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Meeting of October 23, 2008 – Issues Facing Hispanics in the Federal Workplace

Statement of Sarah F. Jaggar, Senior Advisor, Partnership for Public Service

Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioners, and Colleagues,

My name is Sarah Jaggar, and I am Senior Advisor to the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that seeks to revitalize our federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works. We work closely with federal agencies to improve the effectiveness of their recruiting and hiring in order to not only attract but retain “the right talent” to accomplish the complex missions facing the federal government today. In its 7-year existence, the Partnership has focused continuously on this goal, believing that to be successful, the federal government must be fully representative of the skills, talents, interests, and experience of all people living in our great land. Thank you for providing the Partnership for Public Service an opportunity to discuss issues facing Hispanics in the federal workplace.

Since 2000 Hispanics have accounted for half of the population growth in the United States. Yet as a group, Hispanics are consistently underrepresented in the federal workforce, comprising 7.7%1 versus 12.7% of the Civilian Labor Force2. As the numbers and roles of Hispanics in the United States increase and improve, the state of Hispanic representation in the federal workforce is not keeping pace and acutely more so in the ranks of federal senior executives.

The importance of a diverse workforce has been emphasized frequently. Savvy companies in the private sector focus on the numerous benefits they achieve by successfully bridging cultural and language differences in the globalized world of business. They cite diversification simply as “a must”. This is and MUST be equally true for federal agencies and departments. Workforce diversity:

  • Promotes diversity of talents, skills, and perspectives of individuals from different cultural backgrounds.
  • Helps organizations serve customers knowledgeably and sensitively.
  • Fosters a healthier and more productive organization.
  • Provides role-models and inspiration for young people who want and need to see successful “people like them" in their work environment.

We partner with more than 620 colleges and universities around the country in our national Call to Serve program, and we unfortunately see Hispanic and Latino students who are discouraged from applying for federal jobs at agencies so in need of “the best and the brightest” because they do not see people ”like themselves” in those agencies.

What a loss this is! Research and pilot projects conducted by the Partnership starting in 2005 show that among college students, Hispanics are the ethnic group most interested in working for the federal government (51% expressed high interest in federal careers).3 However, among their peers, Hispanic students were the least knowledgeable about available federal jobs (62% reported having little or no knowledge about federal job opportunities or how to find and apply for them). Thus this research shows that with perseverance, creativity, use of the Hispanic employees already on board, and distinct efforts to reach out to potential applicants where they are, agencies can inspire and hire Hispanic and Latino students and graduates for federal careers and internships.

For these reasons, in 2007 the Partnership worked with federal and private sector representatives to identify practices that are most effective in recruiting and retaining Hispanics4. During this process, we learned several important lessons:

  • Good recruiting is good recruiting – this is true for attracting the best and brightest Hispanics as well as non-Hispanics.
  • Well-run agencies – those that empower their employees, are mission-driven, and emphasize employee growth – are the most successful in retaining their employees, including Hispanics.
  • To successfully recruit and retain the best and the brightest requires that federal agencies compete head-to-head with the best organizations in the private and not-for-profit sectors – and the competition for talented Hispanics is especially fierce.
  • Thoughtful methods of outreach to and communication specifically with Hispanic students can increase success and positive results in recruiting these sought-after students.

Importantly, we also learned that an agency’s (or company’s) success in recruiting and retaining Hispanics one-for-one correlates with strong, directly-communicated, sustained commitment from the highest leaders in the organization. Without this, agencies rarely make progress.

  • Leaders must “get” the business case for increased Hispanic participation in their organizations and must set expectations for the agency to follow through to make this happen.
  • A senior level “champion” needs to be designated to carry out the agency’s plans to improve Hispanic participation and retention, and accountability for results must be defined and based on measures of success.
  • Savvy recruiting followed by dedicated efforts to maximize the quality of new employees’ work experiences generates success and improves retention.

In addition, we clearly see that committed leaders track their progress. A highly effective tool for this is the Best Places to Work5 rankings produced by the Partnership using data from OPM’s biannual Federal Human Capital Survey. Our last report, produced in 2007 using 2006 survey results, showed that NASA, GAO, and the Social Security Administration were ranked as the three best places to work among the large agencies by employees who classified themselves as Hispanics. Leaders at each of these agencies will tell you that their success is due to sustained effort and innovative approaches to reach out to Hispanic applicants. The moral of the story is that improvements and changes do not just happen because people want them to — they require strategic, systematic action and accountability for results.

Basic legal underpinnings, such as Executive Order 13171 and EEOC’s Management Directive 715, are in place for agencies to address the low representation of Hispanics. Even so, leadership and enforcement from central federal agencies has varied during the recent past, leaving it primarily up to individual agencies to plan their own activities. Several federal agencies -- including but not limited to the Best Places to Work leading organizations I mentioned above, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and others, supported by strong relationships with Hispanic professional organizations such as HACU and LULAC -- can provide models on how to be successful. Happily, good examples that can inspire and inform the public sector also exist in the private sector (at companies such as Ernst & Young and Hewlett Packard, to mention two).

Like the private sector, the federal government may lose almost half of its workforce in the next decade as baby-boomers retire. The competition to hire top young American talent from an increasingly multicultural pool has become fierce. Private industry and the public sector are competing for the same talent and studies show the federal government is losing this competition. To lose the competition for Hispanics would be a double loss: not only would top young Hispanics not enter the federal workforce, but the government’s ability to perform its mission well could be constrained.

We applaud the EEOC’s interest in ensuring that the federal government benefits from the skills and expertise of all segments of the labor force, including the nation’s talented Hispanics and Latinos. While the current economic downturn may have delayed some of the widely reported talent exodus from the federal government, it has not stopped it. Serious challenges face the federal government, highlighting the need for well-educated, highly-skilled talent to address those challenges. Competition for this “right talent” may be tough, but it creates some real opportunities to meet the hiring challenges in a way that addresses both skill gaps and diversity goals. The Partnership looks forward to working with you and with federal agencies to help the federal government become a model employer with a workforce that fully represents its citizens and the people it serves.

I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.


Footnotes

1 U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Seventh Annual Report to the President on Hispanic Employment in the Federal Government (December 2007).

2 Note the discussion about the appropriate Civilian Labor Force (CLF) figures to cite for comparative purposes. See, for example, GAO-07-493R, Data on Hispanic Representation in the Federal Workforce, Tables 2 and 4, and the letter from the Department of Justice (pages 45 and 46 of that GAO report) commenting upon statistical issues associated with CLF calculations.

3 Partnership for Public Service, Back to School: Rethinking Federal Recruiting on College Campuses (May 2006).

4 The Partnership was pleased to work with federal representatives of: the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, and Labor and from the Social Security Administration; the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Blacks in Government, and the Hispanic Employee Program Managers National Council; the Hispanic Executive Network Forum; and two private sector firms -- Ernst & Young and Hewlett Packard.

5 Partnership for Public Service, The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government: 2007 Rankings.