The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Meeting of July 22, 2008 - Issues Facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the Federal Workplace

Statement of Sharon M. Wong, Special Assistant For Diversity, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Chair Earp, Vice Chair, Commissioners, Colleagues, and Friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the EEOC. It is an honor for me to appear today to present Best Practices at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

The Goddard Space Flight Center is one of nine Centers of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Goddard’s mission is to expand knowledge of the Earth and its environment, the solar system and the universe through observations from space. In addition, Goddard is to assure that our nation maintains leadership in this endeavor, and we are committed to excellence in scientific investigation, in the development and operation of space systems and in the advancement of essential technologies. In order for the Center to be able to accomplish its goals and mission, we recognize that we will need the diversity of thought, leadership, creativity and innovation that exists in the global market. We also recognize that we have unprecedented competition for the type of talent that NASA/Goddard requires to keep the organization at the forefront of space exploration and discovery. With mission success as our goal, we intentionally position our organization to be an employer of choice. This is our business case for diversity.

In 2000, Goddard began in earnest its Diversity journey. Our diversity program is a separate program from our EEO program but they remain very complimentary to each other. We have had many successes and challenges along the way and would like to share with you a couple of our initiatives, which we regard as best practices.

First, we credit the success of our diversity journey in large part to the essential elements that make up a Model EEO Program in MD-715 – demonstrated commitment from leadership, strategic integration, accountability, and proactive programs.

We have leaders who are committed to creating and maintaining an equitable and inclusive work environment. They are personally committed to this vision and promote this same sense of commitment in their direct reports and to other members of their staff. They actively participate in and support diversity events, workshops and programs. This support is also evidenced by their willingness to allocate dedicated resources to the diversity program. Goddard’s Deputy Center Director serves as the Diversity Champion for the Center and also chairs the Center’s Diversity Council, a fully functioning and active council that, since 2000, continues to meet monthly for two hours. In 2000, the Center created and a full time position for a Special Assistant for Diversity who oversees Center-wide diversity initiatives and the creation of an inclusive work environment. Similar to the EO Director, the Special Assistant reports at the Center leadership level and sits on the Center’s Executive Council as part of the senior leadership team.

Goddard’s Diversity Council is comprised of individuals at the Deputy Director level, the Advisory Committee chairs, Union officials, the Director of the Office of Human Capital Management, the Chief of Equal Opportunities Program Office and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program Manager. The purpose of the Diversity Council is to serve as a change agent to promote an inclusive work environment that furthers the Center’s vision for Diversity and identifies specific goals to achieve that vision.

We have prepared and communicated a workplace vision statement and Business Case for Diversity, a Diversity Policy Statement and a Policy Directive. In addition, we have a Diversity Strategic Implementation Plan, which is currently being updated to establish our goals and objectives for the next three years and to integrate our diversity efforts with our future planning activities. Diversity is now clearly articulated as a Goddard value. All of these documents can be found on our web site at

I would like to share, however, our workplace vision and policy statement. Our workplace vision statement reads: “Goddard employees respect, value and appreciate individual differences so that we can capitalize on the strengths of a diverse workforce to better perform our mission through teamwork and innovation.”

Our policy statement indicates, "It is the policy of NASA's GSFC to develop and maintain a vital and effective workforce by involving employees in the creation of a work environment conducive to their best performance according to the Center's values and goals. Our objective is to foster an organizational climate where employee diversity and mutual respect are catalysts for creativity and team effectiveness."

The Center’s Diversity Policy Directive establishes responsibility for the development, implementation and accountability of diversity initiatives. These documents, which have leadership endorsement, serve as our compass and calibrate our achievements. Over the past few years, the Center has undergone several transitions in our leadership team. When the Deputy Director (under whose leadership the diversity efforts began) retired from the agency, many employees were concerned that diversity would end up taking a back seat. However, because of our leaders, past and present, investment in diversity initiatives, the Center’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has remained steadfast. The message has been clear and consistent – “Diversity: Making Space for Everyone.”

Three signature programs form the basis of proactive efforts at NASA/GSFC – the Diversity Dialogue Project (DDP), Can We Talk (CWT) and Goddard Opportunities Bulletin Board System (GOBBS).

