This year at UNLEASH America 2023 we had the pleasure of hosting the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Basically, OPM is the HR arm of the US federal government, meaning it looks after 2.1 million federal employees.
Kiran Ahuja, director of the OPM, talked about the organization’s mission to be a model employer on the Main Stage during Day One of UNLEASH America 2023.
The federal government is mission-driven – it has scale, scope and impact, and “because of that it has a responsibility to be a model employer”.
Beyond updating its compensation and benefits – for instance, introducing a minimum wage that drove wages up for 70,000 individuals (this triggered a huge cheer from the audience) – diversity, equity and inclusion are key to OPM’s success in being a model employer.
Adding accessibility to DEIA
When OPM talks about D,E&I, it adds an A for accessibility, and it wants other employers to do the same.
This was the focus of another Day One session from Janice Underwood, the OPM’s chief diversity officer – she started off by making the session accessible, including by sharing her pronouns and describing her appearance for the visually impaired.
“We have a responsibility to become a model employer because we serve you, all of you, the American people and those who choose to call the US home and those who visit” – and this means OPM has to role model for DEIA at work. So what has worked, and what hasn’t?
Underwood started off by declaring we shouldn’t call initiatives “best practices” – instead, they should say “promising practices”. This is because the world of work is “constantly changing”, so will things stay best practices five years from now?
“We know we may have to pivot” – and COVID-19 was a big learning in this regard; “who knew that telework would be an issue in 2018 or 2019?”, asks Underwood.
She continued that the prize for DEIA is fairness, belonging and justice. So OPM has created a learning community platform that encourages individuals to come and learn from one another and thought leaders from the private and public sectors.
Underwood stated: “If we’re going to put people first, we have to listen to the people” – so for OPM this listening and discussion is not just top down, it is also bottom up.
“We know we don’t have all the answers. We have to try some things, see if it works and be okay with failing”, added Underwood. “For whatever reason, in DEIA work you’re not allowed to fail”, and OPM is on a mission to change that mentality.
Underwood’s closing thought at UNLEASH America was everyone needs to stop talking about diversity work as a “moral imperative” – “this work has a business imperative”.
Are you ready to join OPM and rethink diversity, equity and inclusion in your own organization?
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