On June 25, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEI&A) in the federal workforce.

The executive order is a bold move from the White House and seeks to overcome enduring legacies of employment discrimination, systemic racism, and gender inequality, in addition to providing better representation of underserved communities in the federal government.

“When public servants reflect the communities they serve, the government is more effective and successful,” the official executive order fact sheet states. “…Today’s executive order will help develop a federal workforce that looks like America where qualified people from every background and walk of life have an equal opportunity to serve our nation.”

While this executive order primarily impacts federal agencies, it also has implications for organizations in the private sector. Below we have outlined the details of the executive order and how it impacts employers across the country.

What does the executive order cover?

In short, the executive order is intended to promote and strengthen DEI&A in all parts of the federal workforce. It will achieve these goals in partnership with key federal agencies through the following areas of focus:

Establish a government-wide initiative to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all parts of the federal workforce

The initiative will advance opportunity for groups that have historically faced employment discrimination and professional barriers, including: 

  • People of color
  • Sex, sexual orientation, gender identity (LGBTQ+)
  • Pregnant or Pregnancy-related conditions
  • Religion 
  • Disability
  • First-generation professionals or college students
  • Limited English proficiency
  • Immigrants
  • Individuals with disabilities
  • Age as a barrier to seeking employment
  • Americans who live in rural areas
  • Parents and caregivers who face employment barriers
  • People of faith who require religious accommodations at work
  • Individuals who were formerly incarcerated
  • Veterans and military spouses
  • Individuals who have faced persistent poverty, discrimination or inequality

Charge all federal agencies with two objectives

The first is to assess the current state of DEI and accessibility within their workforces. Secondly, federal agencies must develop strategic plans to eliminate any barriers to success faced by underserved employees. Agencies will have 100 days to review whether employers who are members of underserved communities face barriers to employment, promotion, or professional development within their workforce.

Direct agencies to seek opportunities to establish or elevate Chief Diversity Officers within their organizations 

All agencies will be required to look for opportunities to establish senior leaders to promote DEI within the workforce.

Expand DEI and accessibility training throughout the federal workforce

Agencies will expand the availability of DEI and accessibility training for their workforce that promote respectful and inclusive workplaces and an understanding of implicit and unconscious bias.

Address workplace harassment, including sexual harassment

This requires a government-wide, comprehensive plan to address workplace harassment (including sexual harassment). 

Reduce the federal government’s reliance on unpaid internships, which can create barriers for low-income students and first-generation professionals

Key agencies must take steps to reduce reliance on unpaid internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships that perpetuate inequities for certain groups.

Advance pay equity to ensure that all public servants are fairly compensated for their work and their talents

The Office of Personnel Management will review government-wide regulations and guidance that set pay and wage standards for public servants. It must also consider taking steps to prohibit agencies from seeking or relying on an applicant’s salary history during the hiring process and compensation decisions.

Advance equity in the workplace for individuals with disabilities

Key agencies will be required to ensure that all federal workplaces and technologies are fully accessible; improve the process for requesting reasonable accommodations; and ensure that all federal employees understand their rights to request reasonable accommodations.

Advance equity in the workplace for LGBTQ+ public servants

Agencies must ensure that the federal health benefits system equitably serves LGBTQ+ employees and their dependents by expanding access to comprehensive gender-affirming health care, among other measures.

Build a more diverse pipeline into public service through new recruitment partnerships

Agencies will develop new recruitment partnerships to ensure that the federal government can recruit top talent.

Expand federal employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals

The Office of Personnel Management will assess the barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face when seeking federal jobs and consider creating new Hiring Authorities to expand job opportunities for individuals with past convictions.  

Advance equity in professional development

Agencies will improve the collection of demographic data about which employees are able to access professional development and advancement opportunities to ensure that these programs equitably serve all federal public servants.

Improve the collection of demographic data about the federal workforce

Key agencies will review and improve guidance on the collection of demographic data about federal employees to take an evidence-informed approach to reducing inequitable barriers in the hiring, promoting, developing and retaining practices.

Advancing equity, in the federal workforce and beyond

The current administration has made it clear that promoting workplace equality is a top priority moving forward – and it has the track record to prove it. This latest directive follows another executive order President Biden signed into law on his first day in office to implement a comprehensive and systematic approach to advancing racial equity throughout the federal government.  

These initiatives signal a new direction for government and private sectors alike. In fact, precedent shows it’s only a matter of time before more robust equity laws become the standard for organizations everywhere. The workplace equality trend continues to gain momentum at the local level, with states such as Colorado, Rhode Island, and Oregon recently passing laws to bolster the Equal Pay Act. Employers – not just those that work with the federal government —  should proactively make equity-centered adjustments instead of waiting for them to be mandated.

What’s more, advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity is about more than just compliance. Treating employees with dignity and respect is a responsibility that lies on the shoulders of all employers.

Employers in all sectors should focus on the important task of cultivating workplaces that model DEI values. Find out what other organizations are doing to make DEI initiatives more impactful in our research study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.