2020 has been a unique year. In this case, unique means that topics that don’t normally reach the forefront of American news cycles have dominated the headlines. A pandemic, elections, and a racial divide are the conversations happening at dinner tables this year instead of who won last night’s game or what movie we’re going to go see this weekend.
The topic of racial inequality has loomed as one of the biggest topics in our country today. A historically-subdued voice that has had a few shouting moments in history has been handed a megaphone and is finally being heard by all.
Diversity and inclusion have long-been imperative for the Charleston District to ensure a diverse workforce that represents all people from different backgrounds and cultural identities. This includes people in varying stages of their career, education and work experience in an inclusive environment that nurtures a sense of belonging, empathy and mutual respect for all. It extends beyond recruiting to hiring, onboarding, daily aspects of work, team building, organizational culture, performance management and development, succession planning, and mentoring.
It starts with a simple policy letter, signed at the beginning of every new commander’s tenure, which affirms their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workforce. From there, a system of training on the types of equal employment opportunity and organizational requirements for a model EEO program are prescribed that each employee must go through. One example where the Charleston District extends their commitment is through its diversity programs.
“We participate in national observances and have special emphasis programs focused on the goal of improving employment for under-represented groups of minorities, women and people with disabilities in the workplace,” said Jessica Byrd, equal employment opportunity officer. “Within these programs, we try to enhance education and promote cultural awareness, build morale and camaraderie and support career development for all employees.”
The District often brings in speakers to talk about topics for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and many more. The District recognizes that diversity and inclusion requires an investment from the highest senior leaders to the newest employees. The programs that are most well-received are those that have speakers from within the District who can share their experiences.
One recent example was during Black History Month when a senior leader shared his career journey as a black male looking for employment in the 1970s and 80s and inspired others to pursue their career aspirations. Another example was when the District held a seminar on the Workforce Recruitment Program and had three entry-level employees that started as WRP interns in the District share how the WRP propelled their careers. The WRP helps college students and recent graduates with disabilities land temporary and permanent jobs in the government.
“WRP has been one of our biggest success stories for diversity and inclusion,” said Byrd. “We have been an employer of WRP interns since 2012 which has provided us another avenue to reach top talent and improve representation of people with disabilities in our organization, many of which are also veterans.”
Another area of success with diversity and inclusion is the representation of women in STEM within the District. For example, of the environmental biologists in the office, 50 percent are women. The District is heavily involved in various community outreach engagements and with today’s youth, educating them on the Corps’ mission and promoting STEM and interest in federal careers. These efforts are two-fold, to attract a diverse workforce for today and to also build the diverse workforce for tomorrow.
“We are committed to diversity and inclusion for all people, regardless of race, gender, religion or anything else,” said Byrd. “We want to attract a diverse workforce and select the best qualified candidates in every area.”
Despite all efforts and success in some areas, Byrd says we are still not where we need to be in terms of diverse representation amongst our employees in all segments of the organization. Diversity and inclusion is an ongoing and ever-changing challenge and as the nation seeks to be better, the District continues on that path to be better as well.