A cornerstone of our diversity initiatives is the DDP, a facilitated dialogue process in which small groups of employees come together in an open, non-judgmental and comfortable environment to discuss differences based on many dimensions of diversity that are brought into the workplace on a daily basis. The purpose of the DDP is to provide a forum for employees to learn about differences and to begin to appreciate differences, to broaden our employees’ definition of diversity, to raise awareness of the various dimensions of diversity and to facilitate a deeper understanding of diversity issues among Center employees. Emphasis is placed on building acceptance for differing perspectives. This program initially began as a pilot in 1999. In 2001, DDP was launched as a permanent program and more than a third of our civil servant employees have participated. At the onset, the Center contracted for the services with an outside provider. In 2003 several of our employees expressed interest in becoming DDP facilitators and the Center invested in their training. The Center is currently using only internal facilitators who perform the facilitation of the DDP sessions in addition to their regular duties. We continue to receive positive feedback that DDP is changing the culture at Goddard.

To enhance the workplace culture and leverage the strength of the Agency's workforce diversity, Goddard began holding Can We Talk: a Dialogue with the Center Director in February 2004. As a monthly informal dialogue session with the Center Director, there is no agenda, no set topics, no notes; just an opportunity for employees to tell the Center's leadership what is on their minds. Initiated out of HQ/Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (OD&EO) with the basic intent to provide an additional channel for the NASA community to voice its questions/concerns and ideas to senior leadership, the sessions provide constructive dialogue to respond to existing anxieties and heightened concerns of employees, and to achieve improved communications within NASA.Sessions are also held during the various heritage and history months (e.g., a dialogue with the African American community during Black History Month; with the GLBT community during Gay and Lesbian Pride month in June, etc.).

Another program is our Goddard Opportunities Bulletin Board System (GOBBS), which we adapted from a similar program at EPA. Managers are responsible for utilizing our human capital to accomplish the mission of each program. As such, the GOBBS Program is a tool for identifying a diverse pool of individuals otherwise not tapped for special projects or assignments. It enables managers and supervisors to advertise special opportunities to employees. Because every employee receives GOBBS notices on a weekly basis, all employees, not just a selected few, receive notification of opportunities available on Center and have the opportunity to apply if they wish. These opportunities are details or one time only efforts that have an objective, a start date, and an end date. Employee can identify a specific skill or experience to receive targeted announcements (for example, engineers or professional/administrative) through the system. GOBBS communicates opportunities to employees and interested parties can apply on-line with minimal effort. GOBBS does not replace Competitive Placement Plan vacancy announcements that require competition through merit promotion procedures.

Finally, we realized that it was not enough merely to have committed leadership, policy and procedures in place or to raise awareness. If we truly wanted to change the culture, we needed to hold our employees accountable for their behavior and actions. In 2007, the Center transitioned to a new performance appraisal system. The new system has five Performance Element Rating levels and five performance summary rating levels. The Performance Element Rating levels are:

The five performance summary rating levels are:

Since 2003, every GS supervisory performance plan has contained a critical element for EEO/Diversity. In order for a supervisor to receive a “Distinguished” rating, he or she must be rated “Significantly Exceeds” in all elements. I, along with the Chief of the Equal Opportunity Program Office, conduct a separate review of the EEO/Diversity element to determine if the assigned rating for that element is appropriate as significantly exceeding expectations. We review and concur with the significantly exceeds ratings for EEO/Diversity prior to the issuance of the supervisor’s final evaluation. Should there be any disagreements between us and the rating organization, the Deputy Center Director will resolve any disputes.

This came about as a result of a review of the EEO/Diversity element for the 2006 and 2007 rating period, and we reviewed only those supervisors who received a summary rating of “Distinguished.” Let me clarify that we did not review every supervisor who received a “Significantly Exceeds” rating for EEO/Diversity as there was no tracking of individual elements. Therefore we were unable to identify all supervisors with a “Significantly Exceeds” rating in EEO/diversity.

The EEO/Diversity element identifies what supervisors should be doing in this area. The key message here is that this critical element requires the supervisor to take proactive steps. Simply checking the box is not acceptable for a “Significantly Exceeds” rating. An example of an acceptable write-up was one that covered several items such as holding discussions at staff meetings on EEO/diversity, to participation in the DDP, to proactive recruitment efforts, to working accommodation issues for an employee. Organizations that had good write-ups in 2006 were excused from the requirement to be reviewed prior to the issuance of the final evaluation, but are still subject to review after the fact.

We will continue with an annual post-review of the write-ups. We are working towards eliminating the prior review for all so that diversity can be integrated as an every day occurrence. This level of review helps to ensure consistency in implementation and fairness across the Center. We have seen a vast improvement in the write-ups and in the documentation of specific activities that demonstrate a supervisor’s level of performance.

Goddard and NASA rely on the creativity and innovative thought of our people to reach new heights in scientific discovery and to achieve mission success. This would not be possible without harnessing and nurturing the diversity that each individual brings to the Center. We believe that our leadership, our programs and the accountability measures are key to creating and sustaining an equitable and inclusive work environment.

This page was last modified on July 22, 2008.

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