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January 25th, 2022

Federal DEIA Strategy: Questions and Answers About the U.S. Government-Wide DEIA Plan in the Federal Workforce

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BiasSync

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In November, the White House announced its ambitious diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiative, following an executive order issued in June (EO 14035). Many noted the addition of accessibility into the mix, which expands the nation’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts to also include consideration toward everyone along the continuum of human ability. Since the Executive Order was published, the government-wide DEIA plan has raised a number of questions. Here we answer some of those and offer information on how to get started and find resources that can help.

Q: What are the essential guidelines steering the federal DEIA strategy?

A: The federal DEIA initiative is founded on five principles:

  1. Use data and evidence-based decision-making, including a close look at demographic data and “qualitative and quantitative examination of organizational practices, policies, and programs.”
  2. Focus on continuous improvement aimed at “achieving systemic, ongoing improvement of processes and outcomes, instead of cyclical or one-time achievements.”
  3. Adopt a collaborative whole-agency mandate while engaging partners, making the initiative “a priority that must be integrated into and across agency functions and embedded into agency culture.”
  4. Prioritize accountability and sustainability, “ensuring that … DEIA is integrated into the decision-making, the governance structure, the core mission, and the goals of the agency.”
  5. Understand the perspectives of the workforce and the customers.

A data-driven approach, the White House said, “embeds accountability and transparency” into the federal DEIA process. The order also requires agencies to submit quarterly reviews to evaluate findings on a regular basis. These findings should take a 360-degree assessment of each phase of employment practices—from sourcing and outreach to recruitment, hiring, development and retention. Additionally, the federal DEIA plan says, “a data-driven approach allows agencies to assess activities and outcomes, and then use proven practices, programs, and policies to advance DEIA.”

“Use of data and evidence-based decision-making has become a major component of the federal DEIA plan.”

Q: Does the federal DEIA strategy lay out specific steps for agencies to develop and sustain DEIA initiatives?

A: The federal DEIA plan includes a roadmap for each of the four areas comprising DEIA.

  • The Diversity Roadmap calls for an open and fair employment process consistent with the federal government’s merit systems principles. Among other factors, this means creating an inclusive workforce by finding talent through various channels, offering support to new recruits, mitigating bias and overcoming obstacles in job opportunities.
  • Similarly, the Equity Roadmap calls for mitigating bias and generally ensuring all employees “have equal opportunities to advance in their careers and grow as leaders.”
  • The federal DEIA strategy’s Inclusion Roadmap sets out an agenda to ensure employees have the support to learn, develop and thrive in a non-discriminatory environment.
  • And the Accessibility Roadmap guides agencies toward ensuring fair access to all—including people with disabilities—to government “facilities, technology, programs, and services.”

“Integrating a commitment to DEIA across the agency may require leaders to rethink how they do business, including working across traditional siloes, identifying and collaborating with new partners, challenging long-held assumptions and processes, and demonstrating a willingness to try new approaches.”

Q: Is there a blueprint or other guidance on how to implement a DEIA strategy?

A: Three cornerstone concepts are recommended as part of the general guidance:

  1. Building foundational capacity beyond just taking steps to simply comply with regulations or check off boxes.
  2. Embedding the DEIA initiative into an agency’s culture and mission—above and beyond what’s required by law.
  3. Evaluating progress on a continuous basis, and tweaking the plan as necessary, serving as a model for other organizations to follow.

For agencies where more specific, actionable guidance is needed, a comprehensive instruction manual such as BiasSync’s Five-Stage Inclusivity Roadmap™ can be effective.

“Government must design and deliver services with a constant focus on the lived experiences of the people it serves.”

Q: Does the Government-wide DEIA Plan include measures to address workplace harassment?

A: The Government-wide Strategic Plan to Advance Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce explicitly addresses harassment in detail. Describing harassment—including sexual harassment, as part of a continuum of harm that is rooted in personal biases and individual perspectives, many of which can occur at the subconscious level. The federal DEIA plan lays out a three-part framework for preventing harassment, including self-assessment, plan implementation and regular data gathering, among other evidence-based policies.

For agencies seeking viable options, BiasSync’s Baseline software provides scalable, out-of-the-box implementation that addresses key behavior drivers - such as unconscious bias - at the root source. Through BiasSync’s data-driven approach, agencies can mitigate the impact of bias using scientifically-validated self-assessment tools and compelling educational content developed by leading social psychologists and adult learning experts. Agencies using BiasSync Baseline also receive dashboard analytics - including BiasSync’s proprietary SyncScore™- to easily identify areas of concern, track progress, and meet federal requirements.

“Government must also work to deliver services more equitably and effectively, including for those who belong to underserved communities and doing so requires understanding the inextricable link between the employee experience and the American public’s experience.”

Q: How else does the new federal strategic DEIA differ from previous initiatives?

A: In addition to requiring a data-driven approach, another new element within the most recent federal strategic DEIA plan is the inclusion and coverage of individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+. According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, federal agencies are now specifically required to “improve equitable access to employee services and health/medical benefits, update employee identification standards, expand availability of non-binary facilities, and mitigate barriers to security clearance.”

“Agencies are now specifically required to ‘improve equitable access to employee services and health/medical benefits, update employee identification standards, expand availability of non-binary facilities, and mitigate barriers to security clearance.’”

Q: What are the next steps?

A: The immediate next step is for federal agencies to each develop their own strategic plan that will address how they plan to advance DEIA within their workforce and address any potential barriers to equal employment opportunities. The plan is due March 23, 2022 and a number of agencies are reaching out for external support to help them meet this aggressive deadline.

Q: Are there any resources to help agencies comply with Executive Order (EO 14035)?

A: BiasSync, a science-based solution designed to help organizations more effectively assess and manage unconscious bias in the work environment, can help. BiasSync is specifically equipped to assist agencies in their DEIA efforts, particularly as they are related to the Executive Order (EO 14035) with tools that:

  • Use data and evidence-based decision making
  • Use data to assess progress, evaluate root causes, and build evidence on key DEIA initiatives
  • Obtain qualitative workforce data regularly for implementation and feedback
  • Use feedback and data to analyze the results of change and determine whether it made a difference
  • Use sources beyond those focused solely on recruitment to extend the reach of government in sustaining relationships with underserved communities
  • Advance equity for LGBTQI+ employees by, among other things, expanding the usage of gender markers and pronouns that respect transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary employees, and working to create a more inclusive workplace
  • Review policies and procedures (e.g., assessment tests, vacancy announcements, eligibility criteria, sustainability requirements, etc.) to identify and address potential barriers to full participation in the workplace
  • Adopt an approach that maps and assesses the employee experience (employee journey mapping)
  • Expand availability of DEIA trainings so that federal employees are supported and encouraged to promote respectful, safe, and inclusive workplaces and have increased understanding of implicit and unconscious biases
  • Design a “Voice of the Employee” program with a sophisticated, mixed-method approach to collecting employee feedback
  • Ensure effective, ongoing, and interactive training on workplace harassment, antibullying, anti-discrimination, and implicit and unconscious bias

Contact us now to learn how BiasSync can help you meet the requirements of EO 14035, https://biassync.com/contact-us.

Not just diversity. Inclusion.

Diversity is not just about numbers. It’s about people’s experiences in the workplace. If you’re ready to understand how bias impacts your company—with data to make effective changes, contact us now.