Diversity and inclusion is an agency imperative: aside from regulatory and legal imperatives, a growing body of research verifies that an inclusive organizational culture is a competitive advantage--even for government agencies.

Author:Clark, Patrina M.

America's diversity is one of our greatest natural resources, and that diversity extends well beyond superficial differences. Indeed, our diverse experiences, backgrounds, opportunities, thinking, and beliefs weave a rich tapestry from which federal agencies can draw an exceptional collection of individuals to address the nation's most complex and vexing problems.

Cultivating this resource is crucial to remaining relevant and competitive in an increasingly global economy. Further, organizations that relentlessly pursue inclusive cultures will likely have an advantage in attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees.

Georgia Coffey, deputy assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has had a career-long passion for diversity and been a strong advocate for developing more inclusive federal workplaces. In her presentation, "Capitalizing on Diversity: Maximizing Performance," Coffey presents a succinct literature review that highlights three key imperatives for diversity and inclusion: the business imperative, the economic imperative, and the human imperative.

Most organizations--public and private--have bought into the business and economic imperatives of the case for diversity and inclusion. And there is global recognition that people generally want to be a part of groups in which they genuinely feel included. But inclusion also is a competitive advantage.

Our nation's history and ongoing tensions around race and gender inequality pose real challenges to our ability to maximize any competitive advantage gained through diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. Fortunately, these challenges are not insurmountable.

The real challenge is how to meaningfully address cultural barriers through sustained, consistent, and focused effort over time. While a single manager can move the needle on the workplace climate, organizational culture is a much tougher nut to crack.

Why Inclusion Matters

It is generally accepted that organizational performance is all about people. More importantly, the most effective organizations leverage all of their available resources.

We have all witnessed the continuing decline in agency budgets, with increasing scrutiny on performance measures. Government leaders can no longer afford to rely exclusively on high performers and ignore the rest of their employees. Instead, federal leaders must intentionally determine how to fully engage the total workforce--ensuring that each member who wants to contribute has the opportunity to do so. And this requires inclusion.

Research by Cornell Professor Lisa Nishii examines the conditions under which employees of all backgrounds experience inclusion. Nishii spent a number of years clarifying what it means for an organization to cultivate inclusive climates. Based on her direct observations and participation in multiple large-scale studies funded by the federal government and the SHRM Foundation, she...

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