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NAVSEA Inclusion and Engagement Council moving along after a year

By Kelley Stirling, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | Nov. 26, 2019

Just over a year has passed since Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) established the Inclusion and Engagement Council.

“This council will help eliminate barriers to building and maintaining a workforce that accepts people from all walks of life so we can focus on our mission,” said Jim Smerchansky, NAVSEA executive director, in an October 2018 email to the more than 80,000 NAVSEA employees. “Expanding the Advantage is our common bond; it’s why we’re here and what we need to rally around. By removing social pains and the concept of insiders and outsiders, we can put our full focus on our jobs.”

Now that the IE Council has been around for a year, how exactly are they planning to remove these barriers?

During a face-to-face meeting in October 2019, the 26 members of the IE Council, which is chaired and co-chaired by NAVSEA Commander Vice Adm. Thomas Moore and Smerchansky, respectively, focused their effort on what the deliverables would be from the group.

“This team passed through the forming, norming, storming phases and got to performing very quickly,” Smerchansky said when he addressed the council. “We deliberately provided this group of NAVSEA employees with loose boundaries so we could maximize their leadership, insight, innovation and passion.”

River Clemens, an engineer from Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock Division Bayview, Idaho Detachment and part of the IE Council’s communications team, said one of the main goals for the council is making sure people feel empowered, equipped and supported so they can accomplish the mission of working for the warfighter.

“When people are excluded, they experience social pain and they concentrate on that feeling, which means they’re not focused on their work,” Clemens said. “NAVSEA’s IE Council is working to address this issue from an enterprise perspective so all of us can focus on Expanding the Advantage our Navy has over all others.”

The IE Council self-organized into four teams: diversity, inclusion, engagement and communications. Each team is working on diversity, inclusion and engagement initiatives, while the communications team works on strategies to inform and educate the workforce on the deliverables. While the IE Council doesn’t include the word diversity in its name, Clemens said it’s no less important.

“Diversity is part of the charter,” she said, adding that Smerchansky explained to the group that diversity is an input, and inclusion and engagement are the outputs. “So, we still have to do maintenance on diversity, obviously, it’s a big part.”

Dr. Ramona Armijo, a manager for policy planning and analysis in NSWC Port Hueneme’s Corporate Operations, defined diversity as people from different walks of life, different genders, different cultures, different experiences, different educational backgrounds and different thought processes.

“Hiring and respecting a diverse workforce is important to the growth and sustainability of any organization,” Armijo said.

Armijo and the diversity team are focused on two deliverables: a NAVSEA internal promotion and hiring guidance document and a NAVSEA interview candidate survey. Starting with an existing, though outdated, guidance document, the diversity team is updating it with the help of NAVSEA Human Resource leads and legal counsel. The new guidance will require hiring panels for high-grade interviews and will require an Equal Employment Opportunity representative to be present.

The survey will be issued via a link to anyone who participates in an interview. It will be anonymous and serve to capture feedback on fair interviewing, as well as encourage managers to provide interview feedback and career-related mentoring suggestions. Phase I of this initiative will implement the new guidance at the Warfare Centers. The guidance is expected to be signed by Moore and Smerchansky in the coming months. The council will need help from senior leadership to discuss options for implementing a similar guidance at the Shipyard level. Armijo said the goal is to increase accountability for fair merit promotions throughout the Enterprise.

“If we don’t strategize on helping our workforce by updating old policies and change organizational behaviors, then our world is not going to change, and we are not going to make advancements,” Armijo said.

The IE Council’s inclusion team is working on inclusive workplace competencies, training and surveys. The group intends to pull data from already-established surveys, such as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, to look at how people see inclusion. The training will focus on conscious and unconscious bias in the workforce. At some point, they will roll out disability awareness training, making people more aware of how to include people with disabilities, so that their intellectual equality is recognized, and the organization can retain them.

Mary Mapa, a logistician from Naval Sea Logistics Center in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, is working on the workplace competencies part of the inclusion initiative. The competency portion focuses on identifying skills and abilities that define inclusive behaviors for an individual, a team and the organization. She gave the example of practicing humility as an individual skill that would lead a person to become more inclusive.

Mapa said this all links to the NAVSEA Expand the Advantage guiding document.

“NAVSEA’s foundational lines of effort, which underpin our ability to Expand the Advantage are high-velocity learning, affordability and people. But, you have to enable and empower the people to get the other two,” Mapa said. “There is just a small talent pool, and if you make people feel welcome and included in your environment, they’re going to want to stay there and build those proficiencies.”

For the engagement team, Catherine Barrett, the deputy assistant program manager for CVN 74 Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH), said they are working on reinvigorating and empowering Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) across the NAVSEA Enterprise.

“We believe that ERGs, when performing at their fullest, are catalysts and force multipliers for all sorts of other engagement and inclusion ideas,” Barrett said. “They can be part of the ground swell of actors making the changes happen that need to happen, so that everyone is included and engaged at work.”

Because the framework for ERGs already exists, Barrett said their deliverables will include an updated tool kit to help employees start an ERG or take their ERG to the next level, as well as a guidance package for ERG champions. They are setting up a wiki page for the ERGs to find these resources and a chat room for people to collaborate and share ideas.

A rotation on the IE Council is a two-year commitment, so the current 26 members from across the NAVSEA Enterprise have a year left to get their priorities and initiatives out to the workforce. Some members will be invited to stay an additional year to provide continuity and stability for the council. The next cadre of IE Council members will determine improvements to the current initiatives or may create new initiatives.

“The council has the backing of Vice Adm. Moore and Mr. Smerchansky in everything we are doing,” Armijo said. “We have a dynamic group of diverse council members who all work together collaboratively. I’m very proud and honored to serve on this council, because the work we are doing is going to affect positive change for NAVSEA.”