Diversity & Empowerment Sessions

Addressing Diversity Initiatives
Represented Employees Contribution

Review by Chris S. Anderson,
Special Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity

Facilitator: Sally Heidtke

To date, over 80 Michigan Tech represented staff participated in a Diversity and Empowerment workshop. The staff responses to the University’s 2006-07 Climate Survey (over 40% of represented staff responded) and subsequent focus group discussions guided the design of this workshop. 

Analysis of the survey responses indicated that hourly staff want strategies to address issues related to their immediate work environment. They also are interested in discussing diversity and determining how they can contribute to the University’s goals. 

The Diversity and Empowerment workshop was piloted in fall 2007, refined and offered again in January 2008. Supervisor support was secured prior to invitations to attend were sent out; interest in attendance was high; and participants were enthusiastic. The workshop participants identified a number of ideas for improving the work environment for staff, and ways they might contribute to the diversity initiative. 

The first group of staff members who participated strongly recommended that the workshops be made available to all hourly staff. This session resulted in a short list of recommendations that were shared with the President, Vice President for Student Affairs, Student Affairs Leadership Team, Human Resources and various unit directors. Three themes emerged from all the workshops:

  1. The role of praise and active listening by supervisors is clearly critical. Staff want to “make Tech a better Institution. ” They want to “help make students and faculty feel welcome. ”They have perceptions and ideas that they would like to share. The participants in the workshops were provided some strategies for communicating their ideas to supervisors. The role of the supervisor was discussed and there was unanimous agreement that supervisors continue to enhance their communication skills, including learning how to solicit input and act on it, praise staff, actively listen and provide regular constructive feedback on employee’s work.
  2. Staff believe they can play an important role in creating a welcoming climate. There is a sense from the workshops that if Michigan Tech will invest in its hourly staff, they will meet these expectations.
  3. The participants were adamant that they would benefit from continuing professional development and that supervisors must encourage and support participation. Developing a professional development plan with employees will serve as an incentive for both to contribute ideas for unit and campus-wide improvement.

Additional staff perceptions and recommendations for improving the climate for staff, faculty and students are summarized below:

There is a need to foster a culture that values all perspectives across Michigan Tech’s campus. For example:

Model the departments that share department meeting notes, strategic plans, especially diversity plans, and other department/unit information with all employees – faculty and staff. 

Include staff in your annual retreat. This helps people feel part of a team. 

Some staff regularly feel undervalued by supervisors and faculty. Supervisors should:

  • Deal with problems generated by an individual, at an individual level – not with a broad brush approach.
  • Encourage and help staff develop professional development plans.
  • Pitch in sometimes – get your hands dirty. (Simple things like washing your own coffee cup make a difference in how people feel!)
  • Help staff explore ways that they impact diversity goals and the environment in your unit.
  • Be fair and respectful.
  • Ensure that there is equity in pay for the same jobs.

Staff often feel removed from Michigan Tech’s diversity initiative

  • Leaders should encourage participation in such events as MLK Day, Parade of Nations, Powwow, Diwali, etc.
  • Be aware of your language – it can sometimes sound demeaning, or set up a “caste” system of who’s important.
  • Ask your staff’s opinion – especially if a decision will affect them.
  • If you do meet with staff regularly don’t let anyone interrupt because “it’s just the secretary. ”
  • Work to provide opportunities for diversity related professional development – including classes, training, conferences, etc.
  • Periodically support professional development opportunities off campus that will enrich an employee’s knowledge and ability to impact change and improve trust.

There is a need for more opportunities for dialog and interaction, both intra and interdepartmental. 
For example:

  • Ensure that there are forums where people of like positions can meet periodically to discuss how to improve work efficiencies.
  • Continue to support an annual Student Affairs sponsored professional development conference
  • Implement a photo directory for all faculty and staff.

Hourly/represented staff are Michigan Tech’s frontline. Their active engagement in the University clearly impacts the teaching, learning, cultural and work climate for students, faculty and other staff. They can contribute to the University’s efforts to be a welcoming, inclusive institution. It is critical that the University invest in staff and supervisor professional development and empower all employees to contribute to the strategic goals. 

For additional information, contact the Office of Institutional Diversity at diversityattech@mtu.edu, or by telephone at (906) 487-2474.