Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Strengthen Employees and Organizations

By Mary Margaret Yodzis 

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts involve more than assembling a workforce that represents different genders, races, ethnicities and cultures. According to experts at AGA’s National Leadership Training 2020 in Washington, D.C., D&I means hiring people with diverse abilities and thoughts and welcoming their input on the job.

“Diversity means the opportunity for every single person, regardless of race, ethnicity, background or personal interest, to have a safe environment to work and express who they are,” explained Monica Ellerbe, director of business management services for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Inclusion is the opportunity for people to bring their individual abilities to an environment that encourages them to do so. They bring different skills and points of view together to solve problems.”
Ellerbe said the distinction between diversity and inclusion is analogous to a school dance. “Diversity is being asked to the dance. Inclusion means you’re actually asked to dance.”

Navy Capt. Tasya Lacy, legislative director in the Office of the Chief of Navy Reserve, emphasized the importance of leaders’ sincere involvement in D&I efforts. “A lot of times leaders say, ‘Of course, I embrace D&I.’ But you don’t always see that in the workplace,” she said. “Leaders need to own that, make it their mantra and become deeply involved. We have to live it. We have to treat every single person with dignity and respect, regardless of how they look or what they think. That’s what D&I is. At the end of the day, your people need to know you care about them.”

Lacy said the two most important actions for a D&I leader are: 
•    Be consistent; actions must match words.
•    Be willing to receive feedback.

Panel moderator Christie Johnson, a principal at Deloitte, queried the panel about managing the different personalities assembled through D&I. Ellerbe said understanding the demographics of the group and the experiences they bring is critical, especially the information beyond race, gender and geographic origins, such as educational level, length of public service and GS level. Mugila Krishnan, deputy director of FDA’s Office of Financial Management, cautioned leaders to remember long-term goals to improve employee retention rates. “Avoid spending all of your energy in D&I in the hiring stage,” she said. “It should continually be part of the organizational culture to avoid losing good talent.”

Encouraging employees to communicate their concerns and ideas is vital, Lacy added. “Be willing to take ideas from all levels. The minute you crush somebody for their thinking, you have stunted their growth — and you have affected the organization. Also, if they know they can ask you for help, you will really get to know who they are and what they need, and you will get so much more from them. I love an open door. But an open door is no good with a closed mind. We have to listen.”

Employee feedback also helps leaders monitor how D&I efforts are going. “Some of this can be very intangible and clouded by unconscious biases,” explained Krishnan. “But we can’t improve without measurement, so we need to work collaboratively to determine some performance indicators that are relevant and helpful.”

Leadership training in emotional intelligence, unconscious bias and confirmation bias will facilitate D&I efforts, Lacy noted. “You have to explain to your people what it is and what you expect them to do with the information they’ve been given. If you focus on your differences, that’s all you’ll ever be.”

In summation, Johnson offered: “Be approachable, be present, create those small moments so that when there’s that big moment, people know they can rely on leadership.”

AGA’s NLT is the essential event for developing and training government financial professionals to excel as leaders in today’s competitive market. The training offers opportunities to share best practices, find new solutions to challenges, network with peers, learn from the top financial management leaders and industry experts, and earn up to 14 CPE hours.