Working group issues interim report on staff diversity

The Diversity Working Group has issued an interim report that describes several initial steps the University can take to increase the diversity of its staff. The report also recommends efforts to ensure a long-term commitment to supporting a staff that reflects a broad range of talents and perspectives.

"We believe that many of the initiatives described ... will have a positive impact on staff from all backgrounds, not just staff from minority backgrounds," the report states. "This is a deliberate strategy that aims to have our entire community embrace a commitment to diversity, thereby increasing the likelihood not only that cultural change will occur at Princeton, but that it will be both systemic and institutionalized."

The Diversity Working Group was formed by President Shirley M. Tilghman in fall 2004 to identify strategies and potential barriers that affect the recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion of a diverse workforce at Princeton. The group has focused its efforts on people of color among non-faculty employees at all levels.

"The working group has done an excellent job of developing initial proposals to address some of the important issues they have identified," Tilghman said. "I am grateful to the members of the group for the time and careful thought they are devoting to this effort, and I look forward to receiving their final report later this year."

The group, which encompasses 21 staff members and administrators from a range of departments, levels and backgrounds, is chaired by Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life, and Mark Burstein, executive vice president. Terri Harris Reed, associate provost for institutional equity, is serving as executive secretary. The group is working in conjunction with the provost's office both to analyze areas that prevent the University from reaching its objectives and to develop strategies to address those concerns.

Some of the suggestions outlined in the interim report already are being considered for implementation, according to Burstein. "I expect that we'll have conversations with the president and the provost to see if we can implement some of the initiatives in the report as quickly as possible," he said.

"We found with the Task Force on Health and Well-Being that there were some small victories that we could achieve even before the final report was out," added Dickerson, who also co-chaired the health and well-being group. "This report is in some ways theoretical and in some ways practical, but to some extent it has to do with embracing this philosophy and finding a way to enhance communication about our commitment to diversity. So I could imagine that some of the communications initiatives might be among those that could be implemented more quickly."

Initial recommendations

The report begins with an assessment of where Princeton stands, noting that some progress has been made since the last diversity initiative on campus. In 1992-93, a report on campus race relations was prepared at the request of President Harold T. Shapiro. The report was produced under the leadership of Ruth Simmons, then vice provost at Princeton and now president of Brown University, with the support of a race relations working group.

"In response to that report, Princeton implemented specific measures designed not only to recruit a more diverse student, faculty and staff population but also to foster a culture in which all could excel," the interim report states. "These efforts have brought some dividends to Princeton. Using other Ivy League institutions as a comparison, we have made progress in attracting and retaining paraprofessional and skilled trade staff of color. ... On the other hand, we lag in executive and managerial ranks even as the pool of potential candidates of color has increased."

For example, 28 percent of all staff hired in 2004 were members of minority groups. A total of 85 percent of the janitorial and food service staff hired were members of minority groups, while those figures were 26 percent for office support staff and 17 percent for executive and managerial staff.

During the initial phase of its work, the group sought information from its members and others in the University community on "what they thought were the beliefs and behaviors that shape the Princeton experience and impede our ability to recruit and retain employees," according to the report.

The report's recommendations fall into three areas: increase the vigor and visibility of the University's commitment to diversity; create an environment where all can excel; and enhance the pool of talented applicants of color.

In the first area, the working group found that although increasing the diversity of the staff as well as faculty and students is a high priority for Tilghman and her cabinet, this goal is not widely understood across the campus.

"If Princeton is to realize its aspiration to become an institution that embraces and reaps the benefits of a more diverse community, its entire administration -- and, indeed, the entire University community -- must work diligently toward achieving a set of shared outcomes," the report states.

The working group suggests developing a communications plan that might call for the creation of a diversity Web site and better use of existing communications vehicles. It also recommends providing more coordination between the various efforts seeking to increase the diversity of faculty, students and staff.

The report notes that most of Princeton's peer institutions have more staff devoted to diversity-related issues and that some have specific offices concerned with coordinating diversity efforts. The report calls for the augmentation of senior leadership to deal with diversity, although it stops short of recommending the creation of a specific office.

"... the working group was concerned that if our diversity efforts are associated too closely with any one office we will not appropriately convey the message that all offices have roles to play in helping to achieve these goals," the report says.

The second area focuses on creating an environment in which staff members can feel more connected to the University. One recommendation is to support affinity groups for employees organized around shared interests or characteristics such as race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Princeton already is home to two groups founded in the early 1990s: the Princetonians of Color Network and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group. The report suggests the University provide resources and executive sponsorship for such groups; Burstein already has agreed to sponsor PCN, while Dickerson is sponsoring the LGBT group.

The report also recommends implementing other programs and activities that demonstrate an openness to diversity. "... changing the culture of an institution only happens through sustained multifaceted effort," the report states. "The University needs to find ways to raise awareness about the benefits of diversity and to create a more welcoming community." Suggestions include a more comprehensive employee and new manager orientation program.

In addition, the report recommends the creation of additional leadership opportunities for employees: "The working group believes the University needs to create more opportunities for capable managers of color to contribute to the institution's overall success in meaningful ways and to enable entry-level employees to grow professionally at the University."

Suggestions include:

  • assessing the representation of staff of color on existing committees and enhancing representation where needed.
  • starting the next phase of Excelling at Princeton, a University-funded program under which staff members are given release time to take classes on campus developed and implemented by the Center for Training and Development at Mercer County Community College. The program is intended to make employees more effective in their current positions as well as to provide the participants with additional skills that will allow them to be more competitive candidates for lead and supervisory positions at the University. Two cohorts of Princeton employees have graduated from the program.
  • creating a new University leadership program that is directed toward providing professional development for managers.

The third area identified by the working group -- enhancing the pool of talented applicants of color -- also focuses on educating managers by increasing their knowledge of the University's diversity goals and providing them with additional tools to identify and attract more applicants of color.

"The University relies on managers in departments to make hiring decisions," the report states. "This is a strength that the working group would like to support as opposed to moving toward a more centralized process. On the other hand, these managers are not at present succeeding in increasing the University’s diversity."

The working group's recommendations include offering regular training sessions and providing more centralized support through the Office of Human Resources. In terms of tools, the group suggests the University offer a new mortgage program for lower-wage workers to provide them with home ownership opportunities within the local real estate market.

Going forward

The Diversity Working Group is continuing its task this fall and intends to complete a final report by the end of the academic year.

"... we expect to continue our investigation through a complete review of our recruitment, hiring and retention data ... and to strengthen the working group's knowledge through further internal consultation with additional experts in the field, including discussions with successful diversity managers working in the private sector," the report states.

"We want to be able to know we're making progress so we want to set some goals -- short-term and long-term -- and some of them will be driven by employment data," Reed said. The group also anticipates conducting a campus survey.

"We want to stress that Princeton is excellent in so many areas, and this is something that we want to excel at as well," Reed said. "It's important to have a talented and diverse workforce in the same way we think it's important to have a talented and diverse faculty and student body."

The interim report of the Diversity Working Group is available online. Those with comments or suggestions may contact the working group at [email protected]