In a report released last month by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the government’s oversight agency identified challenges for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in hiring and retaining a diverse workforce.
The GAO’s review of DHS’s workforce data from fiscal years 2014 through 2017 “showed that every minority group as well as individuals with disabilities and individuals with targeted disabilities had been trending in a positive direction since fiscal year 2014.” DHS officials also told the GAO that minority representation had increased 3% and female representation had increased 2% since 2015. However, DHS – like many government agencies – still struggles to attract and retain minorities.
DHS identifies barriers to Equal Employment Opportunity
All government agencies are required to comply with Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) standards to ensure that the federal workforce reflects the diversity of the American people. Agencies are also required to report barriers to EEO standards and report demographic information of its new hires to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The report speaks to DHS’s multi-year efforts to study its demographic data and make appropriate adjustments in light of its findings.
In accordance with EEOC guidance, DHS analyzes data on its workforce to identify potential barriers to diversity. In fiscal year 2017, DHS used all available data (FY 2014-2017) to compare “racial, national origin, gender, and disability profiles of its total workforce, and for various occupational categories to relevant civilian labor workforce data.” This included looking at the total workforce of DHS, participation rates by major occupations, and applicants and hires by major occupations. The distribution of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Disability was examined for all of these categories.
In their findings, DHS identified three anomalies:
- White women leaving the workforce at higher rates
- Lower representation by women and other minorities
- Lower representation by those with targeted disabilities
What’s Causing Barriers to Workplace Diversity?
Further analysis by DHS concluded that these issues were due to several factors, including issues with management, lack of advancement, lack of alternate work schedules, the geographic limitations of positions, and medical and physical requirements.
To address these issues, DHS has taken measures, such as identifying and targeting universities and geographies with historically underrepresented groups for their recruitment. However, the report contends that DHS needs better performance metrics to demonstrate progress to eliminating these barriers.
Many issues identified by the report are not unique to DHS. Workplace flexibility, geographic barriers and lack of access to mentors in positions of leadership can all negatively affect the retention rate for women and minorities. Recent reports have identified similar struggles and efforts within the intelligence community to attract and retain talented women, minorities, and persons with disabilities to its workforce.
The report highlights the significance of federal government hiring efforts that focus not only on hiring the right employees, but retaining them. For DHS, which has challenges in both geography and physical fitness requirements, the value isn’t just in the candidate you can hire, but in the candidate you can keep.