Diversity Down to the Letter

By Pamela Babcock Jun 1, 2004
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HR Magazine, June 2004 The U.S. Postal Service sends a clear message ​about equal opportunity for its workforce.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night … ” has long been the U.S. Postal Service’s credo when it comes to delivering the mail. Today, the agency’s commitment to hiring a diverse workforce is equally steadfast, according to postal officials. Over the past decade, the agency has taken steps to level the playing field by committing to hiring, promoting and retaining an inclusive workforce.

Its efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2003, for the fourth consecutive year, Fortune magazine named the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) one of the “50 Best Companies for Minorities.” Today, more than 36 percent of USPS’ approximately 729,000 employees are minorities:

  • 21.1 percent are black.
  • 7.6 percent are Hispanic.
  • 7.9 percent are other minorities, including Asian American/Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska native.

Minorities also have a strong showing in management: At the end of last year, nearly 25 percent of the agency’s top-paid executives and 32 percent of officials and managers were minorities, according to USPS statistics. In addition, 48 percent of the 8,934 new employees hired last year were minorities, says Murry E. Weatherall, USPS vice president of diversity development in Washington, D.C.

A look at USPS’ diversity structure and initiatives, as well as tangible results of the programs, may offer ideas for other human resource and diversity executives. (See "Major USPS Diversity Initiatives".)

USPS Diversity Structure

At USPS, a self-supporting federal entity, diversity development is designed to ensure that the cultural makeup of local communities is represented in the workforce.

The Postal Service’s Diversity Development organization was created in 1992 to serve as the agency’s “social conscience and to increase employees’ awareness of and appreciation for ethnic and cultural diversity, both in the postal workplace and among customers,” says Weatherall, a 33-year USPS veteran who has extensive HR and operations experience. Weatherall adds that the diversity of USPS’ markets and suppliers reinforces USPS’ goal to provide universal mail service with affordable products and services for the entire customer base.

The diversity development organization has 80 diversity development specialists—one at each of USPS’ “performance clusters,” or districts, throughout the country. Most of the specialists have HR backgrounds. In districts with large Hispanic populations—such as California, Florida and Texas—USPS has put in place Hispanic program specialists.

Percentages of Minorities and Women at USPS

2004 1991
Male 61.9 66.2
Female 38.1 33.8
White 63.5 67.8
Black 21.1 21.1
Hispanic 7.6 6.2
*Other Minorities 7.9 4.9

*Asian American/Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska native; grouped to conform to 1991 categories.

Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Source: 2004 USPS data and 1991 Comprehensive Statement on Postal Operations

Diversity development and Hispanic program specialists undergo 120 hours of training on career development coaching skills, spending 80 of those training hours in the classroom and the rest doing fieldwork.

In addition, each of USPS’ nine area offices has one senior diversity development specialist and one manager of diversity and human capital development. The managers provide technical advice and support to area executives.

The reporting structure for diversity at USPS is unique in that diversity specialists in the field report directly to management, rather than to HR.

“Being a direct report to the district manager—the senior position at the performance cluster—gives these diversity specialists high visibility,” says Weatherall. “This person needs a direct relationship that ensures involvement in planning and implementing programs that directly relate to diversity development initiatives, and that’s part of our strategic plan.”

HR does have a role in the USPS diversity structure, with senior diversity development specialists reporting to their areas’ managers of diversity and human capital development—who, in turn, report to area HR managers.

And at the national level, diversity development falls directly under HR; Weatherall reports to the senior vice president of HR at postal headquarters in Washington, D.C. “There’s always a connection with diversity and HR; it’s a dotted line in some instances and a solid line in some instances, but there is always a connect,” Weatherall adds. “There’s not a diversity person in the organization who is not tied into HR operations.”

Having diversity specialists report to field managers, as USPS does, creates a supportive link between diversity efforts and line activity, notes Davina Askin, a human resources practitioner in New York and former vice president of Global Workforce Diversity at Lehman Brothers. “This is sending the message that diversity is linked with the business efforts and, therefore, the potential for people management success is higher.”

“Where diversity resides in an organization is significant because it sends a strong message about how that organization regards diversity,” says Askin, who is not affiliated with USPS.

Linda S. Gravett, SPHR, a senior partner with Gravett and Associates, an HR consulting firm in Cincinnati, estimates that 20 percent of organizations that are as large as USPS have a dedicated diversity development position.

