February 29, 2008

Panel Addresses Diversity Challenges in Work Force

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The Cornell Diversity Council hosted a forum on goals and challenges yesterday afternoon in Sage Hall. The forum, “Tales from the Front Line: Three Perspectives on Diversity Goals and Challenges,” featured presentations by three experts in the business, military and human resources fields.
Moderated by David Harris, deputy provost and vice provost for social sciences, the forum featured speakers who not only discussed ways to make diversity more inclusive, but also methods to facilitate open communication as well as retention of diversity training.
Anne R. Erni, managing director and chief diversity officer for Lehman Brothers, Inc. spoke about the importance of including diversity in company policies.
“I think that there is no single way to define diversity but what we are looking for is the notion of diversity in thought and perspective,” she said.
Erni focused her discussion on women in the work force; however, her general comments on diversity were not limited to women; she referred to other minorities as well. One of Erni’s many responsibilities at Lehman is to drive flexibility and diversity inclusion strategies.
“We have to continually see what we can do to innovate; there is still more to tackle to change the corporate paradigm,” she said. [img_assist|nid=28376|title=Awareness|desc=A panel of experts speak on cultural awareness in the workplace. From left to right, Anne Erni, chief diversity for Lehman Brothers, Inc., Allan Bishop, director of Cornell’s Recruitment and Employment Center, and Lt. Col. Brian Page of Cornell ROTC field|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Lehman funded research to bust myths such as, “You can’t hire women in their 30s — the risk in losing them when they have a child is not worth the investment.”
The research showed that across all dimensions more than 50 percent of time, when women left the work force it was because of job dissatisfaction or another job opportunity — not because of family.
Erni was followed up by Lt. Col. Brian Page, tri-services chair of Reserve Officers Training Corps at Cornell. Page focused his discussion on teamwork. He discussed how initial entry training deals with diversity training, equal opportunity and prevention of sexual harassment. Within the training corps, there is a leader designated so there is someone who can be held accountable who can make sure individuals are respected and everyone is treated with dignity.
“Everything requires teamwork. It is built on trust and confidence, whether its leader to [those] led or unit-to-unit; we want to build a framework, an institution that shares values of leadership, trust and dignity,” Page said.
Page stressed the importance of cultural awareness and a new program called the Cultural Linguistics Initiative in which a lack of cultural understanding is going to be changed by creating training programs.
“Cultural awareness gets you to the point when you no longer have conflict,” Page said. “Every 90 days, there is a discussion to make things work better and other initiatives to increase diversity retention. We deal with the consideration of others in small group seminar formats that are moderated in which we discuss concerns, open lines of communications. A lot of issues of diversity can be solved.”
The third speaker was Allan D. Bishop, director of Cornell’s Recruitment and Employment Center in the Division of Human Resources.
The speakers were followed by a brief question and answer session in which audience members had the opportunity to discuss specific aspects of diversity that were not addressed in the individual presentations.
At the end of the forum, Harris commented on the general purpose of the discussion. He said the goal of the forum was to help individuals learn from other organizations that are going through the same issues and have similar goals or face similar challenges.
“People appreciate the opportunity to talk about diversity when nothing has happened: when there isn’t a crisis, when we can sort of do it in a calmer way,” Harris said, adding that hopefully these kinds of sessions lay a foundation so that when an issue does “flare up,” sense can be made of it.