In a complete one-eighty from the anti-diversity initiative former President Trump issued during his final months in office, President Joe Biden has issued a new executive order tasking the dozens of various departments and agencies within the federal government to each create and submit their own unique plan on how they can increase diversity and inclusion efforts within their workforces. The order is meant to encourage a “direct, comprehensive rethinking” of how DEI efforts can and should operate within each of these agencies.
Erich Wagner of the daily government watchdog site Government Executive has reported that “the order builds on a series of edicts undertaken during the Obama administration, as well as Biden’s own efforts to restore diversity training at federal agencies and crack down on discrimination since he took office in January.”
According to Wagner, the executive order “also charts new territory in how [the government] tries to improve recruitment, retention and professional development of underserved communities, including providing more comprehensive health coverage to LGBTQ+ federal workers, boosting protections for feds with disabilities and pushing agencies to transition from unpaid to paid internships.”
In his executive order, Biden wrote: “As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government must be a model for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, where all employees are treated with dignity and respect. Accordingly, the federal government must strengthen its ability to recruit, hire, develop, promote and retain our nation’s talent and remove barriers to equal opportunity. … The federal government should have a workforce that reflects the diversity of the American people. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible workplaces yield higher-performing organizations.”
Leading the new government diversity push will be attorney, activist, founding director of the nonprofit, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and newly confirmed Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller. The pair will work in close consultation with the White House and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to develop a “government-wide diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility initiative.”
Based on the timeframe laid out in Biden’s executive order, individual agencies will need to evaluate their programs to “eliminate any barriers to success faced by underserved employees” and then develop a plan to address those issues, all within the next 100 days.
“Biden’s order casts a wide net, taking a holistic view of underserved communities who might benefit from a more equitable diversity policy,” Wagner reported. “Included in the order’s scope are people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, parents, caregivers, people who require religious accommodations at work, people with disabilities, first-generation professionals and college students, English language learners, immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, rural residents, veterans and military spouses.”
According to Wagner, “the order [also] encourages agencies to establish chief diversity officers within their organizations and expands federal employees’ access to diversity and inclusion job training programs, subject to guidance from OPM and the EEOC.”
As previous research has shown, finding ways to bolster and improve diversity, particularly within certain government branches, shouldn’t be a problem. The American Federation of Government Employees reported in summer 2020 that 55.4% of Veterans Affairs Department employees felt racism was a “serious problem” within their agency, with more than 75% of those surveyed saying they regularly experienced “racially charged actions” within their workplace.
“Biden’s order also takes aim at a problem that has persisted despite efforts over the last decade to improve the diversity of federal payrolls: the failure of agencies to promote women and people of color into positions of leadership, despite gains at lower levels of the organizational chart,” Wagner reported.
“In addition to ordering agencies to develop new recruitment partnerships with historically black colleges and universities and other post-secondary institutions that teach underserved communities, the edict directs agencies to improve the collection of demographic data about which federal employees can access agencies’ professional development and advancement opportunities,” he said.
In a statement, Ahuja said additional important provisions within the executive order are all modeled after many of the best practices utilized by leading companies within the private sector, such as providing “support services” to transgender, gender nonconforming and nonbinary employees should they wish to transition “legally, medically or socially,” or providing enhanced resources and technologies for the disabled.
“This executive order will help in our efforts to recruit, retain and honor the most effective workforce, one in which federal employees from all backgrounds and walks of life feel included and valued,” Ahuja said. “These types of efforts are best practices for major employers across sectors seeking to stay competitive in the marketplace, and OPM is looking forward to working with all of our federal partners as we better position our workforce for the future.”