Enhancing Organizational Effectiveness Through Inclusive Diversity
Since 1949, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has been charged with applying science to the national goals of expanding economic prosperity and strengthening homeland security. INL’s purpose is to discover, demonstrate and create next-generation energy solutions and protect our nation’s critical infrastructure. This science transforms the way we live, and at this scale, science is a team sport. It depends on productive collaboration between high-performing teams bringing hundreds of skillsets and perspectives to a problem. At a time when science is still discussed in terms like square meters, kilowatts per hour, and terabytes per second, INL brings a long history of prioritizing the most important ingredient to success: the people doing the work.
INL is one of 17 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories. While each laboratory has a different mission focus, the collective goal is to ensure our nation’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. Sixteen of these laboratories, including INL, follow a government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) model in which DOE provides strategic direction while the laboratories determine precisely how to deliver in the public interest. INL’s operating contractor is Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA), an LLC owned by Battelle and consisting of 12 industry and academic partners.
This case study represents one of the submissions for i4cp's 2023 Next Practice Awards, winners will be honored at the i4cp 2023 Next Practices Now Conference. You can also view other Next Practice Award case studies.
In the 21st Century, few issues are of greater global importance than the creation of an energy future which is clean, secure, reliable, sustainable, and carbon neutral (or negative). INL’s nearly 5,700 employees are responsible for building this future. They conduct advanced energy research, protect critical infrastructure, forge new horizons in advanced materials and transportation, sustain unique scientific capabilities for the nation, transform business operations, uplift the communities they serve, and are delivering on a pledge to become a national model for net-zero carbon emissions by 2031.
In 2017, INL’s challenge was to build a workforce to accelerate long-term progress on all these fronts. There were six key workforce priorities which, if achieved, would firmly establish INL as both a high-performance organization and an employer of choice for next-generation talent:
- Create high-performing teams in new scientific disciplines to match the ever-growing volume and technical complexity of global threats to energy and national security.
- Win the war for talent against industry competitors with greater resources.
- Accelerate knowledge transfer for soon-to-retire employees to the next generation of scientists, engineers, technicians, and safety experts.
- Increase workforce engagement and retention across a physical footprint of 892 square miles, and a virtual footprint spanning the globe through telework and international research collaborations.
- Strengthen workforce resiliency against unforeseen disruptions, an objective which proved prescient with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
- Establish Southeast Idaho as a destination of choice for the workforce of the future by setting high standards for inclusion in community giving, economic impact, and supplier diversity.
Solution – Scope & Innovation
INL’s solution was to launch an intentional, multi-year journey towards inclusivity, a fresh approach to inclusion grounded in psychological safety, a culture of belonging, and a commitment to dignity and respect. This decision was informed by decades of research demonstrating the correlation between inclusion, team effectiveness, and scientific achievement. INL Senior Leadership resolved to embed inclusivity into every aspect of laboratory operations and leverage it as a multidimensional strategy for elevating organizational performance and winning the war for talent.
Accountability – Inclusivity was directly embedded into the laboratory business strategy and operations plan, and an Executive Inclusion Council (EIC) was launched to translate the energy and passion of senior leadership into measurable results. The EIC advanced a clear, ambitious call to action: INL would double the number of employees who are women and people of color by 2024, while sustaining the laboratory’s long history of inclusion for military veterans and individuals with disabilities.
Employment Branding – Inclusivity was folded into every aspect of talent attraction. A cost-effective, multi-channel branding strategy was developed to reach and engage inclusively diverse talent pools locally, regionally, and nationally. Earned media and innovative partnerships helped save precious resources to be reinvested in cutting-edge sourcing tools and strategic relationship building.
Talent Acquisition – Recruiters were empowered to embed inclusion into sourcing strategies and equipped with tools to expand their outreach to inclusively diverse talent in mission-critical skillsets. Managers were given tools to strengthen their confidence with inclusive hiring, and inclusivity started to become integrated into performance ratings.
Engagement, Development & Retention – INL’s five Leadership Councils (ERGs) launched a robust platform of inclusion learning experiences to enhance multicultural acumen, psychological safety, and collaboration. This curriculum moved INL through a multi-year journey of learning through laboratory-wide symposiums, self-guided learning, and dynamic workouts.
