Shirley J. Wilcher, M.A., J.D., CAAP
Executive Director, American Association for Access, Equality, and Diversity
As we re-examine our employment practices, I would like to share my experience as a former federal agency executive in charge of enforcing equal employment opportunity laws.
I was a deputy assistant secretary for an agency in charge of equal employment opportunity (EEO) compliance by government contractors. At the agency, we knew that when selecting senior managers, our actions would be closely examined by covered employers and constituency groups. Knowing the importance of EEO in hiring and promotions, how could we apply those rules in promoting our own managers?
Ensuring equal opportunities
The EEO laws we enforced require that employers examine where there are barriers to opportunity, both at the entry level up to the executive suite. This is done using a series of analytical tools embedded within regulations. In this era of diversity management, some companies are using “diversity metrics” in addition to affirmative programs to gauge where there is a need to promote workplace diversity. After identifying barriers, there is usually a need to pick from a more diverse pool when hiring. If you have a diverse pool of applicants, your chances of having a diverse workforce improve.
In addition to our employment obligations as a federal agency, our working philosophy was that excellence comes in all colors, genders, and abilities. We also believed that the taxpayer deserved excellent employees to serve the public.
What did we do to implement this philosophy of excellence in diversity? First, every hiring manager was encouraged to identify and recruit outstanding and diverse candidates for employment opportunities. Leading by example, I was always on the search to find diverse stars. We also utilized a diverse committee to interview candidates for selection of the person who, in the committee’s estimation, was the best person for the job.
How did we know that our actions were successful? When a few of our decisions were challenged, we prevailed every time. Why? Because our selectees were simply excellent. In no way could they be credibly opposed as being less qualified.
What we learned:
- Diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive.
- Seeking outstanding and diverse applicants takes time. Do not wait until you have a vacancy.
- Empower and encourage your hiring officials to seek well-qualified, diverse candidates; it is not the sole responsibility of the EEO official.
- Do not tolerate the use of quotas — i.e., hiring only because of one’s race, gender, et al. That is an indicator of discrimination. Concentrate on your outreach and recruitment efforts to find excellent candidates of every race, color, religion, gender, national origin, ability, or veteran status. EEO laws have a simple purpose: that everyone who is qualified is given a chance to compete.
- Once they are in your workforce, focus on retention. Monitor turnover and “voluntary” terminations. Conduct climate surveys and if employees leave, do exit interviews. Hold managers accountable for promoting equal opportunity.
Using these tools will help to ensure that the working environment is welcoming for all.