We the Partnership

Building better diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

By Madison Harding
August 18, 2021 | Updated on August 25, 2021

At a recent Federal Communicators Network event, the Technology Transformation Services Diversity Guild, a community of employees working at the General Services Administration, led a virtual discussion on how communications professionals can build better diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The discussion led to three key recommendations: identify a baseline, integrate DEI principles into a strategic plan and clearly define success.

Identify a baseline

We can’t fix what we don’t know. Organizations should gather qualitative and quantitative data from employees as a first step toward creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. Austin Hernandez, a product designer at 18F and former TTS Diversity Guild co-lead, said that organizations need to understand their employees’ DEI-related concerns and convey them to important stakeholders. For example, Hernandez co-created the now bi-annual TTS Inclusion and Belonging Survey to help colleagues and senior leaders better understand employee experiences, organizational strengths and areas to improve.

He also recommended bringing employees together on a regular basis. The TTS Diversity Guild hosts weekly “Office Hours” meetings: 30-minute sessions where employees can learn about a topic via guest speakers, share concerns and bring ideas to the group. These gatherings highlight “what people [are] concerned about and talking about,” Hernandez said. He believes this type of feedback can show executive leadership what type of DEI initiatives would benefit their organizations, lead to more equitable outcomes and increase employee engagement.

Integrate DEI principles into all aspects of your work  

It is essential to integrate DEI principles into both everyday work and broader strategic plans. To sustain DEI initiatives, Jessyka Castillo, a cloud.gov strategist and a TTS Diversity Guild co-lead for fiscal 2021, advised communicators to champion and prioritize DEI in their daily work. “Each of us should look at ourselves as DEI directors … leading with what you don’t know and [leaning] into it,” she said.

Castillo shared how the TTS Diversity Guild worked with TTS’ Working While Black affinity group to celebrate Black History Month. Collaborating with staff on this internal and external storytelling campaign helped to honor and commemorate Black and African American culture and innovation both within and outside TTS. It also paved the way for an ongoing cultural communications plan that ensures TTS adequately and equitably supports its internal campaigns. Storytelling takes time, energy, trust and vulnerability, and it’s important that an organization frames all communications with an eye toward ongoing, systemic inclusion.

Define DEI success

Once this groundwork has been laid, communicators need to outline, in concrete terms, what DEI success means to them. Victoria B. Wales, a digital branch chief at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health and a former TTS Diversity Guild co-lead, said that DEI success starts with identifying a specific problem area to address.

Ashley Wichman, a TTS employee engagement lead and Diversity Guild partner, said that success for her is seeing “more of our employees [feel] like TTS is a place they belong in and that they are heard and valued.” Like Wales, she advised organizations to identify specific metrics from which to measure progress on DEI goals.

By taking these three steps, organizations can further integrate DEI into their everyday work.

Meet this event’s speakers:

  • Austin Hernandez (he/they), Product Designer, 18F, Technology Transformation Services Diversity Guild Co-Lead for fiscal 2020.
  • Jessyka Castillo (she/her), Cloud.gov Strategist on detail for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives at TTS for fiscal 2021; TTS Diversity Guild Co-Lead.
  • Victoria B. Wales (she/her/ella), Digital Branch Chief, Office of Neuroscience Communications and Engagement, NIH-NINDS; TTS Diversity Guild Co-Lead for fiscal 2020.
  • Ashley Wichman (she/her), TTS Employee Engagement Lead, TTS People Operations.
  • Aileen McGraw (she/her) (moderator), Director of Marketing & Outreach, Presidential Innovation Fellows; TTS Diversity Guild Co-Lead for fiscal 2021.

Sign up to join the Federal Communicators Network digital community by emailing [email protected] and leave the subject line blank.

Learn more about our panelists’ recommendations for building diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives by checking out the latest Federal Communicators Network event.

Madison Harding is a former intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.


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