Mike is always asking about the big picture. So I developed my own vision, before looking at the “official” ones. I’d like to hear what you think about it. Because I suspect we agree on the vision, but not the tactics.
What are we looking for in diversity?
I guess what I am looking for are experiences of a Forest Service that looks like America. If I go to a campground or a public meeting, or a meeting of Research executives, there should be faces that look like the variety of ethnic groups and genders, that live in the country. Within the agency, the culture should be welcoming of all kinds of diversity- in sexual orientation, religion or not-religion, food preferences. You might hear as much about the latest play in town in casual conversation, as say, football or elk-hunting.(OK, well that’s a bit over the top, perhaps). People would not make judgments about people based on their previous chairs (e.g., if you never worked on a ranger district you can never really understand the Forest Service). People would be very careful when determining that someone just “doesn’t fit” in a job, that the person doesn’t actually have a point of view that is different and important to hear. So my views are right-brain and holistic and difficult to understand and achieve numerically.
Here is what the OPM Director thinks:
When we draw on the wisdom of a workforce that reflects the population we serve, we are better able to understand and meet the needs of our customers-the American people. Government-wide, we have made important progress toward hiring a workforce that truly reflects America’s diversity, and we will continue to pursue that goal. But merely hiring a diverse workforce is not enough.
We must make our workplaces more inclusive as well.
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.
And diversity and inclusion from this document (with the mind-numbing title of “Guidance for Agency-Specific Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plans”).
Definitions of “Diversity” and “Inclusion”
Throughout this document, we define workforce diversity as a collection of individual attributes that together help agencies pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include, but are not limited to, characteristics such as national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. The concept also encompasses differences among people concerning where they are from and where they have lived and their differences of thought and life experiences.1
We define inclusion as a culture that connects each employee to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential.
It actually sounds pretty similar to my vision, doesn’t it (without the showtunes)? Like harmonies between nature and humans ( a la the NEPA statute), though, the devil seems to be either in the details or the tactics to get to the vision.
So let’s imagine that you’re a district ranger and you want to hire someone outside the FS. First of all, you can’t tell if they are in a diverse groups or not (except if they are women). There is a box, that people might check, but that part of the form doesn’t regularly get forwarded from Albuquerque (or that was the last I remember, I hope this part has been fixed). So if someone’s name is Villanueva, they could be Hispanic… or if they’re a woman, they could have had the maiden name of Mary Flanagan and married Jane Villanueva (in some states..) .. leading to a different impression of ethnicity. You could check what town they’re from, what high school they went to and make inferences.. you could see if they put belonging to the Asian American Club in their list of activities..but you really have no clue.
Now why would people not check the box? I have been told that the forms are not the easiest to figure out for anyone, including current employees. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were glitches of various kinds on the computer between them entering the check and it being produced in a report. Then some people don’t want to be thought of as a number on someone’s list of people to get. None of these possibilities help the District Ranger meet her boss’s expectations. Of course, there are numbers you are supposed to meet, but because it is not cool to talk about them, no one knows what they are (well, some people have told me that there are secret documents, but.. is this too weird or what?).
When I first understood this, it reminded me of the experiment where the rats pressed a lever and they randomly got a pellet or an electric shock. It can’t be good management.
It’s like you were assigned to breed cattle for milk production, but you weren’t allowed to see the milk production figures. I think we would all recognize that situation as pretty ridiculous, and you would turn down the job if offered.
One of the young leaders at the Retiree Rendezvous was asked why he stayed with the Forest Service- his answer was more or less that there was nowhere else to go with his degree. Let’s see, pellet, shock, can’t escape cage…(this fellow really had a positive attitude, thank heavens for young people!).
One of my associates pointed out the below ethnic delineations of OPM. Like so many variables that are essentially continuous, drawing lines at any spot can be difficult and somewhat meaningless.
Below are a couple of my “not-favorites” from USA Jobs.
Hispanic. A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish cultures or origins. Does not include people of Portuguese culture or origin.
So if you are from Portugal, you are not-diverse. If you are from Spain you are.
If you are from Brazil, you are not-diverse. If you are from Venezuela, you are.
White, not of Hispanic origin. A person having origins in any of the original people of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East. Does not include people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish cultures or origins (see Hispanic). Also includes people not included in other categories.
If we had other “whites” and no people who originated in the Middle East, Iraq or Iran, Morocco or Egypt, would we be “diverse? or not” It’s all very puzzling. Also, “people not included in other categories” are “white” so if you read the definition of American Indian or Alaska Native here literally:
A person having origins in any of the original people of North America, and who maintains cultural identification through community recognition or tribal affiliation. (This code must not be used for employees in Puerto Rico.)
You would think, then, that a South American with origins in the original people of South America must be “white” as they are “not included in other categories.” It’s all kind of bizarre.
And a further problem is that when you use these distinctions to give people preferential treatment, there might be a tendency to make claims that aren’t accurate, because (I hope I’m not shocking anyone here) not everyone is honest on this planet.
And even if the family history, of say, a black, Hispanic or Native American ancestor somewhere up the tree is “true”; if you did DNA tests, you might find out that somewhere along the lines the assumed grandfather is not the biological grandfather. And really if the goal is for people to “look” diverse, then even thinking about whether someone is 1/16 something or not, when they have no appearance or cultural ties, does not really meet that goal. So perhaps our incentives and our goals are not lined up.
We do have people who appear to be white, claim they are not, but we can’t actually check. Meanwhile people who appear to be in diverse groups, and have the cultural background that we might want in terms of diversity, if they don’t check the box, don’t “count.” And counting is important, in addition to the opportunities of an individual, because some poor schmuck and his boss and his boss’s boss (and so on for I guess about five levels or so) or are going to be rated or be “berated” on how they are doing.
Now, the story that I heard was that the Secretary made a serious mistake (we read about it in the paper) and is being punished for his sins until he “moves the dial”( actually I heard a related expression, but can’t remember it right now). The way this story goes, since the Department has mostly FS employees, then the FS must make drastic changes to show the Sec’s contrition.
Like I said, I don’t know if that story is correct, but colleagues at the Interior agencies have goals also, but not the intensity of the FS. Which is data which a) might support the hypothesis and b) makes me wonder whether there are actually any advantages for the FS in being the “main target” of USDA instead of “one of the crowd” in Interior.
I have gone on too long for a blog post, but I do have some ideas for how to align the vision and the incentive structure, which I will share in another post. The first idea, that we’ve already started, is to open this discussion to get others’ perspectives.