Improving Workforce Diversity

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Leaders of large organizations—including private corporations, the U.S. Armed Forces, and police and other first-responders—are seeking to improve the diversity of their workforces.

Demographic diversity is one aspect: Leaders want their workforces to reflect the racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, ideological, and generational makeup of society. At a minimum, organizations must comply with federal equal employment opportunity and affirmative action standards.

But successful organizations are adopting a broader definition of diversity that includes differences in experience, skills, and educational background. Leaders have made improving diversity a strategic goal, reasoning that a broader range of skills and talent will improve the organization's overall performance.

RAND Capabilities

Strategic Planning and Implementation

RAND has helped organizations establish a clear definition of diversity, develop rigorous metrics to support that definition, and design and apply comprehensive systems to hold individuals accountable for progress toward diversity goals.

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Trend and Barrier Analyses

RAND has supported diversity efforts with rigorous trend and barrier analyses. This research has helped the military services and police organizations to improve their initiatives to attract, recruit, develop, and retain a diverse workforce.

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Objective Assessments

RAND has provided objective assessments of specific issues and policies, including "Don't Ask, Don’t Tell" and the assignment of women to combat units.

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Focus on the Long Term

Naval officer

Cultivating a diverse workforce—and especially a diverse leadership—takes time. This is most apparent in RAND's work for the U.S. Armed Forces, which, by their nature, must promote from within. Women and minorities are currently underrepresented at the most senior ranks, and for this to change, efforts to create a diverse pool of potential future leaders must make significant progress today.

Conduct a Barrier Analysis

Business people

A first step toward developing a more diverse workforce is identifying the factors that are making minorities less likely to enter or succeed within the organization. A barrier analysis is a methodical examination of the recruitment, hiring, and promotion processes in an agency to determine where members of specific groups may face obstacles.

Look Outside the Organization for Potential Best Practices

African-American police officers

For example, a major component of RAND’s 2010 assessment of DoD’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was a review of the experiences of other institutions, including foreign militaries and U.S. police and fire departments, that allow gay individuals to serve without restriction.

Recruiting Is Just the First Step

USAF Cadet Training Ceremony

Creating a more diverse workforce begins with attracting a diverse pool of qualified applicants, but once they are part of the workforce, the organization should ensure that minorities are actively supported and developed. For example, while promotion within an organization should be based on merit, steps can be taken to ensure that members of underrepresented groups are given opportunities to excel.

Diversity Is More Than Demographics


Diversity refers to an array of attributes—including not just race and ethnicity, gender, age, religion, disability, and national origin, but also language, talent, educational background, experience, sexual orientation, and even attitude and personality.

Emphasize Accountability and Monitor Progress

Army officer

For lasting change to occur, leaders must be held accountable, and hold others accountable, for moving the organization toward its diversity vision. A key part of this is the use of metrics that link goals and strategies to actual execution.