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Biden Order Calls for Greater Diversity in Federal Agencies

The Biden administration released Executive Order 13985 on June 25, which calls for, among other things, advancing workplace diversity in the federal government workforce. Yahoo! News reports the administration’s FY22 budget request to Congress seeks funds to establish an Executive Branch stipend initiative to compensate currently unpaid interns. The overall goal is to make the federal government more representative of the population it serves.

What Is DEIA?

According to InclusionHub, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are words everyone should become familiar with. Specifically, the Biden administration first used the abbreviation DEIA in its March 8 memorandum revoking Executive Order 13950.


According to the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Guidance for Agency-Specific Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plans, “workforce diversity is a collection of individual attributes that together help agencies pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include, but are not limited to, characteristics such as national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. The concept also encompasses differences among people concerning where they are from and where they have lived and their differences of thought and life experiences.”


The OPM guidance states “The term ‘equity’ means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”


Further, OPM defines inclusion as “a culture that connects each employee to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential.” OPM’s ultimate goal for workplace inclusion is to “Cultivate a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to enable individuals to contribute to their full potential and further retention.”


Accessibility is traditionally thought of as Section 508 compliance. But the Biden administration is taking a broader look at who in society has access to and benefits from federal programs. The President is looking to provide broader access to underserved communities and populations.

In other words, accessibility relates to how a disabled person can access or benefit from a site, system or application. Section 508 is the governing principle; it requires that all government information be accessible to disabled users.

How to Implement DEIA in the Workplace

The DEIA executive order touches on nearly every aspect of federal employment from recruitment and hiring. That includes advancements for the formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ and disabled communities, training, leadership development, and employee pay and benefits. Specifically, the Executive Order:

  1. Establishes an ambitious, whole-of-government initiative that will take a systematic approach to embedding DEIA in federal hiring and employment practices.
  2. Establishes a government-wide initiative to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in all parts of the federal workforce.
  3. Charges all agencies with assessing the current state of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within their workforces and developing strategic plans to eliminate any barriers to success faced by underserved employees.
  4. Directs agencies to seek opportunities to establish or elevate Chief Diversity Officers within their organizations.
  5. Expands diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility training throughout the federal workforce.
  6. Addresses workplace harassment, including sexual harassment.
  7. Reduces the federal government’s reliance on unpaid internships, which can create barriers for low-income students and first-generation professionals.
  8. Advances pay equity to ensure that all public servants are fairly compensated for their work and their talents.
  9. Advances equity in the workplace for individuals with disabilities.
  10. Advances equity in the workplace for LGBTQ+ public servants.
  11. Builds a more diverse pipeline into public service through new recruitment partnerships.
  12. Expands federal employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.
  13. Advances equity in professional development.
  14. Improves the collection of demographic data about the federal workforce.

What Does DEIA Mean in the Public Workplace?

Chances are if your company, non-profit or local/state government interacts with the federal government, many of the practices you see may be mirrored throughout all workplaces. Developing a strategic plan to address DEIA is crucial for milestone development because what gets measured is what gets done. In addition, the establishment of a Chief Diversity Officer will ensure there is a point of contact for DEIA from idea to implementation.

Data Is Crucial to Track Success

Data is important to track similarities and differences over time. It will also help the federal government identify best practices as well as areas in need of improvement.

Too many underserved communities remain underrepresented in the federal government. As a result, the executive order establishes an initiative led by OPM and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to advance employment opportunities for people of color, women, first-generation professionals and immigrants as well as individuals with disabilities, LBGTQ+ individuals, Americans from rural areas, and older Americans.

The Proof of True DEIA Is in the Numbers

The proof of true DEIA is in the numbers, and the Biden administration is showing progress. The administration released demographic statistics about the administration’s staff, which shows promise in meeting DEIA goals:

  • 56% of the senior White House staff positions were filled by women.
  • 36% of the senior White House staff positions come from racially and/or ethnically diverse backgrounds.
  • The average salary for women in the administration is $93,752, while men average $94,639, representing about a 1% pay gap.

Why Is DEIA Important?

Individual agencies must make diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility a priority within their management agendas; they have 100 days to assess the state of DEIA within their own workforces and human capital practices.

According to The Hill, the federal government employs nearly 9.1 million workers, comprising nearly 6% of total employment in the United States. The figure includes nearly 2.1 million federal employees, 4.1 million contract employees, 1.2 million grant employees, 1.3 million active-duty military personnel and more than 500,000 postal service employees.

Sweeping reform in DEIA will most likely also have a domino effect within the communities the federal government serves. So DEIA should be more than just be a federal mandate. We all have the ability to make our workplace more diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible.

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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