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Learning Diversity from the U.S. Government

December 1, 2016, 5:20 PM UTC

When Laura Weidman Powers landed a six-month gig as a policy advisor in the White House Office Of Science and Technology, she held onto her other day job, as CEO of Code2040, a nonprofit focused on increasing diversity in technology. Now that her White House stint is ending, she is a bit wistful. “People have no idea – I had no idea – how smart and dedicated people in government really are,” she said.

Powers is ending her brief tenure on a high note: the release of a comprehensive diversity report. It compiles all the data, insights and best practices that have been developed by the federal government since President Obama signed the August 2011 Executive Order announcing a government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce. Nothing like it has ever existed before in the public sphere.

The report, Raising the Floor: Sharing What Works in Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, was co-authored with Megan Smith, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer. It’s a tremendous gift to the business community. “As we come to the end of the administration, it was really important to us that we got everything we’d learned into the hands of the people who could really execute against it,” Powers says. “So many [executives] say, ‘I’m on board, but what do I do?’ And we felt like there are actually answers out there.”

For their report, Smith and Powers conducted dozens of interviews and examined the research and data collected by all the federal agencies as they sought to diversify their own workforces. The result is a detailed list of recommendations that touch on every aspect of talent development from hiring to leadership training, mentorship, accountability measures, feedback and beyond. “We believe that everyone could and should be doing these basic things,” she said. “They may be slightly different across industries, but by all means, iterate and customize.”

With the incoming Trump administration, these are uncertain times for the diversity and inclusion crowd. Powers offered some advice for raceAhead readers who may be feeling discouraged. “The facts on the ground haven’t changed from yesterday to today,” she said. “The business case for diversity hasn’t changed – it’s better for your bottom line, it increases innovation, all of that is still true.”

Powers says leaders need to show some courage around the subject of inclusion. “The rise of hate speech, yes, it’s scary and threatening.” The pushback is real. But people don’t do – or abandon – diversity work because the government tells them to. “You do it because it’s the right and profitable thing to do for your workforce, company and customers.”

On Point

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New York Times

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New York Times

Steve Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury pick, was once a “foreclosure machine”
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Vanity Fair

The Woke Leader

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Research has shown that diverse groups are more effective at problem solving than homogeneous groups, and policies that promote diversity and inclusion will enhance our ability to draw from the broadest possible pool of talent, solve our toughest challenges, maximize employee engagement and innovation, and lead by example by setting a high standard for providing access to opportunity to all segments of our society.
—Barack Obama