Reducing the Impact of Bias in the STEM Workforce

In October 2015, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) established an Interagency Policy Group to identify policies and practices to increase diversity in the STEM workforce by reducing the impact of implicit and explicit bias, both in the Federal Government and in federally-funded institutions of higher education.  Through its work, the Interagency Policy Group has compiled a report highlighting the contributions of the Federal STEM Workforce and the Federally-funded Institutions of Higher Education STEM Workforce to reduce the impact of bias in the STEM workforce, as well as provides recommendations for policies, practices and next steps to further reduce the effect of bias in order to increase diversity in the STEM workforce.  Below is the contribution made by the USPTO to the report.

Reducing the Impact of Bias in the STEM Workforce

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
U.S. Department of Commerce

Dealing with implicit individual bias, USPTO provides several workshops designed to help individuals understand and develop tools to mitigate or overcome bias.  These dynamic and interactive workshops include: training geared towards recognizing and addressing pre-conceived attitudes and beliefs; controlling one’s own professional image to mitigate other’s unconscious biases; empowering managers with inclusive habits through an initiative called The New Inclusion Quotient training (New IQ Training).  In just over a year of deploying the New IQ 85 percent of USPTO managers have participated.  USPTO broadly defines inclusion in a mission-focused manner: the ability to include differences in a friendly, flexible and fair way that allows everyone to feel important and uniquely valued.  Additionally, USPTO measures the effectiveness of these training programs through the diversity and inclusion index score in the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey.

USPTO is exploring new, more modern ways to highlight diversity.  With much of the USPTO’s workforce dispersed geographically due to telework and regional offices, the Agency has begun producing high-quality, on-demand videos to observe Special Emphasis Months, and overtly express its commitment to a workforce drawn from all segments of American society.  To date, USPTO has debuted videos for Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Women’s History Month.  By tracking the number of “hits” or views of these videos, the Agency has a metric to determine how widely its diversity and inclusion message is spreading.  Further, the Agency has developed a series of videos focusing on diversity in the Patent Examining Corps (the largest office within USPTO), which utilize story-telling and personalization to deliver messages about diversity and inclusion.

USPTO is using various self-assessments designed to signal barriers to equality of opportunity in any implicit institutional practices.  These include data analysis using workforce demographic data, EEO complaint data, EVS results, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s self-assessment checklist to identify best practices and potential barriers to equal opportunity.  The findings inform diversity staff’s annual Maximum Impact projects, which are targeted to meet a demonstrated need or barrier.  Using this data-driven approach, the organization has implemented multifaceted strategies recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, from Senior Executive Service (SES) to entry-level employees.   As the agency’s workforce doubled (2005-2015), the Agency responded to concerns about underrepresentation by establishing new recruitment strategies, and developing active peer support networks, also known as affinity groups.

USPTO also acted to address the lack of diversity in the feeder pool for STEM jobs by establishing an Office of Education and Outreach (OEO) to focus on external education programming, often in conjunction with the Office of EEO and Diversity and voluntary employee organizations.  For example, OEO recently partnered with a program called Urban Alliance, which exposes underrepresented groups to STEM careers by providing second-year high school students with the opportunity to work at USPTO, gaining job training and mentoring.

The USPTO also widely disseminates anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, which implements a zero-tolerance policy for unlawful harassment and discrimination.  In addition, the USPTO provides training to all employees on their rights to equal employment opportunities.  The Agency is committed to taking appropriate corrective action such as discipline or training in response to such explicit acts.  Because the USPTO does not engage in grant-awarding activity to institutions of higher education, it does not have specific practices with respect to Federally funded Institutions of Higher Education.