Equity – INL expanded its broad philosophy of compensation equity, and directly embedded it into core processes to ensure consistency across teams and skillsets. INL also resolved to continuously evolve benefits offerings to meet the needs of an inclusively diverse, multi-generational workforce.
Research Excellence – INL embedded inclusivity into the culture of research teams, as well as the way scientific impact was measured. These efforts spanned hundreds of research projects and collectively aimed to ensure the economic opportunities of a clean energy transformation were shared with historically marginalized, underserved, and underprivileged communities.
Workforce Development – Inclusivity became an essential component of long-established programs for National University Partnerships (practicums, internships, fellowships, postdoctoral research appointments) and K-12 education (classroom engagement, outside enrichment, high school internships).
Supply Chain & Community Impact – INL embraced its influential position as one of Idaho’s largest employers, purchasers, downstream job creators, and donors. Inclusivity became embedded into procurement processes and supplier outreach. An initiative was launched to strengthen the regional workforce to benefit all suppliers and historically marginalized communities. And INL set high standards for inclusivity in spending and giving, challenging all partners to match its commitment to inclusivity.
Results & Impact
From 2017-2022, INL’s inclusivity journey brought measurable results across every aspect of operations.
Accountability – INL remains on track to employ twice as many women and people of color by the end of 2024, and to maintain a track record of exceeding federal benchmarks for the employment of military veterans and individuals with disabilities.
Employment Branding – The volume of qualified applicants increased from less than 7,000 per year to more than 23,000, with 52% of growth coming from qualified candidates who were women, people of color, military veterans, or individuals with disabilities.
Talent Acquisition – INL’s percentage of requisitions with inclusive slates grew from 61% to 83%, which improved both quality of hire and inclusivity. In the latest fiscal year, INL hired 208% more women, 276% more people of color, 100% more military veterans, and 67% more individuals with disabilities than it did in 2017.
Engagement, Development & Retention – By 2022, 40% of employees were voluntarily attending inclusion learning experiences every year, 24% of employees had joined one of INL’s five leadership councils, and 47% of Leadership Council members had earned at least one promotion since 2017. INL successfully closed its attrition gap for women and reduced the gap for people of color by 80%, saving the laboratory more than $2.2M over a two-year period.
Equity & Empathy – INL’s commitment to compensation equity strengthened engagement, development, and retention, but also improved talent attraction by helping the laboratory earn national recognition as an employer of choice:
- 5X Leading Disability Employer – National Organization on Disability
- 4X Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality – Corporate Equality Index
- 3X Top 50 Companies for Women & People of Color – Diversity MBA
- Vets Hire Gold Medallion – U.S. Department of Labor
- Top 100 Internships & Top 25 Internships for LGBTQ+ Diversity – Firsthand
Research Excellence – Scientific achievement flourished across INL. The volume of first-author academic publications increased by 87%, powered in part by researchers who were women (up 181%) and people of color (up 104%). Innovation disclosures (a form of pre-patent approval) increased by 284%, powered in part by increased contributions of inclusively diverse inventors on high performing teams.
Workforce Development – By FY 2022, 13.0% of employees in INL’s five research divisions were former members of a University Partnership program, and these alumni were 29% women and 31% people of color. Equally important, over 48% of INL’s engagement with K-12 education in the region was reaching historically underrepresented students.
Supply Chain & Community Impact – INL achieved consistent, year-over-year increases in supplier diversity, with 18.5% of spending earned by women-owned businesses, 9.4% by disadvantaged businesses, and 6.4% by service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses in FY-22.
i4cp pioneered the study of high-performance organizations and built this discipline with the same rigor INL brings to its 15 scientific capabilities. INL’s contribution to this discipline lies in the power of intentional, integrated inclusion to accelerate performance across all five i4cp domains (market, strategy, culture, leadership, talent). At INL, the pursuit of inclusivity represents a measurable input, an indicator of positive output, and one of the most helpful diagnostic tools when performance lags, stalls, or declines. INL’s journey to inclusivity is far from complete. But its future will be shaped by this positive feedback loop of inclusivity driving a progressively wider embrace of the inclusively diverse backgrounds and perspectives needed to solve the world’s most pressing energy and security challenges.