Strategies for success

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Strategies for success

Supporting health equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

In 2021, the Partnership for Public Service launched an 18-month program that helped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work toward building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce. By doing so, CDC is becoming more representative of the populations it serves and fostering an open environment where people bring their whole selves to work.  

Both improvements are strengthening employees’ job satisfaction and performance, while infusing the workplace with a range of perspectives that enable CDC to better meet the needs of diverse groups. Together, these changes will enable CDC to execute its new strategic plan focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging—a core pillar of the agency’s larger objective to reduce racial health disparities for underserved populations.     

Among the many public health challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is perhaps none more serious than the ongoing disparities in disease outcomes based on socioeconomic status, race and other social indicators.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a multipronged plan to reduce these disparities—and one component is building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce. By recruiting personnel with a broader range of perspectives and engaging employees of all backgrounds, CDC desires to have the “right perspectives in the room” to ensure it meets the needs of vulnerable populations and to strengthen the organization’s focus on serving a diverse public, according to CDC Chief Operating Officer Robin Bailey.   

As it grappled with ongoing health crises and reports of shrinking trust in the agency, CDC leaders turned to the Partnership for Public Service to help realize these goals.  

With support from the Kellogg Foundation, and informed by its DEI work with other agencies, the Partnership designed an 18-month custom program that put CDC on the path to revitalizing its workplace. These efforts laid the groundwork for the agency to begin implementing a new strategic plan focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging—or DEIAB—that builds from the inside out to advance health equity

“We are probably a year ahead of where we would have otherwise been without the Partnership, which helped us with key DEIAB foundational work,” Bailey said. 

Robin Bailey, chief operating officer of the CDC

Time to Focus

According to Bailey, the “foundational piece” of the Partnership’s program was the focus groups organized for each work level across different demographics.  

Through adept facilitation, the conversations elicited feedback about people’s “lived experiences” within CDC and helped foster better employee engagement. Indeed, the agency’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® score increased by nearly two points in 2021, with the largest jump occurring in the “Effective Leadership” category, and the agency is striving to finish as a top 10 subcomponent in the rankings by 2025. 

“We’re hearing directly from our employees and co-creating plans to improve our work environment which has resulted in more transparency,” he said. 

After hearing feedback about DEIAB challenges within the agency, CDC leaders also used the focus groups to go on the record about their commitment to DEIAB—something that Bailey said has helped foster accountability at every level of the organization.  

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky attended a “DEIAB Workshop for Directors”—a discussion of 360 assessment results for managers—to emphasize DEIAB as an organizational priority, and DEIAB standards are now included in executive, managerial and supervisory performance plans.  

“It’s one thing to say something, but it’s another to get in front of everybody to say, ‘This is what I am going to do and I want you to hold me accountable.’ The Partnership provided us with the space to create that shared standard.” 

“We are probably a year ahead of where we would have otherwise been without the Partnership, which helped us with key DEIAB foundational work.”

Robin Bailey
chief operating officer of the CDC

Time to Plan

According to Bailey, these focus groups “led to greater consensus” about how action plans created by CDC teams and organizations could drive the agency’s larger strategic plan on health equity.  

The Partnership also operated at the enterprise level, working with executive and steering committees to align the various action plans within CDC’s DEIAB strategic plan and iron out roles and responsibilities for implementation.  

As a result, Bailey said, “People let go of territorial battles and began to focus on the bigger picture of, ‘How do we stay focused on embedding DEIAB into our culture and everything that we do?’”  

In another example of breaking down siloes, the Partnership convened CDC’s human resources and equal employment opportunity functions to find new ways to recruit diverse job candidates. Attracting and recruiting more employees of Hispanic and Latino descent is a priority. 

“The Partnership helped the teams work together to bring qualified, diverse candidates into the pool, as opposed to pointing at each other about what the other is not doing,” he said.   

Moving toward the future

Bailey sees these interventions as the building blocks for a dynamic workforce culture built on trust and implementing CDC’s health equity agenda, which commits the agency to reduce health disparities for underrepresented groups from 2022 to 2027.  

Additionally, he believes that by attracting and retaining diverse talent reflective of the communities it serves and infusing DEIAB principles into every facet of its work, CDC will be stronger and better positioned to drive successes across its global public health mission.  

Current efforts include working to treat disease on tribal lands and hiring more field officers to support state and local emergency preparedness, reducing disparities in hypertension, youth violence, and flu vaccine uptake for Black and Hispanic populations, and more.   

Bailey credits the Partnership for helping the agency foster a shared commitment to DEIAB that will hold employees at all levels accountable for reaching these goals.   

“We are positioned to really take off in 2023,” he said. “There’s a level of excitement in the air that I haven’t seen before. People are excited to see what’s next.”  

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