Interior touts millennials as the key to diversity

Friday - 7/12/2013, 6:21pm EDT

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

The Department of the Interior is tapping the millennial generation in order to increase diversity within the agency. And Sally Jewell, the agency's new secretary, is challenging other agencies to do the same.

"There are many, many overeducated and underemployed young people that we can really embrace and put to work in the federal government," Jewell said during a Partnership for Public Service event on diversity and inclusion held July 9. "And they reflect the diversity that will be America, that will be all of our elected officials 25 years from now, and we have to address that if we want to be good."

(Watch the Partnership's diversity event. Secretary Jewell's comments begin at 1h 21m.)

In May, Jewell announced $4.2 million in grants to support conservation employment and mentoring for more than 600 people between the ages of 15 and 25. This year, the Department plans to hire 17,000 youth to work in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

"I'd love to have competition from all your federal agencies in terms of putting the jobs in your agencies on the radars of young people of color across this country because I don't think they see this necessarily as an opportunity for them," Jewell said at the event.

In fiscal year 2012, Interior had 58,660 permanent employees, according to an agency report. Of those employees 74 percent were white, 11 percent were American Indian or Alaskan Native, 6 percent were Hispanic, 6 percent were African American, 2 percent were Asian, and 0.4 percent were Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

"The millennial generation — majority, minority — there is no majority race in that group. It is very diverse. It is very tech savvy. It is very social," Jewell said.

Rhea Suh, Interior's assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, said agencies must focus on changing the culture of their organizations to promote diversity from the bottom up, as opposed to implementing top-down quota systems.

"In order to really achieve the fullest potential around diversity, we have to connect it to programs. We have to connect it to managers who aren't HR managers, but are program managers," Suh said at the conference. "And that's what we attempted to do, and that's what we're trying to continue to do at the Department of the Interior."

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in August 2011 to promote diversity in the federal workforce.

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio.

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