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Civil Rights Benefits for NRCS Employees

By Debra Eddison and Laura Suomi-Lecker

For many of us, it is tough to imagine a different climate in the workplace than exists today. But before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination, harassment and inequity were not uncommon practices. Most of the faces that made up the workforce were similar and did not represent the diversity of the nation.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent additions to the act began to change all of that. Because of this act, NRCS policy was written to “ensure that no person is subjected to prohibited discrimination…based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, marital status, family status, parental status, or sexual orientation”. Now the NRCS can proudly boast many benefits offered to employees through the agency’s compliance with the Civil Rights Program.

Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act addresses the issues of equal employment opportunity. This program is designed to promote equal opportunity in every aspect of agency personnel policy in the employment, development, advancement and treatment of all employees. Title 7 allows employees in the workplace to remain free from discrimination or harassment of any type. Under this system, every employee has a voice. There is a structured support system to guide employees who may feel that they are victims of harassment or discrimination. All employees are educated to be sensitive to behaviors that may offend or intimidate fellow employees. This enhances understanding and connections between employees, which in turn builds a stronger overall workforce. With this system in place, equal opportunity has brought with it the promise to build workplace diversity and foster non-hostile working environments for all employees.

In order to further the cause of civil rights compliance and education, the agency has several Special Emphasis Programs in place. These programs have been formed to promote and support under-represented groups within the agency. Typically, there are six Special Emphasis Program categories, which include women, Hispanics, Asian American/Pacific Islanders, Black American, American Indian/Alaskan Natives and persons with disabilities. These programs are designed to educate, support, advise and guide on issues relating to these under-represented groups. The program managers work to provide cultural information as well as dispel myths and stereotypes. Special emphasis group leaders also assist State Conservationists by being the “eyes and ears” for any potential civil rights problems that may arise.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the world is in a constant state of change, and the workforce must adapt to those changes. The civil rights program assists the agency in dealing with change and pushing the workforce to reflect the nation’s diversity. The intent of the Civil Rights Program is to handle problems before they arise, thus decreasing the cost and time invested in dealing with these problems. By stepping up to the challenge of civil rights, the NRCS can run more efficiently and be more competitive on a state and national level.

It is clear to see that the Civil Rights Program brings a multitude of benefits to NRCS employees and the agency as a whole. Under this program, special emphasis groups, the NRCS workforce and the general public all enjoy a vision of fairness, equality, respect and ultimately harmony.