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The Best Staff for Measuring America

Mon Jun 27 2011
Robert Groves
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Social and economic research examines the behavior of individuals and groups of persons. The Census Bureau’s data are key to that research. But producing insights is increasingly difficult because of the heterogeneity within the society. There are over a hundred different languages spoken in the US currently. The percentage of US residents that are foreign-born is higher than anytime since the 1920’s. Minority groups, at one time clustered in the big cities of the country, are spread throughout the country in small and large towns. Generational differences in lifestyles seem to be increasing as the internet changes our lives at faster and faster rates.

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These groups experience life in different ways; they see the world through different lenses. They react to others based on those shared experiences. If we are to create research designs and measurements that work, we need to understand those differences. Just as a chemist needs to know the entire context of a chemical reaction to understand it, we need to know the full cultural, lifestyle, and linguistic context of sample persons to assure our measurements are accurate.

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We’ve decided that the best way to understand the differences is to employ staff that have themselves had those diverse experiences.

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We think we can do better in building a strongly diverse staff.

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To assist us in developing a new corporate diversity strategy, we brought in Senior Vice Presidents and/or Chief Diversity Officers from some of the leading organizations in the country to hear their successes and lessons in the application of diversity management: McDonald’s, General Electric, Google, and the Social Security Administration. While each had slight differences in their approach to ensuring a diversified workforce, the common themes were the need for leadership involvement, accountability, and the importance of the roles of Employee Groups (commonly referred to as Affinity Groups) in the business practices of the organization.

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We’re ready to act now.

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First, we want to encourage the creation of more affinity groups and have lowered the bureaucratic steps involved in creating them. Second, a critical element on diversity has been added to the performance management plans of all our Senior Executives Service (SES) personnel to rate them on their diversity initiatives and support of the diversity vision for the Census Bureau. Third, each affinity group will be championed by an Associate Director of their choice, who will be able to address their concerns and facilitate discussion of their issues with executive groups.

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We currently have 11 affinity groups at Census: Asian Pacific American Network; Association for Persons with Disabilities at Census; Blacks in Government; Census African American Managers Group; Census Bureau Veterans Group; Census Welfare and Recreation Association; Census Weights and Endurance Training Shop; Commerce Latino Employee Organization; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees; Next Generation Network; and three Toastmasters clubs.

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We want more.

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We will expedite the creation of more Affinity Groups and allow employees with similar likes (or affinities) to form and create an avenue to meet and share ideas. The key to creating an Affinity Group will be the group’s desire to enhance its own experience of working at the Census Bureau. Groups can be formed for ethnic subgroups to age groups; book clubs to hikers; motorcycle riders to wine-tasters; sport teams to dog lovers, and everything in between.

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Affinity groups will be asked to play roles in our recruitment and retention efforts. They’ll contribute to work/life balance by providing employees an opportunity to meet and participate in activities with other employees and broaden strengthen the Census network. We’re aiming for a work environment that represents the diversity in the country we study.

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For the Census Bureau, social and economic science research insights are the focus of our mission. We can’t achieve that mission without a diverse staff.

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