Approximately 150 staff members gathered Thursday afternoon to discuss their thoughts and concerns about — and suggestions for achieving — recommendations in a staff committee report on diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Michigan.
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After a brief introduction recapping the 22-member committee’s work over the past 10 months, the audience broke into groups of 8-10 people to discuss the report’s six recommendations, which grew out of subcommittees dealing with hiring and retention, promotion and transfer, staff development and workplace climate.
Then they again came together to hear summaries of some of those discussions.
“We heard excitement,” said Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, after the first of two hour-and-a-half meetings at the Michigan League. About 80 people attended for the first session and at least 65 were signed up for the second, Thomas said.
“This group focused on what can we do. I heard from this group some possibility thinking about what would help us move forward.”
The staff sessions, which also included a few faculty members and students, were the final public events in the university’s 10-day Diversity Summit, designed to gather input at the start of a yearlong effort to create a universitywide strategic plan for improving diversity, equity and inclusion.
Speaking during the introduction, Roger Banks, president of AFSCME Council 1583, said being a part of the staff diversity committee was “the most rewarding thing that I have ever been a part of” in 26 years at U-M.
“It has been very rewarding to me to be a part of this committee and to feel like we are making some changes. Because we all are alike, whether we want to accept it or not, we all are alike. We may be divided by the work that we do, but we all are the same,” Banks said.
Darlene Nichols, foundation and grants librarian for the U-M Library, said that although about 75 percent of the people the committee heard from felt good about working at U-M, the situation is not perfect, especially for racial or ethnic minorities.
“They questioned the university’s commitment to diversity because when they looked around, they didn’t see a lot of people like themselves reflected among their colleagues, among the leaders in their departments or at the university administrative levels,” Nichols said.
Among the suggestions and comments to come out of the small group discussions were an appreciation of the need for supervisory and leadership training about diversity issues, as well as attempts to include as many people as possible in the process, and the suggestion that a staff ombuds position be created.
Concerns included skepticism that “we’ll still be talking about this in 10 years,” that proper resources may not be allocated to realistically implement the recommendations and that there needs to be a specific measurement for accountability.
People at various tables also mentioned the challenge of implementing the recommendations on a systemwide level given the university’s decentralized organization.
A common theme mentioned throughout the session, and one that Thomas said was key to achieving a positive workplace climate, was the need for respect.
“People want to be respected,” said Jean Tennyson, a program manager for human resources recruiting and employment services, and one of those helping to gather comments from people at the small-group tables.
“Disagreeing with people is not disrespecting people. You can disagree and it’s OK. Respect goes both ways.”