In many organizations, addressing the challenges of diversity and inclusion can take years to accomplish. The challenge they face is that such goals necessarily compete for priority with other goals that traditionally have taken center stage, such as cutting costs and boosting revenues. We’ve argued for years that diversity and inclusion should be seen as genuine and worthwhile business goals in any organization; however, when push comes to shove, D&I efforts often take a back seat to other seemingly more critical tasks.
The Government Prioritizes DEI
With the Federal Government, things work a little differently. The federal government employs roughly 2.1 million people, making it the largest employer in the country. Walmart comes in at second, employing roughly 1.5 million Americans. Moreover, the Federal Government’s employment practices are in many cases driven as much by social policy as by finances.
A recent Executive Order from the Biden Administration illustrates the way in which the Executive Branch can swiftly change the hiring priorities of the nation’s largest employer with the figurative stroke of a pen.
Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce
“The Federal Government is at its best when drawing upon all parts of society, our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges, and all persons should receive equal treatment under the law,” states the executive order from the White House. “This order reaffirms support for, and builds upon, the procedures established by Executive Orders 13583, 13988, and 14020, the Presidential Memorandum on Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce, and the National Security Memorandum on Revitalizing America’s Foreign Policy and National Security Workforce, Institutions, and Partnerships. This order establishes that diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are priorities for my Administration and benefit the entire Federal Government and the Nation, and establishes additional procedures to advance these priorities across the Federal workforce.”
The sheer number of employees on the payroll of the Federal Government means that bureaucracy has tremendous clout when making employment policies, not only because of its direct hiring capacity, but also because of the influence it can potentially exert over private employers and smaller governments by virtue its consequent clout.
Can Competition Drive Change?
This new Executive Order is far from symbolic and may, in fact, prompt action by private and state government employers. Why? Because private and state government employers compete with the federal government for top talent. Top talent is in short supply these days. Consequently, it’s highly likely that employers of all kinds will take note—and take action.
In fact, Forbes contributor Jonathan Kaufman views this Executive Order as “a game changer for impact investors and entrepreneurs. He writes: “The bond between entrepreneurship, impact investing and the Federal government is perhaps in its embryonic stage, yet with this Executive Order, we now have a moment where we can rethink how we approach the future of work through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion while reflecting on the notion that innovation will be the source for real change.”
We hope so. Be inclusive!