USDA says it’s striving to become more diverse
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is serious about becoming a more culturally diverse workplace but will need time to transform itself into the fully representative agency it strives to be, the department’s only minority undersecretary said last week.
The department, which admits to having a checkered past regarding civil rights issues, has not attained the racial breakdown in staffing it hopes to accomplish but is working hard to get there, said USDA Undersecretary Edward Avalos.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Avalos said about the department’s cultural transformation initiative. “But we’re turning that ship in the right direction.”
Avalos, who oversees the department’s marketing and regulatory programs, was among the speakers at a two-day conference last week in San Antonio examining ways of attracting more Hispanics into the field of agriculture.
He said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had initiated the workplace diversity program to make sure the department had the capabilities demanded by of an increasingly diverse agricultural community.
He has urged recruiters in the agencies he’s responsible for to make extra efforts to find the most talented Hispanic and minority job candidates for agency openings. Avalos does not endorse hiring quotas but has increased recruitment of minority interns, has made diversity training mandatory for employees and has encouraged supervisors to set up mentoring programs and to promote top performing minority employees.
“The process of change at the USDA is working,” he said.
Avalos does not oversee the agency that provides farm loans and other assistance that has been at the center of discrimination claims by black, Hispanic and Native American farmers. He acknowledged, however, that those complaints left scars and said that the department is taking steps to make sure discriminatory practices do no arise again.
Edward Romero, founder of one of the conference’s organizers, AgForLife, said Hispanic recruitment should improve once young people learn that there are a vast array of jobs in agriculture beyond those in the field or in livestock pens.
October 30, 2011