Using affinity groups to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce
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Using affinity groups to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce

April 28, 2022

While the federal workforce became more diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity from the end of the Obama administration to the end of the Trump administration, agencies can still do more to recruit and retain people from underrepresented communities. Affinity groups are one resource that agencies can use to meet this imperative.

Fostering a sense of belonging

Affinity groups—a group of employees with similar backgrounds, interests or demographic factors—bring together staff members with a shared identity to build connections.

Research has shown that people tend to associate with those with similar demographic, behavioral and socioemotional characteristics. As a result, affinity groups have been shown to foster a sense of belonging. At the State Department, for example, the Native American Foreign Affairs Council provides a space for Native American employees to honor their cultural heritage and bring awareness to the contributions of Native American employees to U.S. foreign affairs agencies.

Improving employee retention

In addition to fostering a sense of belonging, affinity groups often improve employee retention. Many retention strategies, such as offering incentives or creating mentor programs, are resources often created by affinity groups to support employees with particular identities.

At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Blacks in Government group promotes employee advocacy and professional development of Black employees through training seminars and a mentoring program. Affinity groups like Blacks in Government, or B.I.G., are an asset to agencies by providing resources that support underrepresented groups in the workplace.

Increasing recruitment to underrepresented communities

In a recent executive order, the Biden administration emphasized the importance of promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce. Affinity groups can help fulfill this vision by offering insights on how to best recruit jobseekers from underrepresented groups.

At the Department of Energy, affinity groups like the Asian American Pacific Islander Network provide a link between employees and human capital staff who directly impact recruitment and hiring. By using affinity groups to support recruitment efforts, agencies become better equipped to connect with underrepresented communities.

Recommendations for future action

These benefits suggest that federal agencies should take a proactive role in supporting the formation of affinity groups. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office created a toolkit that details how to set up an affinity group bank account and create an affinity group charter and bylaws.

Aside from institutional support, agencies should ensure leadership engages affinity groups in decision-making to ensure that employees from underrepresented groups are included in multi-pronged efforts to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the workplace.

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