Building community, connection and commitment for African American federal executives
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Building community, connection and commitment for African American federal executives

February 5, 2024
Greta Okomo

February marks the annual observance of Black History Month, which recognizes and celebrates the culture, contributions and achievements of African Americans.     

To mark Black History Month, I spoke with Tyra Dent, president of the African American Federal Executive Association, a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 that is dedicated to preparing and supporting African Americans for advancement into and within the senior ranks of the federal government.  

Dent explains the association’s impact, explores the experiences of African Americans in federal leadership roles and highlights the impact of African Americans in government.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

What challenges do African American federal leaders face?  

As President Biden’s 2021 executive order notes, African American federal leaders and other underrepresented populations face systemic inequities in hiring, promotion, pay and advancement processes within government. 

Note: According to research from the Partnership for Public Service, the federal workforce is as racially diverse as the U.S. population at large, but there continue to be racial disparities within the Senior Executive Service, whose members serve in top federal positions just below presidential appointees. While people of color composed nearly one-quarter of the SES as of 2022—a roughly 9% jump from 2007—African Americans made up just over 12% of SES members as of March 2023.   

What has been the impact of the association on African American federal leaders and on the federal government? 

AAFEA invests in the preparation, development and advancement of African Americans into senior executive positions and serves as a talent pipeline for African American federal leaders by providing programs that elevate their leadership competencies and performance.  

The association offers its five-month Next Generation Career Development Plan Program, which prepares GS-13 and GS-14 federal leaders to compete for advanced career positions in the federal government. The 12-month AAFEA Fellows Program prepares high-performing supervisory GS-14 and GS-15 leaders to successfully navigate the SES hiring process.   

The Fellows Program offers mentoring, mock interviews, support and constructive feedback for writing Executive Core Qualifications, the Office of Personnel Management’s five core competencies needed to lead in government, and a capstone project.  

As a result of AAFEA, talented and skilled African Americans are prepared to advance their careers and remain active in the federal workforce. Their presence in government helps ensure a diversity of thought and perspectives in the development and implementation of federal policies, practices and procedures. 

What are a few goals for AAFEA in 2024?  

In 2024, we are focusing on three strategic goals: elevating the membership experience, strengthening our infrastructure, and leveraging partnerships and alliances.  

We want to create more opportunities for member engagement and are enhancing our digital platform to be more interactive for users. Also, we want to increase partnerships and alliances with organizations like our current partners, Blacks in Government, Executive Women in Government, the Senior Executives Association and others.  

How can people get involved with the association? 

Please visit AAFEA’s website and, if interested, become a member. Attend AFFEA’s 20th Annual Leadership Development Workshop or the upcoming Senior Executives Association’s Senior Executive Leadership Summit. I will be moderating a panel titled “Building a More Diverse Senior Executive Service.”   

Greta Okomo is a former senior manager at the Partnership’s Federal Workforce team.

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