How African American federal executives see 2024 landscape

As this year's Black history month comes to a conclusion, we wanted to check how things look today for African American managers in the federal government.

As this year’s Black history month comes to a conclusion, we wanted to check how things look today for Black managers in the federal government. For some perspective, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with the President of the African American Federal Executive Association, Tyra Dent.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And I just wanted to see what things look like. Now we are three years into the Biden administration, different executive orders, different approaches to things and give us a temperature of what it’s like for executives in your group.

Tyra Dent You know, the temperature is certainly rising. And I and I use that in a context that we are seeing progress. It has been three years, and we certainly do acknowledge that the work needs to continue. There’s work to still be done, but we’re definitely seeing progress. We remain encouraged and hopeful that the focus on equality and equity and inclusiveness will continue, that that momentum will not relax itself in the years ahead, that we can continue to leverage and gain upon the progress that we have made.

Tom Temin And I wanted to ask you about the so-called DEIA programs that have been launched and a lot of agencies, a lot of corporations. There’s been a little bit of rollback of some of that, because I think one of the components of those, not all of them, but in some cases has been to try to convince everybody else that they might be a bigot and not know it, which kind of seems like a sort of a prejudgment of other people. What’s your sense of the quality and the effectiveness of DEI programs, and how would you maybe improve them?

Tyra Dent Certainly. First of all, I like to dispel the use of a program as a DEI longtime advocate. I think part of the or significant part of our individual and collective ability to really embrace the benefits of DEI come from a shift in our mindset that this is about the business. It is not a program that has a finite start date and an end date, or an implementation period. It needs to be woven into our daily business practices, policies, procedures, and processes. And so when we can adopt that concept that this is enhancing the organization’s ability to deliver on its mission to maintain excellence in service to our nation, then I think we can get away from the what I like to really refer to as the noise level aspect of it, that tends to distract us from the work that really needs to be done, and really just acknowledge that this is really enabling a more productive, a more effective government.

Tom Temin And one of the other initiatives, really of every administration, but it goes on and on. And that is the idea of getting more young people to consider government as a career choice. And the government manages to stay staffed, even though it’s hard to bring in those people and the numbers of younger people. The percentage of the federal population that is very young is small. But for those that are coming in that are diverse, black young people coming in, what’s your advice to them for kind of sticking it out if they have ambitions to rise to managerial and senior executive ranks?

Tyra Dent So I like to remind them that the work of the federal government is purposeful, impactful, and meaningful, that they have an opportunity to reach across our nation in service to our citizens. That’s the higher calling, if you will, to careers in public service. But on a more personal level to the young folks, I like to also share with them that the government is working. We acknowledge that we need to be cultivating a younger workforce, that we need to be implementing policies that respond to things like more flexibility and opportunities for career growth where they’re not stagnant, opportunities for professional development. And so, I do remain encouraged. I have the opportunity to see great work being done by other organizations. Partnership for Public Service, to name one, convergence for a Democratic Society. There’s a lot of work going on, really looking into how we can more effectively market opportunities in the federal government to a younger generation and not only market them, but when they come through the door, how we can fulfill those promises and create conditions for employment that really inspire them to want to serve as a public service.

Tom Temin And for federal managers at the level that are members of the organization of the African American Federal Executive Association. As for all SESers, given how weird the politics are out there in the country, what are the challenges in maintaining not just Hatch Act lack of violation, but really keeping your focus on that job and trying to tune out all of the politics and keeping it out of the workplace in the federal office, which is the only way people can get along and get the job done.

Tyra Dent Yeah, yeah, that’s a very good question. And that that’s an art. You know, there’s not a one size fits all or, you know, a textbook answer for that. For me, you know, during my career while we had periods, you know, it ebbs and flows. And the federal government as a result of these weird politics. I like the way you referred to that. But part of that is the individual responsibility to really stay focused on the mission and what we’re there to do. We’re serving our nation and focusing on the jobs that we’re doing and the service and the benefits that we’re bringing to the American people when that is really, really instilled in us. It has to quiet some of those distractions and, you know, political tensions that exist within the federal government.

Tom Temin And the association has its executive leadership development program coming up in a couple of months. What are some of the themes and you’ve got some headline speakers there?

Tyra Dent Yeah. So, our theme is leading the Call to Action. You know, we’re going to unpack that. There are many dimensions to where we as individuals and collectively as public servants and as African Americans can really, you know, lead the call to action on issues that you just bring up. You know, recruiting and attracting a younger generation of African American into the federal government. We’ve got confirmed so far, Shavon Arline-Bradley, the president and CEO of the National Council of Negro Women, is our opening day speaker. We’re thrilled to have her. And we’ve got a lot of other trailblazing leaders and practitioners that we are lining up. It’s three days. It begins on June the 4th, runs through June the 6th. It’s all in person at the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. We really are looking for an unprecedented turnout this year. This also happens to be our 20th annual Leadership Development Workshop. And so, we’re very proud that for 20 consecutive years, despite weird politics, despite other nuances along the way, that the African American Federal Executive Association has been able to keep its promise to deliver this three-day workshop. We’re really looking forward to it.

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