Pilot program will prepare Asians for the SES

Monday - 12/5/2011, 5:09am EST

Tommy Hwang, chairman, American Government Executives Network

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With Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders representing just 3 percent of the Senior Executive Service, a pilot program seeks to prepare more Asians for the government's top ranks.

The year-long program, run by the Asian American Government Executives Network, will give 20 Asian hopefuls training, one-on-one mentoring, networking and placement assistance to "help them through the last leg of the journey to the SES," AAGEN chairman Tommy Hwang told Federal News Radio.

Six percent of the federal workforce is Asian, which mirrors the U.S. population. That proportion holds true at all levels of government except for the SES.

"It's like a cliff," said Hwang, who is the chief information officer at the Merit Systems Protection Board and a member of the SES.

Hwang said, anecdotally, well-qualified Asian candidates face cultural barriers to joining the government's elite ranks.

"We're looked at as perpetually foreign. We might speak with an accent," he said. "There might be some language barriers."

AAGEN is conducting an online survey to identify other potential barriers, such as a requirement that a job candidate submit essays even though the position does not entail writing, Hwang said.

Leadership training

The pilot program will focus on some of the cultural issues through leadership training. Mentors should discuss the barriers that they have overcome, he said. Candidates will go through mock interviews and receive honest, sometimes "brutal" feedback, he said.

"Coming out of the program, we're hoping they'll have an application package that's ready to go when that next SES position becomes available," Hwang said. "For those individuals that may not be quite ready, we can tell them honestly where they're lacking and what they need to do to fill the gaps."

The group works with agencies to spread notice of job openings to members.

"When agencies come and ask if we have some diverse, qualified candidates, we'll have a list of names that we can give them," he said.

Candidates can apply until Dec. 16. AAGEN, working with the White House and the Office of Personnel Management, will vet the applications. Employees must submit an application that includes an executive development plan that could serve as a blueprint for their individual activities.

The program will start in March and go through February 2013. Its core will be two-to-three days of training, including lectures and networking sessions, per quarter in Washington.

At the end of the pilot year, AAGEN will evaluate the program but, Hwang said, "Proof will be in the pudding. When people graduate from this program, are they going to get the SES positions?"

If successful, Hwang said, the group would consider opening up the program to candidates at lower levels of the government and in the private sector.

AAGEN's effort comes as the Obama administration is asking agencies to do more to increase the diversity of their workforce.

In August, the President issued an executive order asking individual agencies for a plan by March 2012 to increase their diversity of employees. OPM and OMB issued a governmentwide strategy in November. The plan tells agencies to include diversity and inclusion components in their strategic plans and in employee performance plans. It emphasizes training and suggests agencies form diversity and inclusion councils.

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