Federal Diversity Officers Stress Importance of Data 


OPM, State Department, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence officials speak about Biden’s recent executive order and what they’ve already been doing. 

Top diversity officials at four major agencies said on Tuesday that obtaining and using better data will be crucial to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce. 

Representatives from the Office of Personnel Management, State Department, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence participated in a panel for Government Executive and NextGov’s “Future of Work” virtual event on July 12. The wide-ranging discussion covered the recent executive order from President Biden on advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce as well as what these agencies were doing beforehand. 

Mini Timmaraju, senior advisor on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility to the OPM director, said data is a crucial part of implementation of the executive order, which has provisions on improving agency-level and governmentwide data. 

“We know, for example, the data governmentwide shows that the biggest challenge we have is...the Senior Executive Service,” as it is 70% white and 66% male, she said. Making improvements in the Senior Executive Service––which houses the top policy, supervisory and managerial jobs in federal agencies––will be important in order to create a trickle-down effect, she added. “But there’s a lot we don’t know yet because we don’t collect comprehensive demographic data across the government. So, for example, we don’t collect sexual orientation and gender identity data.”

While it was an “incredible symbolic moment” that OPM and other agencies flew the Pride flag during Pride Month in June, “we do not have the data to show how LGBTQ+ federal workers are doing in the workforce,” said Timmaraju. “We don’t have enough metrics to understand what inclusion factors are being affected here.”

Also, she said there has to be more of a governmentwide effort to look at “intersectional challenges” across the government, such as what are the unique challenges women of color could be facing? In using OPM’s source of federal workforce data, FedScope, you can look at gender or race/ethnicity, but not the two together. Better data will complement the results from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint survey and other forums, said Timmaraju. 

Within 100 days of the executive order being issued, agency heads must submit preliminary assessments of “the current state of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the agency’s human resources practices and workforce composition,” which should involve “an evidence-based and data-driven approach.”

While “many of the top agencies are already doing this, there isn’t necessarily a uniform strategy or standard for how we evaluate [diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility], how we benchmark it and therefore we have challenges really showing successes and really reevaluating where we have missteps,” Timmaraju said. She added OPM is working on an assessment tool to help agencies comply with that requirement. 

Similarly, Rita Sampson, chief of equal employment opportunity and diversity at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said her agency is working on “setting numeric goals to try to increase our efforts; we have to shoot for something and to have measurable improvements.”

She also said it’s important to focus on qualitative as well as quantitative data. Through a workforce concerns report a few years ago, for instance, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found they needed to focus more on microaggressions and education on stereotypes. This shows agencies should use the two types of metrics in tandem to achieve results, she said. 

The State Department is looking for “data and disaggregated data” because “we have to know where we are in order to measure our progress and right now, we don’t have a clear understanding of where we are,” said Amb. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the department. When it comes to retention and promotions, different groups hit different roadblocks, she said. 

She added, “The law is not helpful in putting in place remedies for what we know are underrepresented populations except for those with disabilities,” in which you can set targets “in a more definitive way.”

Scott McMillion, chief diversity officer at the FBI, agreed with the other panelists about the importance of data. “Any organization definitely has to look at and know what the data is and particularly what it is referring to—what barriers, challenges [and] roadblocks may be in place that are stymying that diversity across the board that you are looking for,” he said. McMillion said he thinks the FBI has done a good job examining what the barriers are, especially for special agents. 

While there are some legal restraints on what data can be collected, “what I think is more powerful is we look intentionally at the collection of data and making it uniform across the government,” Sampson said. “For example, you can ask individuals to amend their personnel profiles in their personnel system, as an individual, but what we want is to make sure that the [Office of Management and Budget] processes and the OMB forms enable us to adopt those key data points.” 

The executive order directs the OPM director, deputy director for management at OMB and chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to “consider issuing, modifying, or revoking such guidance in order to expand the collection of such voluntarily self-reported data and more effectively measure the representation of underserved communities in the federal workforce.” If there are any changes, officials should take steps to protect individuals' privacy, the order stated. 

There was also consensus among the panelists that transparency and effective communication and messaging are important in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility efforts.