Living Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Values

March 22, 2023

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis declared diversity and inclusion an organizational initiative in 2006. Since that time, the St. Louis Fed’s efforts have evolved and been shaped by the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, as well as by initiatives shared by all 12 Federal Reserve banks.

Over time, the Bank has matured its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the introduction of employee resource groups, dedicated DEI programming and focused training. In 2018, all the Reserve banks established shared DEI objectives and evaluations. In 2020, this effort resulted in an assessment across all Reserve banks to identify successes and areas of opportunity relative to DEI. This assessment led to the “Advancing DEI Together” initiative, with the aspiration that the demographic composition of each Reserve bank’s officer corps would over time reflect that of the communities it serves.

In late 2020, the St. Louis Fed initiated a comprehensive Racial Equity Assessment to better understand the lived experience of Black employees in their work at the Bank and if disparities existed in the work experiences of Black and non-Black employees. The assessment, which had broad staff participation of both Black and non-Black employees, included listening sessions, surveys and confidential interviews. There also were both qualitative and quantitative reviews of the Bank’s performance management process, promotion and compensation practices, and past employee engagement survey results.

The assessment resulted in four high-level recommendations:

  • Increase the hiring and advancement rates of Black professionals.
  • Change the performance management system.
  • Increase Black employees’ sense of belonging at the St. Louis Fed.
  • Enable dissent to be voiced fearlessly by all.

Implementing these recommendations enables the Bank to assess current processes and institute practices and policies that produce equitable outcomes for all employees, a benefit to all St. Louis Fed employees. Thus, in mid-2021, the St. Louis Fed created a Racial Equity Action Program (REAP) to address the assessment’s recommendations. Later that year, the St. Louis Fed reorganized its DEI unit to make it a separate, dedicated department headed by Vice President Desiree Coleman-Fry to provide oversight of the Bank’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and to manage the development and implementation of REAP.

“Consistent with the spirit of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team is committed to operationalizing the recommendations of the Racial Equity Assessment and bringing them to life to create lasting change,” Coleman-Fry said.

“As we work toward the program’s goals, we want to be completely transparent about our work so that employees can observe the progress being made and understand their role in this process,” she said. “I’m excited about the ways that the St. Louis Fed is committing to fostering an inclusive environment.”

The program follows the System-wide “Advancing DEI Together” aspiration shared by all Reserve banks to have officer ranks reflect the overall demographics of the communities they serve, also known as “Representing Our Communities” at the St. Louis Fed.

(For information on representation at the St. Louis Fed overall, see the 2021 Annual Report to Congress (PDF) from the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. The Bank also releases information about economist and research assistant diversity (PDF).)

Coleman-Fry gave an update late last year to Open Vault on the St. Louis Fed’s Racial Equity Action Program and progress in a Q&A.

What did the St. Louis Fed hope to learn from the Racial Equity Assessment?

The Bank’s goal was to understand the lived experiences of Black employees at the St. Louis Fed and to assess the extent to which, if at all, disparities existed in the work experiences of Black and non-Black employees. The process was both qualitative and quantitative because what you measure matters. The St. Louis Fed is a data-driven organization, but we also recognize that numbers and data can only go so far.

We engaged two experienced firms to conduct listening sessions that were open to all employees. They conducted follow-up interviews with more than 200 employees. Nearly 500 employees participated in two virtual group sessions, where employees were polled about their opinions. These conversations, interviews, group sessions and polls were the basis of the qualitative assessment. The quantitative part of the assessment reviewed data on compensation, advancement, performance management and employee networks for potential inequities.

While the Racial Equity Assessment began with a targeted analysis concerning the experiences of the Bank’s Black employees, the St. Louis Fed believes that enhancing workplace culture and fostering opportunities for the growth and development of all employees is essential. When implemented, many of the recommendations of the assessment will benefit all employees, so it’s exciting to see this work evolve.

What is the impact of using data in the context of supporting employees?

DEI conversations can elicit a range of emotions; however, data provides an opportunity to objectively examine where improvements can be helpful. In this way, having data fosters a different conversation that is not based on opinions or viewpoint. It provides a guidepost for understanding what’s happening in a particular environment and illuminating possible solutions.

The St. Louis Fed engaged experienced consultants to run neutral, third-party analyses that captured employee sentiment and expertly evaluated our process.

Using data to inform decisions is not only a business best practice, but also a DEI best practice. Having data for the Racial Equity Assessment refined our success metrics, because we were able to identify where we needed to prioritize our efforts.

Can you share a working definition of diversity, equity and inclusion?

The “D” is diversity. So, that’s about representation and who’s at the table, at what level are the individuals at the table, and who’s not at the table. It’s about ensuring that our employee base and our leadership base are reflective of the communities we serve.

The “E” is equity, which relates to an organization’s practices and policies. That’s the place where you examine all facets of your organization and you assess the data and say, “It seems that we have a challenge here. How can we modify our way of doing business to rectify that and produce equitable outcomes?” Equity is the work that leads to long-term sustainable change.

The “I” is inclusion, which is about the extent to which people feel they belong and that their voice is heard. A DEI best practice is to equip employees and leaders with skills to model inclusive behaviors and lead by example.

And there is another letter, “A,” that doesn’t get talked about as much. That stands for accessibility, and it’s important when you’re thinking about employee experience, visitors to our buildings and constituent outreach. Accessibility focuses on ensuring that the way we are connecting with those in the Eighth Federal Reserve District is inclusive and considerate of all abilities and life experiences.

Why is it essential for the St. Louis Fed to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility?

Consistent with the St. Louis Fed’s vision of challenging prevailing views to drive change, it is imperative that every leader understands the ways that diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility impact our work at the Bank. The ability to lead diverse teams that represent a variety of viewpoints, experiences and ideals is the new normal and is a foundational 21st century leadership skill. The multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural and intergenerational teams that the next decade will bring will require all employees to possess the skills to lead inclusively.

How can others in the Eighth District create more inclusive environments?

Each of us can take part in fostering empathy, learning about others’ experiences and creating inclusive environments where everyone feels seen, heard and respected. This can be done by educating yourself on the experiences of individuals who reside in the Eighth District, including understanding others’ walk of life, from a race, gender, class, religious, disability, gender expression, sexual orientation perspective, etc. This can be done by attending community events, and consuming books, podcasts, articles, TED Talks, etc. to learn and understand more. As residents of the Eighth District, I’m hopeful that we’ll use our time, effort and energy to foster positive change.

How is the St. Louis Fed as an organization progressing on its DEI goals?

We’re heading in the right direction. We’re coaching employees on inclusive practices, establishing partnerships to bolster our talent priorities and implementing programs that support our aspirations. We’re clear about our goals and we’re making progress toward them.

This blog explains everyday economics, consumer topics and the Fed. It also spotlights the people and programs that make the St. Louis Fed central to America’s economy. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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