For Federal Agencies, DEI Begins With Actionable Steps

August 17, 2021 | Diversity & Inclusion | 5 min read

As a woman of color in the tech space, I’ve been on my own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) journey for about 10 years now — both as a member of marginalized groups and as an ally for others. Nowadays, when I'm invited to speak professionally, I introduce myself like this:

"My name is Rashim Mogha, GM for leadership and Business Vertical at Skillsoft. My pronouns are she and her."

I share this with you to illustrate that enabling DEI is an ever-evolving journey. Until recently, it wouldn't have occurred to me to state my personal pronouns. But, as I continue to learn about allyship, I have realized that when cisgender people include pronouns, it normalizes the practice for everyone and protects trans and gender diverse people when they include theirs. It creates a safe environment for a gender-diverse workforce to bring their authentic selves to work.

Now, while the inclusion of personal pronouns may seem like a small step, it's an "actionable" one — i.e., one that can be immediately applied with a clear goal in sight. Most importantly, the practice of including personal pronouns is simply part of an exciting sea change: the public and private sectors' embrace of new DEI initiatives. And that's particularly important for federal government leaders and employees — owing to what many call the current administration's welcome "Big Difference": their renewed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all.

On June 25, 2021, The White House announced the Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. In this groundbreaking order, President Biden states: "This order establishes that it is the policy of my Administration to cultivate a workforce that draws from the full diversity of the Nation. 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."

Of course, meaningful change doesn't happen overnight. Whether in the government or the private sector; we are all human, and we all make mistakes. And we have centuries-old biases and outdated behaviors — including unfair hiring and advancement practices — to transform. It's important to remember that real, sustainable change requires courage, and the ongoing efforts of all — from individuals to the institutions that represent us.

Recently, I was honored to speak at the People Matters virtual DEI Leadercamp, "Working Towards an Equitable Future." In an exhilarating, interactive session delivered to over 500 DEI leaders, we broke down some actionable steps that can make the DEI journey a little less overwhelming — and a lot more empowering. You can watch the Leadercamp sessions on demand, but I thought I'd summarize some of my favorite takeaways here.

Why invest in DEI initiatives?

Investing in DEI initiatives is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do: organizations that invest in strong DEI programs see higher employee engagement and retention because people want to be a part of an organization where their opinions are valued, and where they feel they belong.

While we speak of the "business case" in the private sector, it's actually more of a "talent case" in government agencies. Aside from increased employee satisfaction and retention, diversity creates a global think tank of ideas and innovation. For instance, a recent Boston Consulting Group study bears this out: innovation jumps once the proportion of female managers within an organization rises above 20%.

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So, if diversity is this important, how can we build a better culture?

As an individual, it starts with you. You have the power to affect change by being an ally — both personally and professionally. Take the time to check your own unconscious biases — and then make a conscious effort to support and amplify underrepresented voices.

The first step: Ask yourself, "Why?"

Why do you want to be an ally? Do you want to effect change because you believe there’s an inequality in the world? Do you want to level the playing field for marginalized groups? Or, is it because of your professional goals?

Knowing why you embarked on this journey will keep you motivated, and help you determine your next steps:

  • Take responsibility to educate yourself, participate in trainings, and do your own research.
  • Advocate for inclusion in team meetings, discussions, and projects, and look for opportunities to sponsor and mentor under-represented individuals.
  • Demonstrate allyship publicly. Set an example, educate others, and contribute to an ally culture where inclusive behaviors become the norm.

If you're in a position of leadership, you are uniquely positioned to be a role model for allyship and influence decisions to foster diversity at work. In fact, what leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual feels included or not. And that’s why inclusive leadership is so critical to an organization's success.

So, what can we do to lead more inclusively?
  • Start by sharing your diversity goals. Publish those goals or share them with your team. This makes your intention clear to your team and encourages them to hold each other accountable to achieve those goals.
  • Hire Diverse Talent.Write inclusive job descriptions that will encourage diverse candidates to apply. Think outside the box — for instance, beyond university degrees. You can use tools like gender decoder to make sure that the job requisition you create is not gender-biased.
  • Encourage a growth mindset. That can only happen when you provide your team with psychological safety, so they feel comfortable sharing their ideas without fear. Encourage employees to view failures as learning opportunities.
  • Finally, hold yourself, and your leadership, accountable. Remember, DEI initiatives are not "check the box" activities. Listen to your colleagues, be open to change, and make the commitment to continuous learning.

Speaking of continuous learning, we're here to help. Skillsoft's recently launched a new DEI curriculum. Through documentary-style, real-life stories, and expert-led roundtable discussions, you'll be inspired to start your own DEI journey — one (actionable) step at a time.