Leadership Corner

Changing our culture together

March 21st, 2018 at 2:30PM

A picture of Vicki Christiansen in Forest Service uniform.
Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service.

Last Thursday during the all employee call, I shared with you my commitment for the safe and respectful work environment we all deserve. I want to thank everyone who tuned in. Everywhere I go in this agency, I see strong, courageous and forward-thinking people — people who know that by standing up for their colleagues, they are standing up for us all. We will rely on your commitment and service as we move forward to confront the challenges our agency faces.

As you know, the problems we are currently facing have to do with allegations of harassment, assault, bullying and retaliation in the Forest Service. Recent news reports have focused a bright light on our workplace, illuminating the impacts of these behaviors on some of our fellow employees. They are hurting, and I hurt for them; I hurt for our entire workforce because we have all been touched in some way by these incidents.

To care for the land we need to care for the people. We are facing some of the biggest land management challenges in our history. That is where our focus should be, but we cannot focus on our work until we share a workplace that is safe for everyone and where everyone is respected, valued and supported for who they are and what they do.

Many of you might feel that this is not really who we are, and you are right. These behaviors are not who we are, and they are certainly not everywhere. But having them anywhere is totally unacceptable. So we must ask ourselves: Is this really where we still want to be? What will it take to finally and permanently change?

This is a watershed moment, an opportunity for change in our culture. We have to drill down and uncover what is going on in all parts of this agency. We must dig into what fuels these unacceptable behaviors and what’s needed to make positive, lasting changes. I ask for your empathy, humility, patience and a lot of straight talk to help us break through the silence that keeps us from getting better.

Changing our culture will take time. It will include significant changes to our structures and processes. A quick fix won’t do it, but we have to start somewhere. So we are making a start with a 30-day “Stand Up for Each Other” action plan. Within a 30-day period, we will take a series of concurrent steps:

  • In every unit, we will hold listening sessions with employees
  • We will work with professionals outside of government to establish a support structure for victims
  • We will establish an employee advisory board that supports and engages employees so that they are heard and can contribute ideas and solutions for improving our work environment
  • We will finalize a Forest Service employee code of conduct
  • We will hold “Stand Up” sessions oriented toward preventing harassment, assault, bullying and retaliation
  • We will contract with third parties to investigate all charges of sexual misconduct
  • We will contract for an agency-wide one-time survey on work environment, including harassment, assault, bullying and retaliation in the Forest Service

These are only some steps we will take to keep changing our culture. It takes all of us. We must commit to holding people accountable. Together we can continue to create the workplace we all deserve. I ask each of you to commit to your colleagues — and to the American people — to do everything you can to make the Forest Service a safe, respectful and rewarding place to work for all.

Your input is valuable. Please email comments, questions and suggestions to me at Forest Service Employee Feedback.

I hope you will all join me and stand together against harassment.