Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 3, 1997 Form

Diversity Council

Workplace: President Brody
wants to focus on
benefits of diversity.
University president William R. Brody has announced the creation of a new intradivisional body to monitor and encourage top performance in an increasingly diverse university workforce. The new JHU Diversity Leadership Council will work with divisions, departments and individual offices to recognize and encourage efforts to capitalize on the benefits diversity offers.

"We are entering a different era in our approach to creating a workforce that is more diverse," Brody said. "The approach is really focusing on the workplace environment, in creating an environment that affords positive support for everybody irrespective of their differences. We want to convene a group that can help us identify ways we can promote this approach, and thereby create a more productive and effective workforce."

Nominations for the new council, which will consist of 12 to 15 men and women reflecting a cross section of faculty, staff and students, are currently being solicited from the entire Hopkins community. At a time when the words affirmative action, multiculturalism and even diversity are increasingly burdened with highly charged political connotations, the effort to acknowledge, encourage and make the best of an increasingly diverse workforce within the university deserves clear and careful explanation.

The Gazette assembled a group of university experts at work on diversity issues to discuss how the new Diversity Leadership Council will work to encourage change. The group consisted of Audrey Smith, vice president for human resources; Richard Kilburg, senior director in the Office of Human Services; and Cecy Kuruvilla and Emma Stokes, both senior organization development and diversity specialists in the Office of Human Services.

Kilburg: This has really been a 30-year process, and this is another development along the way. The first major step toward diversity occurred in 1970 when the university decided to go co-ed. This was followed by the creation of an affirmative action office and other adjustments to civil rights legislation.

Smith: One way to look at diversity is it's another responsibility: just another component of managing the university's workforce. When you have diversity you have differences that occur that supervisors might not be ready for. We have to be prepared to educate ourselves and our workforce to deal with these issues as they arise.

Kuruvilla: That's what people tend to misunderstand about this issue. Diversity is not just about demographics. It's not about making sure you have the correct balance in race and gender and so on. Diversity refers to the many ways people differ from each other. It's about those human characteristics that play an important role in our values, behaviors and perceptions and the varied perspectives that different people bring to the table. If we target desired outcomes, are we willing to be open enough to listen to different perspectives on how to get there? Can we incorporate these differences to realize the maximum potential of each individual? If affirmative action was about opening the doors, then diversity can be described as making sure that everyone who came in has a place here.

Kilburg: The goal of inclusion is not representativeness--it's not a quota. The new reality is that if you put a group of 12 together working on a project, you may have both genders, four races, multiple ages, six languages and seven nationalities. The challenge we face is to create an atmosphere where everyone can contribute according to their abilities and backgrounds. It's not about trying to make them all be the same.

Stokes: Ideally, you want every single person to contribute the most that they possibly can. There's a sense of acknowledging interdependence and respecting individuals that dovetails nicely with President Brody's call for increased collaboration. After all, the whole concept of collegiality is to respect differences while acknowledging common aspirations. It's the most innovative way to work.

Kuruvilla: The Diversity Leadership Council will be charged with helping to move this process along. We need to be looking at why people leave, and what things do we need to do to retain good people? Recruiting costs a lot, and trained workers are costly to lose. The council will help bring these issues to the attention of the leadership, along with possible recommendations. Success in diversity really depends upon committed leadership who are willing to take action.

Smith: Hopkins is at a stage in its efforts to encourage diversity where it recognizes the need to do something. I think it is encouraging that the top leadership is willing to make a commitment to work on these issues. We have a long way to go to make the university a truly welcoming and encouraging place for all. The Diversity Leadership Council will be part of that effort. It's not a cure-all. But it is one vehicle to help us examine and move forward the agenda of change.

The Diversity Leadership Council will meet once a month and be accountable to the president. Membership on the council requires a time commitment of four to six hours per month, previous experience in community activities, leadership capabilities, change management skills, a commitment to inclusion and the ability to communicate across--and about--differences.

The council's goals will be to recommend inclusive policies and practices that attract and retain a diverse mix of faculty, staff and students, facilitate implementation of diversity initiatives, support diversity education and strengthen links with the local community.

Individuals should submit nominations, including a short biography and brief description of reasons for wishing to serve on the council, to either the provost at 265 Garland on the Homewood campus or to Cecy Kuruvilla at the Office of Human Services at the Wyman Park Building, suite 600. Be sure to mark the envelope "Diversity Council Nomination." Self-nominations are encouraged from all levels of the university. The deadline for receiving nominations is Feb. 28.

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