Moving Beyond Buzzwords
By Carla Garnett
Photos by Ernie Branson
On the Front Page...
Stop thinking about managing diversity as an altruistic albatross or a legal requirement. Instead, start making it a way of doing business and a way of life. Shifts in the nation's population will soon make it too expensive to do otherwise and the benefit of managing diversity will be reflected in your organization's true bottom line workforce success. That was the message delivered by speakers at NIH's Apr. 4 Managing Diversity Forum.
"Diversity and diversity management are not just buzzwords at NIH," said Pedro Morales, acting director of NIH's Office of Equal Opportunity. "Diversity is the reality of who we are and diversity management is how we interact and conduct research."
The NIH diversity initiative was established in 1995 to manage the differences as well as the similarities of NIH employees in order to promote productivity, quality and fairness in the workplace. The recent forum and awards ceremony is one way NIH evaluates the initiative's progress.
"I want to be able to stand with you today as we celebrate diversity," said NIH acting director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, in opening remarks via videotape. The program coincided with a congressional hearing Kirschstein was called to attend. "This ceremony is very important to me," she said. "It is our opportunity to review our efforts to improve diversity, acknowledge those who have contributed to our progress and examine the steps we have to take in the new millennium."
She said this year's forum theme "Diversity in the New Millennium" is an essential goal at the agency. "We are fortunate to have a work environment that is inclusive," she said, "but our theme serves as a reminder that our work is not done."
The face of the United States is changing constantly, she continued. The population has undergone dramatic changes due to population shifts, mortality rates and immigration. In 1990, 19.7 percent of the nation's population were minorities; in 2000, the minority population increased to 24.1 percent.
"NIH has also experienced these changes," Kirschstein remarked, noting that recent data on agency hiring and promotion indicate that NIH is keeping pace with population trends. In fiscal year 2000, for instance, 38 percent of NIH's new hires were minorities and 66 percent were women. "These accomplishments are crucial as we look to measure our successes in the area of diversity, while meeting the challenges we still face at NIH in the new millennium. I expect this forum and the influence of our diversity champions to renew our commitment to making NIH a model in the federal sector."
Changing faces and facades is simple, compared to changing mindsets and behavior, according to keynote speaker Trevor Wilson, a diversity consultant to dozens of organizations nationally and internationally in private and public sectors.
"What I've been doing for the last 20 years is trying to move this idea out of the realm of pure social work or even legislation, and move it into the world of business," Wilson admitted. "The term 'diversity' has a lot of baggage attached to it, so what I talk about especially in Europe and other countries outside the United States is equity."
Wilson then went on to distinguish equity from equality, two terms many people use synonymously. The distinction is crucial, though.
"When we talk about equality," he explained, "we are talking about treating people the same. When we talk about treating people the same, we ignore their differences. This is the management strategy that many people were brought up with. [However] equity is not about treating people the same. Equity is about treating people fairly. When you treat people fairly, you are acknowledging the differences."
Half Indian and half black, born in England but reared as a Jamaican with Jamaican language and culture, Wilson said diversity issues cropped up early in his life when his family immigrated to Canada.
"The way I got to do this work has very little to do with my academic or occupational background and much more to do with the fact that a lot of these issues I have lived."
Wilson said businesses interested in improving productivity and profit must be prepared to compete in the "war for talent." Managing diversity successfully, he concluded, is a powerful weapon.
The diversity initiative's new logo also debuted at the program. Taking the shape of a delta, which signals change, the insignia features three different profiles in silhouette. In addition, the program provided an opportunity for NIH to recognize its 2001 Champions of Diversity: Cassandra Allen, NLM administrative librarian; Hilda Dixon, Office of the Director EEO officer; Dr. Michelle Evans, NIA deputy scientific director; Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research; and Dr. Wendol Williams, NIAAA research fellow. The team award was presented to NIGMS's Martha Pine, Karen Basnight and Lynn Pupkar; the organization award went to OD's Steve Benowitz, Wendy Thompson, Alisa Green and Brian Easley for their work on NIH Quality of Worklife Initiative and the Work and Family Life Center.
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