APU Business Original

Creating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the US Workforce

By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics

Without a doubt, the United States experienced the most transformational, disruptive, life-changing and emotional year in 2020. Many leaders faced the ultimate test to demonstrate resilient and adaptive leadership.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

Tragedies occurred, many of them irreversible. There are no words to highlight those who experienced unexpected losses last year, from losing loved ones to losing jobs. People are an institution’s greatest resource, and creating an empathetic, inclusive, and diverse workforce is paramount to a company’s bottom line.

President Biden and Executive Order 13985

President Biden, in his first day in office, signed Executive Order 13985 to address diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workforce. According to Littler’s David J. Goldstein and James A. Paretti, “Mr. Biden formally rescinded the prior administration’s Executive Order 13950, which sought to limit federal contractors and the recipients of federal grants from discussing ‘divisive’ topics in workplace trainings on issues of diversity and inclusion (D&I), including what that order called ‘stereotyping’ and ‘scapegoating’ on the basis of race or sex. The order generated significant controversy in the federal contractor community, and confusion for those employers that wish to pursue D&I initiatives.”

Why Are Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Important?

Decisions tend to be top-down in organizations, which mirror the military way of executing orders. However, a company, organization or group is only as good as the people who run it. So despite past efforts, the public sector and corporate America’s top ranks look nothing like the country they serve.

For example, a USA Today survey of the top 279 executives in the 50 biggest companies in the S&P 100, found that only five, or 1.8%, were Black, including two who had recently retired. These numbers are similar for women, people with disabilities and minorities in general. Sadly, while there is an effort to diversify the corporate makeup, there are very few people of color in the highest positions of CEO, CFO and COO.

Why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Must Start at the Top

As President Biden stated, “Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth, not ignorance and lies.” There needs to be a committed effort to understanding and truth throughout an organization from the most senior executive to the entry-level worker.

The Executive Order directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and executive agencies to identify and respond to best practices for assessing equity issues in the federal government. The order also creates a federal interagency working group to gather data on equity in federal data collection programs and policies.

Identifying Best Practices for Workplace Equity

What is impressive in the Biden administration’s new Executive Order 13985 is the policy “that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”

Executive Order 13985 stresses: “Affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our Government. Because advancing equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes, executive departments and agencies (agencies) [sic] must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.”

Increasing Happiness in the Workplace Improves the Bottom Line

While the goal of private companies ultimately is to provide a profitable product or service, diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have proven to be profitable by creating happier workers. Increased happiness in the workplace leads to many benefits, including greater productivity, more creativity and higher retention rates. By comparison, an unhappy worker is twice as likely as other workers to leave by the next year.

Boards of Directors Need to Accurately Represent the Workforce

President Biden’s new executive order also mandates that government agencies promote diversity, and the Biden administration has created a new council to address these issues. The White House Domestic Policy Council, led by former UN Ambassador Susan Rice, will coordinate the efforts “to embed equity principles, policies, and approaches across the federal government,” including “removing systemic barriers to and provide equal access,” in coordination with the directors of the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.

While the council is focused on the federal government, the recommendations will be applicable to all public and private companies in the United States. This council will show why such bodies are important and why each company should create a board of directors that includes diverse and inclusive members.

Unlike part-time boards of directors that oversee and advise the company leadership, top executives of these businesses are the captains of industry. They are running the economy full-time and making decisions about the ways we communicate and shop, how our banks are run, and what kind of information and entertainment we see online.

Build Back Better

Despite last year’s misfortunes, many companies not only survived but in many ways thrived in 2020. Advances in medicine, technology, management practices, and collaborations have completely transformed the way both public and private agencies do business.

These changes would not be possible without a workforce that is only as productive as its individual members. President Biden’s executive order hopefully will address some of the inequities in the workforce when it comes to diversity and inclusion to “Build Back Better,” increase productivity, and create a workforce that emulates the American landscape.

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. A Professor and STEM advocate, she is a renown global speaker and 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.

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