US publishes inaugural report on diversity in federal government

By on 23/02/2023 | Updated on 23/02/2023

The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has published the first annual report on government-wide diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. The report includes workforce demographics, and highlights progress on strategic plans and initiatives across the federal workforce.

The report forms part of the implementation of an executive order signed by president Joe Biden in June 2021 which tasks government agencies to “cultivate a workforce that draws from the full diversity of the nation”.

Demographics statistics show that the government made marginal gains towards racial diversity between 2017 and 2021, when Donald Trump was president. Black employees accounted for 18.19% of the federal workforce in 2021, 0.04 percentage points up from 2017; Hispanic and Latino employees accounted for 9.53% in 2021, up 0.78 points on four years previously; and Asian employees accounted for 6.49%, a 0.5 point improvement.

For comparison, in the United States 2020 census, black people accounted for 12.1% of the country’s total population and Hispanic and Latino people accounted for 18.7%, for example.

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander people made up 0.56% of the federal workforce according to the most recent figures, a 0.05 point improvement on 2017, while the proportion of American Indian and native Alaskan employees dropped 0.07 points over the time frame. Mixed race people accounted for 2.01%, up 0.41 points.

All of these figures are higher – and often significantly higher – than among the senior executive service (SES). For example, black employees represented 11.66% of civil service leaders in 2021.

The latest official figures show that women accounted for 44.44% of the total workforce and 37.85% of the SES – as seen in Global Government Forum’s Women Leaders Index, which puts the US eighth in its ranking of G20 countries by proportion of women in the highest grades of civil and public services.

Read in full: Women Leaders Index

Federal workers with ‘targeted disabilities’ – which include blindness, deafness, partial or complete paralysis, missing extremities, dwarfism, autism and epilepsy – accounted for 2.5% of the total workforce in 2021. 

“We are proud of the work we have accomplished but also know there are opportunities for improvement and sustainability,” government-wide chief diversity officer Dr. Janice Underwood said.

OPM director Kiran Ahuja said “in order to recruit and sustain the best talent, we must ensure every service-minded individual feels welcome and supported in contributing their talents to the federal workforce” and that “we look forward to continuing the work to break down barriers to serve and help build a federal government that draws from the strength and diversity of its people”.

Among the programmes and initiatives highlighted in the report that have been implemented since Biden’s executive order are the creation of the Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council; summits held on issues such as disability employment; the promotion of equitable healthcare coverage for LGBTQI+ employees; and the establishment of the DEIA Learning Community, which supports federal agencies with implementing best practices.

Underserved communities ‘still confront significant barriers’

President Biden has also bolstered the federal government’s ambition to better support underserved communities and advance racial equity by signing a new executive order requiring agencies to take measures that build on those outlined in a previous order. 

On his first day in office in January 2021, Biden signed an executive order which tasked agencies to “pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of colour and others who have been historically underserved, marginalised, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality” as part as a “whole-of-government equity agenda”. The order required agencies to assess their programmes and policies and identify and address barriers to opportunity for marginalised groups.

In the latest order signed last week – a day after the OPM released its DEIA report – Biden said “my administration has embedded a focus on equity into the fabric of federal policymaking and service delivery” and that “transformative achievements have advanced the work of building a more equitable nation”. However, he acknowledged that members of underserved communities “still confront significant barriers to realising the full promise of our great nation” and that the federal government had a responsibility “to remove these barriers”.

Under the order, the major government agencies must ensure they have equity teams in place within 30 days, strengthen partnerships and engagement with communities, and advance equitable data practices; a White House Steering Committee on Equity will be set up to coordinate efforts and monitor agencies’ activities; and efforts will be made to build equity into the budget process.

Other objectives include better supporting small businesses through government procurement practices, and Office of Management and Budget efforts to “support equitable decision-making, promote equitable deployment of financial and technical assistance, and assist agencies in advancing equity, as appropriate and wherever possible” through changes to its directives and guidance.

Read more: US agencies tasked with annual diversity reporting in new Biden order

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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