Headquarters Services (WHS). Dr. David Chu, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness, serves as the Chair of the DHRB.
Managing diversity is defined as planning and implementing organizational systems and practices to manage people so that the potential advantages of diversity are maximized, while its potential disadvantages are minimized.
Potential disadvantages of diversity are minimized through the tenets of equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative employment. EEO refers to the laws and governing principles that prohibit discrimination on the bases of gender, color, race, religion, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, and reprisal. Agencies have an ongoing obligation to eliminate barriers that impede free and open competition in the workplace and prevent individuals of any racial or national origin group or sex from realizing their full potential.
Affirmative employment is the second tenet that minimizes potential disadvantages of diversity. It emphasizes the philosophy of hiring and maintaining a workforce that is representative of the overall population. Responsibilities of affirmative employment include collecting and analyzing data on the agency’s employment activities and accomplishments. Defense agencies and organizations are encouraged to periodically review their demographic profiles. A statistical snapshot may be useful as an initial diagnostic tool, but conclusions concerning the existence of workplace barriers cannot be drawn from simple numerical assessments. This leads us to the third important tenet of diversity.
With a diverse workforce an ever-improving reality through affirmative employment, agencies must then focus on leveraging diversity. This means embracing different perspectives and frames of reference to maximize teamwork, quality, and efficiency.
In order for the Federal government to compete in today’s diverse society, it must embrace and include all three tenets of diversity as a whole. EEO, affirmative employment, and leveraging are critical elements of a healthy diverse organization.
How do agencies leverage diversity and maximize its potential advantages? One way is by developing multicultural awareness, knowledge and skills. This development should take place at an individual and organizational level. On a personal level, you may wish to consider the following questions:
After a self-examination on the impact of culture in your life, it is important to analyze your personal impact within the organization. How do your attitudes and behaviors impact others? Do you have assumptions about other diverse groups that impact successful interaction and communication? In what ways can you continue to learn about your own culture and the culture of others around you?
Cultures vary widely on a number of variables. For example, there are differences in who has more importance: the individual or the group. There are also differences in how power imbalances affect interpersonal dealings. This can be directly applied to organizations and performance management. Some cultures support individual performance and therefore reward personal achievements. Other cultures place more emphasis on group accomplishments by viewing (and rewarding) the group as a whole rather than individual team members.
Knowledge about people from different cultures is crucial, but try to avoid stereotyping. Common knowledge about cultures is important, but not all people from the same culture are identical. Keep in mind there are always intra-cultural and individual differences. Over-generalizing about cultural norms is an unwise practice.
Hopefully you will be able to spend more time thinking about the impact of culture in your life and how it affects others around you. If you supervise, manage, or lead, it is important to apply multicultural awareness, knowledge and skills to the organization and agency.
Learn to what extent diversity is incorporated and valued within your organization. Understand the impact of differences on your mission, both positive and negative. Are there particular viewpoints that either promote or prevent selection, retention, and development of diverse individuals? Periodically review demographic profiles of the organization, including recruitment, performance awards and promotion data at entry, mid, and senior levels. What barriers exist that prevent the diverse pipeline of mid-career minorities and women from achieving the ranks of senior leadership?
To reiterate, however, statistical data does not tell the whole story. It is incumbent upon agency leadership to communicate specific examples of how diversity has proven to be a strategic business advantage.
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