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The US Department of Commerce is asking you for DEI advice

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The U.S. Department of Commerce announced on Monday that it is seeking best practices regarding diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) with the goal of “promoting inclusive capitalism and equitable economic growth for all Americans.” 

The department said in its announcement it seeks to provide best practices to audit “the current state of business diversity within the organization,” including demographic data, workplace policies and practices, and employee perception.

This call to action doesn’t only provide HR professionals an opportunity to shape U.S. governmental policy. It also marks a trend of government agencies publicly championing DEI and making strides to improve their employee experience — and help private sector workplaces do the same.

DOJ, DOL also provide DEI work case studies

For example, the Department of Justice publicly announced its DEI objectives, or “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Focus Areas.” The DOJ initiative mandates DEIA training and Rehabilitation Act compliance, which requires that people have access to assistive technology. 

Psychological safety also appeared to be a DEIA priority; DOJ seeks to “[foster] a safe work environment for all employees by developing clear and comprehensive policies and practices, as well as robust training and greater awareness on preventing and addressing workplace sexual harassment and misconduct, and supporting personnel who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.”

So far, as of early March 2023, the Justice Department has audited the state of DEIA in its HR policies and practices, it said; it has also launched the attorney general’s DEIA advisory council, which represents several employee affinity groups. The DOJ also hired its first chief diversity officer, developed a policy statement and created a DEIA Implementation Team, which works in conjunction with Equal Employment Opportunities and human resources offices. 

Similarly, the Department of Labor publicly announced its Equity Action Plan, which relates to its 2022-2026 strategic plan. These objectives notably include a revamp of DOL grantmaking. It seeks to remove barriers “to the participation of small, new, or emerging community-based organizations in the grantmaking process,” and improve outreach to “historically underserved populations.” 

Barrier removal, in pursuit of “building a pipeline of diverse community-based organizations,” looks like supporting existing grantees, baking in accountability with reporting requirements and extending open periods for grant applications, DOL said. 

How government agency DEI policies trickle down to private HR

While DEI initiatives often center employee experience and inspire a sense of belonging at work, the DOL’s initiatives demonstrate a direct impact on the compliance landscape.

The DOL said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requiring employers to provide time off for vaccination and recovery, for example, was a part of its equity work; the mandate “remove[s] obstacles to this life-saving protection for low-paid workers in underserved communities.” OSHA’s work toward a hazardous heat standard is another example given.

Likewise, the Wage and Hour Division’s policymaking in favor of tipped workers is another way the DOL has said it has championed equity and inclusion. “Tipped workers are disproportionately people of color and most are women. They suffer a poverty rate over twice that of non-tipped workers,” the DOL stated. “The rule helps ensure tipped workers are treated with dignity and respect and that they receive the appropriate wage for the work they are performing.”

How to get involved with the Department of Commerce

As the Department seeks to “cultivate and maintain a diverse talent pipeline by partnering with educational institutions and community organizations,” HR professionals can help shape the agency’s future workplace guidance here.

Between the Departments of Commerce, Justice and Labor — their workplace policies and their goals to improve them — it appears the U.S. government is setting a tone for the American workforce.

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