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NPS Fundamentals Essentials: Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion

Overview

Whether you are a new employee or interested in employment with the National Park Service, understanding how the organization functions is vital to your success. Are all parks the same?  How is the work divided?  How are the sites managed?  What do the different divisions do?

Known as “Essentials,” these topics provide insight into how the National Park Service manages the entire system of parks and programs to accomplish its mission.  Reading through each topic gives an overview at the most basic level with opportunities to link to more in-depth, specific information.

Introduction

In order to remain relevant and sustainable in the 21st century, the National Park Service must recognize and embrace the diversity of America’s people and embrace the creation of a multicultural workforce. As the stewards of our nation’s natural and cultural treasures, the National Park Service recognizes the importance of diversity in ecosystems and historic sites. Applying the same principles of diversity to the National Park Service’s workforce, park programs, and community engagement will ensure that our nation’s parks welcome and reflect the heritage of all Americans

-“A Business Case for Inclusion and Diversity at the National Park Service,” March 2011

Many NPS employees see relevancy, diversity, and inclusion (RDI) as part of the natural and culture stories we study and interpret every day. Ecologists understand biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity and helps improve nature’s ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Likewise, nationally significant events in our nation’s past tell the stories of diverse cultures and perspectives that make our nation what it is today. By providing diversity in its programming, the NPS is able to connect with more of our citizens, creating opportunities for them to connect to parks. As people connect with national parks, we become relevant to their lives. We also need to be mindful to create diversity in our workforce.

A group of adults stand together
Staff from the Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, NPS Photo

Diversity

Diversity in the National Park Service means valuing employees in all occupations, at all levels, and providing opportunities for them to work at their full potential, making maximum contributions toward achieving the organization’s mission and goals.

Diversity encompasses more than the differences in race, religion, national origin, disabilities, age, gender, or sexual orientation. It includes:

  • Respecting and appreciating individual differences, empowering and motivating staff, and ensuring all employees are included as fully contributing and influential team members.
  • Creating and maintaining an inclusive approach to all systems, policies, and practices
    providing equitable treatment and opportunities.
  • Educating the workforce on the benefits of diversity.
  • Encouraging employees to offer differing views and suggestions toward achieving program goals and objectives.
  • Showing flexibility toward non-traditional quality of work-life efforts and facilitating organizational change to support new behaviors

Diversity is reflected in the staff employed and the public served. In the workplace we encounter diversity in ways of thinking, work styles, personalities, and behaviors. All forms of diversity are important. Diversity enhances the workplace, brings in new ideas, and contributes to NPS’ ability to protect resources and serve the public.

To embrace diversity, the NPS needs to cultivate a workforce that is representative of the American people and create an environment where workforce diversity is understood, valued and embraced.

Demographic Trends

In part, to meet the needs of businesses within the US, the government tracks changes in population demographics. To meet the needs of our customers, the NPS must be mindful of these demographic changes too. They may influence perspectives with regard to relevancy of NPS resources and programs. We require some understanding of our visitors to ensure that we are reasonably able to serve their needs.

A 2011 study, using Census Bureau data, showed the US population is aging, and by 2050, one in five persons will be at least 65 years old. The data also showed that by 2050, the Hispanic population will rise to 29%, the African American population will increase to 9%, and non-Hispanic whites will drop to 47%.
Despite future projections, the NPS workforce is not keeping pace with the changing faces of the nation’s population. The NPS’ workforce is aging. Both African Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in the NPS’ workforce and visitors. The NPS’ importance and relevance to Americans could decrease if the NPS does not become more representative of the US population. As a result, knowledge and understanding of the NPS’ mission, as well as support and stewardship for our parks could be jeopardized in the oncoming years.

In addition to ethnicity, studies from 2011 showed that 12.1% of Americans reported having a disability and 3.8% reported being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender. Almost one in five veterans reported having a disability.

Inclusion

Inclusion involves bringing people together to harness their diverse skills, perspectives, and resources in a way that is beneficial to all. Inclusion puts the concept and practice of diversity into action by creating an environment of involvement, respect, and connection—where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to accomplish goals. Organizations need both diversity and inclusion to be resilient, relevant, and successful.

In order to better reflect the changing demographics and interests of the American public and to remain relevant to that public, the NPS must create a culturally diverse and inclusive workforce.

An inclusive workplace uses the skills, abilities, and talents of each employee, volunteer, and intern to effectively accomplish its goals and mission. The outcomes are:

  • Maintaining support from the public
  • Diverse perspectives fuel innovation
  • Increasing employee commitment and engagement
  • Improved recruitment and retention

The Merit Systems Protection Board estimates that of the federal employees who leave their jobs, 25% to 30% leave within their first year. Other studies estimate that as many as 60% of the new hires leave their jobs in less than 12 months. Exit interviews have found that the common reasons for leaving an organization within the first year include not feeling welcomed, not being valued, and /or not fitting in.

Time, energy, money, creativity, and new ideas are lost when organizations fail to help new employees become part of the organization. Each employee has an important role in the workplace. All contributions should be encouraged and valued. As public servants in the US Federal Government, employees must treat others in an unbiased manner. For the sustainability of the workforce and the NPS, it is crucial that all new employees feel welcomed, appreciated, recognized, and are treated fairly.

