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Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a great way to really learn what they do every day, and how we can make their lives better. This week, I joined the President’s “Day in the Life” effort. Throughout the summer, senior administrators are traveling the country speaking with -- and learning from -- the people we work for every day.
While in Los Angeles this past week, I had such fun spending time with two extraordinary individuals – Matthew Gonzales, a Federal employee at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, and Megan Rodriguez, an Air Force veteran who works for the state of California as an employment assistant helping other veterans find jobs. Both are young Latinos driven by a passion for public service.
Matthew entered the Federal government as a Pathways intern, a program that brings the best young talent into government and sets them on the path to a Federal career. Matthew is now a civilian program manager at the space and missile center. He also co-led the first chapter of Young Government Leaders in Los Angeles.
Matthew shared something that really made an impression on me. At his job, there is always a lot going on and he is experiencing and doing many things for the first time. But, he said, with pride, while he is not always expected to know everything right away, he is always expected to learn. Matthew knows he has the support and tools that he needs to keep growing, and that is part of the reason why he believes the Federal government is a great place to start his career. That spirit of service is exactly what our nation needs. And I know that Matthew is one of hundreds of thousands of Federal employees with that same enthusiasm.
Megan has a passion for helping fellow veterans find jobs. While attending Mount St. Mary’s College, she founded its Veterans Outreach Association and she has continued that work now that she has graduated. We discussed our shared passion for helping women veterans get Federal jobs, especially STEM jobs. She would be a great fit in the Federal government.
In Matthew and Megan, I saw so many positive qualities: passion, dedication, an overwhelming desire to help people, a call to service, and a truly hopeful vision of the future. These young professionals remind me what it was like to once walk in shoes similar to theirs. I know there are obstacles they face each day, but their commitment to public service makes me confident we will continue to have a diverse, talented, caring, and devoted Federal workforce. Their insights helped me understand firsthand what young Latinos are thinking and what we need to do to attract them to Federal service.
I was glad to be able to tell them that we are already working hard to increase the number of Federal employees from underrepresented communities and to support and develop them in their careers. They share my commitment that we have a workforce that truly represents the bright mosaic of the American family.
So really, we learned a lot from each other. If we take the time to stop, listen, and just for a moment, put ourselves in another’s shoes, we’ll keep learning. And that makes all the difference.
Each May since 1977 we have celebrated the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the American Story. During Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month we recognize the culture, traditions, history, and generations of AAPI community who have enriched America’s history and will be instrumental in its future success.
Members of the AAPI community were Chinese immigrants. It was their difficult manual labor that the transcontinental railroad was built in the late 1860;s Their efforts helped connect this great country, from the Pacific coast at San Francisco Bay to the existing Eastern U.S. rail network at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River.
Members of the AAPI community are federal employees and leaders of government. Christopher Lu is Deputy Secretary of Labor. Norman Mineta served as the Secretary of Transportation for President Clinton. Dr. Steven Chu served as President Obama’s Secretary of Energy.
Like America itself, the AAPI community draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures.
The theme of this month is “I Am Beyond.” The phrase captures how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.
What a wonderful message for us all. Nearly five years ago President Obama established the White House Initiative on AAPIs. The Initiative addresses disparities in health care, education, and economic opportunity by ensuring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders receive equal access to government programs and services.
In his proclamation commemorating AAPI Heritage Month this year, the President calls on us to “…recall our hard-fought progress, let us resolve to continue moving forward. Together, let us ensure the laws respect everyone, civil rights apply to everyone, and everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to get ahead.” You can read the President’s full proclamation on the White House's website.
As a former educator and community leader, I know the value of bringing together talented people with diverse ideas and perspectives to improve any organization. This is especially important for the Federal government. The complex and important work of government requires a diverse and inclusive workforce that is representative of the many important perspectives, talents, and backgrounds of our great country.
One of my major challenges and a priority for me as OPM Director is to increase the diversity of the Federal workforce. When I talk about diversity, I don’t just mean ethnic and racial diversity. I want to make sure that people of all ages, people with disabilities and people from every corner of this great country have opportunities.
With diversity comes inclusion. We need an inclusive workforce to serve the American people.
At OPM, the Asian American Pacific Islander American Employee Resource Group works to increase awareness of the Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures as an integral part of our agency’s mission. It supports the diversity and inclusion goals of our agency and provides opportunities for mentorship, support and development within the OPM community.
We also continue to support the programs of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council. I was honored that FAPAC representatives attended my reception after I was sworn in as OPM Director in December 2013.
So during this month and all through the year, let us focus on bringing together talented people with diverse ideas and perspectives. Like the AAPI community which draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures, we at OPM need to draw strength from the diversity we have within our agency.
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