Personnel management official touts need for diversity, inclusion

  • Published
  • By Dianne Ryder
  • DLA Public Affairs

The Defense Logistics Agency Equal Employment Opportunity Office hosted guest speaker Zina Sutch, deputy associate director of outreach, diversity and inclusion at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month Oct. 17.

Sutch spoke on organizational performance through diversity and inclusion management, a subject that most wouldn’t link to the observance, said Affirmative Employment Program Manager Cynthia Sexton.

“Historically, the McNamara Headquarters Complex has done observances that highlight culture,” she said. “Diversity is a culture.”

Sutch’s work at OPM as well as an educator of children with emotional and behavioral disorders aligns with the 2019 theme of the observance: Hispanic Americans, a history of serving our nation, Sexton said.

When she first came to OPM in 2018, Sutch identified an organizational flaw with the diversity and inclusion program: personnel in that arena weren’t working directly with supervisors to help them incorporate diversity and inclusion principles. 

“We weren’t going out there and working with senior leadership to say, ‘Hey, why is this important? Why do we even have to think about the diversity of our organization? Why do cultures have to be inclusive?’”

Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be viewed as something organizations “have to do,” but should represent solutions to some of the problems within government entities, she said.

“Working together is more than a good idea, it’s essential to individual and company success,” Sutch said. “It’s not a moral imperative, it’s a business imperative.”

Sutch said she learned about DLA and noted the strategic plan’s core values.

“One of the first things I noticed is that in the center of the wheel you have people and culture. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited about coming here,” she said. “You guys already know that – so now the question is, where do you go from here?”

Sutch defined diversity as an environment where all employees’ talents and differences are respected and valued for professional and mission success.

“Let’s embrace that, let’s not be afraid to say we’re different from each other,” she said. “No longer are we just going to focus on personality and all the inherent diversity traits, like race, age, ethnicity, physical ability and sexual orientation. We’re going to expand that to external dimensions.”

External dimensions include marital status, parental status, appearance, work experience, educational background, religion, income and geographic location. 

Inclusion is a process that cultivates a connective work environment for each employee and encourages collaboration, flexibility and fairness so all are enabled to participate and contribute.

“We are all individuals who want to have a unique thing about us — we all want to be special, but at the same time we want to feel like we belong” Sutch said.

She said leaders are responsible for getting to know their employees and understanding what will contribute to their sense of belonging and inclusion.

When an employee is first hired, they try to assimilate to the work culture and become a “good fit” for the organization. But remaining in the “assimilation box” and being rewarded for it should not be the goal, Sutch said.

“We need to break that cycle. We need to change how we see each other in the office space and the way we recognize skills, leadership ability and promotion potential, and start moving ourselves into the inclusion box,” she said.

Sutch also presented results from studies of American corporations that employed inclusive hiring practices, especially among its leaders. Increasing ethnic, racial and gender diversity often led to better financial performance and lower turnover rates.

“We’ve got research to show us there is a benefit to having diversity in your hired ranks,” she said. “Those folks know what their customers need before they even need it.”

Biases are common to everyone and can affect how supervisors approach subordinates, Sutch said. Once managers recognize the biases they have, they can work to overcome them and build relationships with employees that can lead to better employee performance and commitment to the organization.

Unconscious bias involves unintended, subtle choices that all people make.

Sutch related how unconscious bias affects hiring procedures. But the things that impact organizational culture culminate in people, practices and performance.

Micro-messages are subtleties such as facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, word choice, nuance and syntax that affect communication in employees’ personal and professional lives, she said.

Supervisors should become aware of biases and behaviors, so they can slow down and process their thinking.

“You have to measure, you have to look at the performance of your organization. Learn more about yourself — do a 360-degree feedback survey — that’s an action you can take right away,” she said. “If you get honest feedback you will get to know yourself better and what messages you’re sending.”

Sutch also recommended managers attend leadership development classes and practice new behaviors to create an inclusive culture and provide open dialogue.

“When you recognize it, make a conscious decision to change even just one behavior,” she said. “You can do it. And once you start doing it, things change; your environment changes.”