Low number of Latinos gives urgency to diversity initiative

Monday - 10/3/2011, 4:37pm EDT

Latinos remain the most underrepresented group in the federal workforce, based on a new report by the Office of Personnel Management.

While their numbers grew by about 7,000 between July 2009 and October 2010, that was not enough to swing the percentage. Latinos remain at 8 percent of employees. In comparison, they constitute nearly 15 percent of the national workforce.

OPM Director John Berry said the hiring of Latinos decreased a bit during that time period.

"On all of those fronts, we've got to do more," he told a council of Latino non-profit leaders, employee associations and agency human resources chief that he has convened to address the issue.

Berry asked council member to stay on for another year, extending the council's mission through 2012. They are tasked with recommending ways to hire, retain and promote Latinos throughout the government.

"I don't think we can be happy until we have moved the needle on this percentage," he said. "This isn't a quota-driven exercise specifically, but the most underrepresented group, where we are not reflecting the percentage of workers in our population with those in our workforce, is in our Hispanic community. So it is our steepest hill to climb."

The council has met three times. It is considering an accountability model that is aggressive on reporting requirements. Members have stressed the need for agencies to abandon their traditional recruiting strategies and reach out to potential job candidates in high school or even earlier, to encourage them to stay in school and prepare for federal careers.

The report indicates that some agencies are besting the federal norm. At the Department of Homeland Security, one in five employees is Latino. They make up one in six workers at the Social Security Administration. The agencies with the lowest numbers are departments of Health and Human Services and Commerce. At both, Latinos make up less than 4 percent of the workforce.

Governmentwide diversity plan in draft stage

The lackluster findings give a sense of urgency to a presidential directive to increase diversity in the workforce. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in August instructing the President's Management Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and OPM to develop a governmentwide framework that agencies can use to increase the number of minorities hired and promoted. That plan, due in November, also is supposed to lay out accountability standards for agencies.

Berry said it would neither be a one-size-fits-all approach nor mandate quotas.

The framework will focus only on workforce diversity, workplace inclusion and accountability, said Veronica Villalobos, OPM director of diversity and inclusion.

"We're really working to focus on those three areas so people have a clear sense of what they must do under that plan," she said.

But, she said, OPM may issue guidance on how agencies can better train human resources staff to promote diversity and improve communication among employees.

Villalobos said she is examining agencies that are doing a good job to find best practices that all agencies can adopt.

For example, she said, the Social Security Administration has an internal diversity and inclusion council that informs workplace policies.

"Agencies that believe inclusion is for everyone — not just minorities and women but that every employee should be connected to the organization — the agencies that do that holistically are just better places to work," she said.

Chief human capital officers and equal employment opportunity directors are reviewing and commenting on the draft strategy, she said.

After it is released in mid-November, agencies will have four months to draft their own plans based on its principles.

The President's Management Council will hold agencies accountable, but Villalobos said the plans should involve every employee.

"It belongs to everyone," she said. "It's also about midlevel managers and employees themselves. We'll take a holistic approach."

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