OPM lays out plan for training Latina leaders

Wednesday - 8/17/2011, 5:23am EDT

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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By Emily Kopp
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Office of Personnel Management's new Office of Diversity and Inclusion is rolling out the government's latest initiative to include more Latinos in the federal workforce. It includes working with nonprofit organizations to recruit Latinos and holding agencies accountable for their diversity efforts.

The government has struggled for years to recruit and keep Latino workers. Despite a few high-profile political appointees, including Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis, OPM said Latinos are only 8 percent of the civilian federal workforce, compared to 15 percent in the private sector.

No silver bullet

Latinos are also not moving up the career ladder as quickly as other racial groups. Of the 7,000 managers in the Senior Executive Service, fewer than 80 are Latina, OPM said.

"Unfortunately, on these kinds of issues, they are so systemic that you can't do the 'big splash item' and feel like you're going to make a difference quickly," said Veronica Villalobos, the director of OPM's Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

While there may not be a silver bullet, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is drafting a multi-pronged approach aimed at improving the numbers of Latinos in public service. An OPM-managed council, made up of agency chief human capital officers and nonprofit organization leaders, is meeting regularly. So far, it's focused on improving outreach efforts to attract young Latinos to federal internship programs and is also considering new initiatives to hold agencies accountable for their recruitment statistics.

The Defense Department's civilian workforce is only 6 percent Latino, said Loyola Rose Trujillo, director of the agency's Hispanic Employment Program. "There is no question that there will be change," she said. "We are working on mentorship programs, internship programs, and we crunch the numbers and evaluate every quarter."

OPM Director John Berry said at an April hearing that OPM Deputy Director Christine Griffin is heading working groups that focus on bringing minorities into the workforce.

"The number of minorities in the federal workforce increased by five percent in 2010, or essentially 31,000 more employees," Berry said. "Minorities constituted 33.8 percent of the workforce [last year]."

Berry said Congress can help OPM by continuing to fund OPM's Department of Diversity and Inclusion. OPM's 2012 budget asks for $1 million to cover those efforts.

Lack of will?

And there are plenty of qualified applicants, said Manuel Oliverez, who helped lead the Cabinet Committee on Opportunities for the Spanish-Speaking Peoples under President Richard Nixon, and now serves as president of the International Association of Latino Public Administration Executive. The organization is holding a conference for mid-career Latino federal employees this week in Arlington, Va.

"I ascribe [the low numbers] to a lack of focus, a lack of attention, a lack of interest, and a lack of will on the part of the agencies and those who run the agencies to really practice diversity," he said. "They say it a lot. They put out all kinds of media on it, but they don't do it."

But Villalobos cautioned that Latinas, in particular, often do not do enough to advance their careers.

"We have a tendency to take a passive approach," she said. "It's important that we decide this is what we want to do and we work toward it."

Yet sometimes, even those people who are qualified and excited about federal management, don't attempt to join the SES.

Arlene Gonzalez, the division chief for compliance and policy in the Coast Guard's office of civil rights, helped plan the IALPAE conference geared toward helping Latinas plan their routes to the SES. But she does not find it appealing.

"One thing I don't like is the mobility agreement," she said, speaking of the requirement that an SES member be willing to move depending on the government's needs. "I like being in control of my destiny."

But she said she could change her mind by the end of the conference.

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