Think of the NPS workforce as a group of musicians. All the instruments (strings, winds, brass and percussion) come in different shapes, sizes, colors, and sounds. Though different, they all work together as a team. Each one brings its unique voice to the music. Each one plays a crucial role in the performance. The goal is to work together and produce beautiful music. Similarly a diverse and inclusive workforce enables the NPS to better achieve its goals and mission.

Relevancy

The National Park Service has a mandate to protect nationally significant lands. The NPS also preserves our national heritage – natural, historical, and cultural. There are a range of stories (from well-known to lesser-known) that make these lands relevant to the public.

… the national parks represent far more than an assembly of antique buildings and natural curiosities. They are national heirlooms that continue to teach us, which speak with the wisdom of the past and can guide us through trials both present and future. They will be critical in helping us meet the critical needs of the future: a civil, informed social discourse and building a national community, an understanding of our vulnerable natural world and what we must do to maintain it, a model of sustainability where commerce and heritage are not mutually exclusive, and an unparalleled, 85-million-acre national university where teachable moments abound in every discipline from astronomy to literature.
– Relevance of National Parks, Jon Jarvis, NPS Director, May 2011

The NPS preserves and interprets places, documents, stories, and perspectives on the US: its lands, people, and history. For example, the NPS manages sites that focus on the stories of African-Americans in slavery, the Japanese in confinement camps during WWII, the Mexican-Americans with settlements and ranches in the West, and American Indians’ traditions with nature and the land. The NPS is also a microcosm of the United States. There are other discoveries to be made:

  • The Trail of Tears recalls the survival of the Cherokee people, forcefully removed from their homelands in the South and relocated to Oklahoma.
  • Chinese immigrants were essential to the construction of the Trans-continental Railroad.
  • George Melendez Wright, one of the first and most prominent biologists (who used his own funds for research) in the NPS was Hispanic.
  • The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House celebrates one of the most powerful African American women in American History.
  • Touro Synagogue National Historic Site is the most historically significant Jewish building in the United States and signifies religious freedom.

Many of these stories reflect achievements and accomplishments, while others reflect a shameful past of discrimination and mistreatment. Together, these sites show how the US has changed and continues to change. The NPS’ goal is to ensure all stories are presented in an inclusive and accurate manner.

A ranger reflects on the Dred Scott Decision with visitors at JEFF, NPS Photo
A ranger reflects on the Dred Scott Decision with visitors, NPS Photo

The NPS is working to ensure all visitors are engaged, welcomed, and have opportunities to learn about their national parks. Understanding, planning, and providing for resource significance, relevance, and recreational opportunities is essential as they are the heritage and future of the NPS.

“If the American public doesn’t know that we exist or doesn’t care, our mission is potentially in jeopardy.” – Jonathan B. Jarvis, NPS Director

Challenges for the Future

Demographics (age, ethnicity, religion, etc.) in the US and the NPS workforce are changing and will continue to change. People have different perspectives and ways of working. The NPS must encourage relevance, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. Fostering an atmosphere of acceptance and support are key to progress and success of the NPS.

Diversity, inclusion, and relevancy must be a “thread” in all operations of the NPS and in everything we do. All NPS employees have a responsibility to support diversity in their day-to-day work.

While surveys show that most federal employees feel the US government is doing a good job with diversity, there is room for improvement. Two-thirds of white employees, but only one-third of minority employees feel their agency is doing a good job with diversity. Less than fifty percent feel promoting diversity is essential to the mission in their agency.

Although workforce diversity has improved in entry level positions, it has not in the higher level positions of management. Fear of change and a hesitancy to fully embrace diversity continue to be barriers.

Relevancy will continue to play a key role in the future of the preservation of the sites that reflect our nation’s values:

  • The makeup of NPS’ workforce and users (visitors, constituents, etc.) is not keeping pace with the changing US population. Surveys (link to Customer Service) indicate diverse communities have little knowledge and information about the NPS, what national parks have to offer, and what they can do on a visit to a national park.
  • Underserved communities feel disconnected. The NPS needs to improve communication and expand its community outreach to urban and diverse communities. NPS should welcome diverse visitors and facilitate connections to interpretive stories and recreational opportunities relevant to their needs and interests.
  • The NPS can be more relevant by understanding who visits our parks and how people recreate and enjoy their time.

Recruitment and retention ideas and best practices must be shared to overcome obstacles such as:

  • The NPS workforce does not reflect diverse population of the US. Applicant pool is not very diverse, especially for parks in remote areas.
  • Securing a permanent position in the federal government is more difficult as compared to the private sector.
  • The NPS ranks low on “Best Places to Work” survey and faces challenges in retaining employees.
  • Visitor Resource Protection may face challenges in hiring diverse rangers since it requires applicants to obtain initial seasonal law enforcement training on their own time and cost.

Additional Resources

Demographic Workforce Statistics for the National Park Service, 2011

Demographics of United States Population, Pew Research Center

Racial and Ethnic Diversity of National Park System Visitors and Non-Visitors, 2008-2009

National Park Service Comprehensive Survey of the American Public, 2008 – 2009

Locating and Recruiting Diverse Applicants for the National Park Service

A Vision for Hiring, Training, and Developing Commissioned Rangers in the Second 100 Years fo the National Park Service

Accessibility in the National Park Service

Untold Stories of the National Park Service

Article on Need for Diversity in the National Park Service

Article on Lack of Diversity in the National Park Service

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