Ask the White Guy: What Is Wrong With the Federal Government

Question:


Why doesn’t DiversityInc extend an invitation to the federal government agencies to participate in the DiversityInc Top 50 Survey as corporate America does in sharing best practices for diversity management It is much needed and I am sure that if they did, it might ring the alarm and move some mountains.

Answer:

We used to have a DiversityInc Top Federal Agency competition, but there is a consortium of Equal Employment Opportunity officers who decided to not participate, so after a few years of struggling along to get participation, I dropped the effort.

Of the dozen or so agencies that did participate (yours was not among them), results were not on par with the corporate sector. In my opinion, other than in the U.S. Navy (and currently, the U.S. Marine Corps), there is little leadership involvement. Read Retired Admiral Mike Mullen: Trust, Candor & Reliability for more on diversity in the military.

I don’t know how many times I spoke at federal agencies where some under-assistant-deputy-secretary-something-or-other introduced me and then ducked out so he didn’t have to hear my talk (and it was almost always a “he” and I could feel their disdain for the dog-and-pony-show diversity events that stood in for actually doing something).

I’ve observed that diversity management for federal agencies is much about face and little to do with actual work, accomplishments or accountability. Management is squirreled away in the EEO offices, where the leaders of EEO have very little interaction with people who actually run things and there is nothing more than compliance work going on.There is no “CEO commitment” among the majority of agency heads.

Old-School & Overwhelmed

In my observation, President Obama’s executive order “Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce” has resulted in no substantial change in behavior. I get the impression that most of the old-school federal executives are waiting to see what the presidential election will bring.

I must have had hundreds of visits to dozens of agencies over the years; I’ve been struck by the awkward and stilted manner that people interact with senior management. There’s a lot of pointy hierarchy and obsessive, starchy regimentation. I’ve never seen those attributes connected to productivity and, indeed, I have the impression that if half of the federal workforce quit tomorrow, most Americans wouldn’t know the difference.

I had to laugh out loud when I read in The New York Times about the investigation into Google causing “one of the biggest violations of data protection laws that we had ever seen.” Michael Copps, who last year ended a 10-year term as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, said regulators were overwhelmed. “The industry has gotten more powerful, the technology has gotten more pervasive and it’s getting to the point where we can’t do too much about it,” he said.

Here’s the best part: Aside from admitting that his agency couldn’t keep up, the fine for the “biggest violations of data protection” was (hold on to your hats) $25,000.With that stunning level of organizational accomplishment, do you think someone’s going to care about diversity

Innovation From Diversity Management

In a meeting in Washington, I heard the best explanation for why things are the way they are: A very wise man posited that you can’t help but avoid hiring 2 percent incompetent people every year. But if you don’t fire anyone, 2 percent becomes 4 percent, which becomes 6 percentand soon, the incompetents are running the roost and figuring out how to squeeze out the competent people.

I won’t out you or the agency you work for, but it’s been in the news quite a bit lately; it has fallen behind the times and is now a drag on the budget. This is a management issue, and diversity management falls into that category.

Your “alarm bell” idea isn’t going to “move any mountains” until the first “mountain” gets scooped into bags marked “fertilizer” and trucked away by someone in authority. There is no perceived reason for change, so no change is happening.

There is no such thing as a trickle-up diversity effort. Your wistful desire for change at your agency is not matched by a perceived business reason or accountability to improve effectiveness via diversity management, which would have all sorts of benefits.

These include organizational effectiveness, higher-quality recruiting, improved productivity, meritocratic promotions, improved supply chain, multi-culturally competent interaction with citizens (marketing and sales of your agency’s services), nuanced understanding of problems and opportunities, etc.

Watch the video below to learn how cultural competency through diversity management helped Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, No. 13 in The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, save millions in marketing costs. The company, along with nine others, presented innovations at our Innovation Fest! diversity event.

All those things that corporations know are a competitive edge lead to innovation, a subject which around which your agency has consistently lagged.

Good luck to you.

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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