Practical advice for building a data management program

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

To achieve diversity, equity and inclusion goals, look to data

As government agencies begin to look beyond COVID-19 and the past year’s political and social unrest, their human resources departments must evolve to support new strategic objectives, positioning agencies for long-term success.  With a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy supported by data, HR leaders will be able to influence federal agencies’ workplace culture, better achieve agency missions and create better experiences for every employee from the executive level to individual contributors.

By focusing on candidate and employee outcomes and being a strategic partner for agency leadership, public-sector HR leaders can identify skill gaps, build diversity, foster inclusion, upskill workers and improve employee satisfaction and retention. As Tracy DiMartini, chief human capital officer at the General Services Administration, recently remarked: “The more accessible we make the opportunities, the more we will hopefully see a payoff in the diversity, equity, and inclusion aspect of hiring. Creating a more level playing field to offer access to these opportunities will bring more people to the government, and once they are in the government, more resources are available to them.”

Use data to form lasting DEI objectives  

While the public sector generally counts greater diversity within its workforce than the private sector, agencies have struggled with discrimination and unconscious bias and with building workforces representative of the communities they serve.  Despite executive orders, policy changes and conversations about the federal workforce, progress in hiring more racially diverse employees has been slow and uneven. Unfortunately, what data shows is that employees of diverse gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientations are still facing discrimination in their jobs. “More than one in three Black employees intend to leave their current jobs because of prejudice and microaggressions and only 44% of Black women feel comfortable speaking up at work,” the Washington Post reported.

The Biden administration has recently seized the opportunity to rebuild the federal government’s HR services with an executive order advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.  According to a White House fact sheet, this transformation is a result of “the enduring legacies of employment discrimination, systemic racism, and gender inequality [that] are still felt today. Too many underserved communities remain under-represented in the [f]ederal workforce, especially in positions of leadership.” The order is an acknowledgement that agencies must go beyond surface-level change to build a thriving, diverse workforce and achieve agency objectives.

One of the shifts we are seeing is hiring based on potential, rather than solely on an applicant’s work experience. Because traditional education paths are shifting -- and not always equitably -- and higher education is a costly investment, it may not be attainable. What we have found, though, is that when candidates demonstrate initiative by, for example, enrolling in a coding boot camp, it is a very powerful statement about their drive to succeed.

Public-sector HR leaders are embracing new skills, strategies and tools, including the use of data and fostering data literacy to promote a healthy work environment for agencies to achieve their goals. In a study by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte Consulting, the efficacy of HR services showed a direct contribution to government success.  

To identify and understand the barriers that work against diverse candidates throughout the recruitment/ hiring process and the employee lifetime cycle, HR leaders look to data. There is a direct correlation between the use of DEI data and positive hiring outcomes for diverse candidates. Kimya Lee, executive director, strategic workforce planning and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, recently attested to the value of data for hiring: “Data-informed decision making is so important, specifically when we are talking about DEI. Rather than just aiming for a quick fix to improve your numbers in terms of diversity, data-informed hiring allows for you to evaluate the physical characteristics such as ethnicity and gender, but also characteristics of diversity of thought, education, or experience that have immense value.”

Support agency and HR goals with data literacy and usage

HR leaders who actively work to incorporate data into their hiring practices are able to create an inclusive culture that can lead to improved employee morale. A report by Salesforce Research titled The Impact of Equality and Values-Driven Business found that “[e]mployees who say they're able to be their authentic self at work are nearly three times (2.8x) more likely to say they are proud to work for their company -- and nearly four-times (4.4x) more likely to say they are empowered to perform their best work.”

HR leaders can leverage data analytics by partnering with experts to create dashboards that allow them to visualize and track the progress of new policies and procedures in alignment with diversity goals. Data and analytics dashboards help to identify unconscious bias, standardize hiring practices and manage the use of skill assessments to select qualified candidates. They can also help senior leadership address inequities by revealing areas where new candidates and existing employees of color are underrepresented, receiving unequal pay or not advancing through the hiring or promotion process. These processes can then be reevaluated, using data-driven findings to design a more equitable and inclusive experience. Data and analytics provide a crucial layer of transparency, wherein agencies can report their goals and progress to leadership and constituents. 

Using these tools, agencies can use data in partnership with a people-driven, equity-first mindset to develop realistic and actionable strategies that lead to the promotion of diversity and inclusion within the workforce. 

Through investments in HR functions, federal agencies can transform the existing workforce to ensure their skills and workforces align with the strategic goals of the agency for years to come. 

About the Authors

Gerard Valerio is director, solution engineering, at Tableau.

Julia Biedry Gonzalez is senior solution engineer at Tableau.

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