“I’m seeing more and more organizations devoting staff to diversity development as opposed to just dumping it on HR and saying, ‘You handle everything else that involves people, so you handle this,’ ” says Gravett, who is not affiliated with USPS. “Having a vice president for diversity development is a positive because HR has so many distractions and activities … that if there is a dedicated person or department for diversity development, then the initiative is going to be better served.”

Making Diversity an Ongoing Concern

For diversity efforts to really take hold, they can’t be once-in-a-while initiatives. So USPS has taken several steps to make sure diversity is part of the daily business operations. And they are paying off.

“I think our organization is one of the leading organizations right now from a diversity standpoint,” says Weatherall. “The programs we are building are not anything that we just build and put on the shelf. We’re actually utilizing them in our day-to-day activities. Everything that we are doing is active and alive.”

For example, compensation for every supervisor, postmaster, manager and executive is directly tied to their achievement of “clearly defined service, financial and employee goals,” which include diversity, Weatherall says.

In addition, USPS incorporates diversity into performance management and succession planning, making sure that women and minorities are considered for advancement.

Perhaps one of the organization’s most radical steps took place last year when it moved corporate succession planning from HR to diversity development, Weatherall says. The organization has implemented a web-based corporate succession planning tool that enables managers at a certain level to nominate themselves for senior- or executive-level jobs. “That’s cutting edge,” Weatherall says.

Managers are responding: USPS recently considered 1,750 nominations for 750 executive jobs, Weatherall adds.

“To our knowledge, we know of no other organization that has a self-nomination piece to [succession planning],” he says. “It’s highly competitive, and we do a lot of things to screen individuals and to select the best person, but our corporate succession process is very inclusive and gives everybody—whether a minority or a woman—an opportunity to be considered. It’s a major action that clearly says that, as an organization, we always want to have an inclusive environment and provide the opportunity for everyone to be the best they can be.”

Percentages of Minorities Moving Up at USPS

Level Blacks

2004 1991

2004 1991
Other Minorities

2004 1991

2004 1991
Non-Supervisory 21.2 21.1 7.7 6.4 8.2 5.1 38.0 34.3
Line Supervisors 22.1 22.3 6.4 5.1 4.6 2.7 42.6 32.1
Mid-Level Managers 17.5 14.3 6.3 4.5 4.5 3.3 31.1 18.0
Executives 15.6 10.6 6.3 4.2 2.7 2.4 27.1 11.5
*CLF 1980 10.2 5.9 2.2 42.1
*CLF 1990 10.4 8.1 2.8 45.8

*Civilian Labor Force data from 1980 and 1990 Census for comparison.

Source: U.S. Postal Service

Askin agrees that such a succession planning tool could lead to many winning scenarios. “Once someone is nominated or self-nominated for a role, the valuable outcome is that this person’s accomplishments, talents and potential are discussed,” she says. While getting a spot is the ultimate goal, “it’s also great if the nomination effort yields a critical assessment of nominees’ developmental needs” by providing vital feedback nominees can use to prepare to compete successfully for advancement later. It can also give them visibility for “securing stretch [opportunities] or other key assignments for which they might not have been considered had they not been nominated,” Askin adds.

Tracking Progress and Measuring Success

To ensure that its efforts stay on track, USPS charts the ongoing results of diversity initiatives, Weatherall says. “And we break that right down to the district level, so, if I’m a district manager in Alabama, I’m going to get my report, as does the person who is in Detroit or New York.”

USPS also culls results from a companywide, quarterly “Voice of the Employee Opinion Survey,” which asks specific questions about diversity, workplace harassment and discrimination. Every quarter, 25 percent of career employees—a different cross-section each time—takes the survey and returns results in sealed envelopes. An outside vendor develops reports to monitor perceptions and trends. Six survey questions form an index to gauge USPS’ diversity success.

In 2003, the survey index results rose roughly 4 percent from the previous year. This percentage represents employees’ perceptions of factors such as fairness/cooperation, job/organization satisfaction, supervision, discrimination and work conditions. Analyzing results helps identify organizational issues and plan improvement strategies, Weatherall says.

“The good news is, we’ve seen over the last couple of years just continuous improvement in our employees’ views of the organization and the work environment,” he says.

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area. She has worked as a reporter for The Washington Post and The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., as well as in corporate communications.

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