Q&A with Diversity Award Winner Sonia Goltz

A woman with a hand on her hip smiles with a Husky statue and plaza and a brick building behind her.
A woman with a hand on her hip smiles with a Husky statue and plaza and a brick building behind her.
2021 Michigan Tech Diversity Award winner Sonia Goltz reflects on diversity, equity and inclusion progress and the work that remains to be done.

Michigan Tech’s 2021 Diversity Award winner Sonia Goltz shares her commitment to diversity in teaching, research and service — and how she maintains a healthy perspective.

“Doing the easy things will not move us forward,” says Sonia Goltz, a Michigan Technological University College of Business faculty member whose research focuses on gender equity issues and related topics — including social power and equity. She shares the 2021 award with Amy Lyn Howard, a doctoral candidate in Michigan Tech's rhetoric, theory, and culture program who recently served as interim director of MTU's Center for Diversity and Inclusion

About the Award

Established in 2014, Michigan Tech’s Diversity Award showcases faculty and staff who demonstrate exemplary commitment to initiatives that forward diversity and inclusion. Their contributions come in many forms, including recruitment, retention, teaching, research, multicultural programming, cultural competency and community outreach. 

The Diversity Award winner receives a $2,500 award and is honored during the annual faculty awards celebration in September. 

All are welcome to submit Diversity Award nominations, which are due by late May each year.

Goltz is one of the core members of ADVANCE: Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions, a multifaceted National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative established on the Michigan Tech campus in 2008 that focuses on supporting the career progress of women and minority faculty in the STEM areas.

A professor of organizational behavior, Goltz has been recognized for bringing innovation to the classroom through the use of new and emerging teaching methods and tools. “Dr. Goltz clearly demonstrates activities to attract, recruit and ensure the success of a diverse student body,” writes nominator Andrew Storer, dean of the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and a co-principal investigator for the ADVANCE Initiative at Michigan Tech. 

In this Q&A, learn more about Goltz’s work, why it’s important to her and how it impacts the University and the greater community.

"There is no doubt that Dr. Goltz demonstrates efforts that exhibit a commitment to diversity in teaching, research and service. Her research and scholarship focus on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) issues or bring DEI issues to other areas of her scholarship. Her classes help students recognize issues of equity and how organizations can work to address such complex issues, and her service to the University always represents a commitment to equity and ethical standards."Andrew Storer, dean of the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science,
co-PI for ADVANCE at Michigan Tech
A woman smiles with a green space and park bench behind her on the Michigan Tech campus.
"Sometimes it is not who is in the conversations, but who is listening to them and what they are learning from them that is important," says Goltz. 

Q: What's your personal definition of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)?

SG: Organizations often seek to increase diversity without increasing equity and inclusion, which just results in a revolving door, meaning that certain groups do not feel supported or valued and leave in greater numbers. I have gone through that revolving door myself. I was hired to replace another woman who didn’t receive tenure. After I left, they hired a woman to replace me. It didn’t feel good. I felt like we were hired as tokens and left to survive on our own with little support; at the same time, the bar was set higher. So, by supported, I mean everyone should receive sufficient resources to do their jobs in an equitable way, and also they should receive equitable outcomes for doing them. By valued, I mean heard and not discounted or ignored, and also appreciated for what they bring to the table in terms of ideas, talents and skills. Ultimately, the concept of DEI boils down to creating a situation in which everyone can be seen and heard equally, jointly contribute individual talents to the group’s efforts and create a larger good that reaps equitable recognition and rewards for their contributions. This all sounds easy enough but there are multiple barriers to achieving it.

"Dr. Goltz is a lifelong champion of diversity and inclusion. The extensive list of her accomplishments and contributions to our campus climate span her entire career. Dr. Goltz has both the visionary leadership to implement systemic University-wide diversity programs and the willingness to do the hard work at the grassroots level to foster change."Dean Johnson, dean of the College of Business

Q: What is the work you do specifically related to DEI?

SG: Much of the work has been research-related. Several papers focus specifically on equity at universities, including some that explore  the issues, some about introducing programming and some that suggest creating or using equity indices. I have also published work in legal journals examining how well the legal system recognizes and addresses discrimination. There are also a couple of articles on gender and entrepreneurship. Indirectly, my research led to working on the ADVANCE grant proposals in part because of the knowledge I had built up from doing the research. At the end of the ADVANCE PAID grant, I helped develop the Diversity Literacy training for faculty. On the ADVANCE Adaptation grant, I work with Patty Sotirin (Department of Humanities) on the Advanced Career Management (ACM) initiative, which provides associate professors with career-related resources, primarily mentoring. I also work on other aspects of the project with the entire PI team, which includes Patty, Andrew Sotirin and Adrienne Minerick, along with the grant’s evaluation team, which includes Karen Colbert and Betsy Lehman. On the ADVANCE Midwest Partnership grant, which is shared across four institutions, but led by Cinzia Cervato at Iowa State, Patty and I work on identifying synergies among the partnership initiatives and pulling together the portfolio of initiatives so that other institutions in the Midwest can more easily adapt and adopt them.

Q:  Difficult conversations around DEI topics — topics some perceive as uncomfortable or even controversial — aren’t new. But it feels like the volume was definitely turned up this year on our campus. How do you approach the tough dialogues? What do uncomfortable conversations teach us?

SG: In general, the uncomfortable conversations our campus has witnessed have surfaced a lot of things that were already there and mostly hidden. Perhaps it is essential to us moving forward. I try to keep in mind the bigger picture of what is achievable and try to persist in changing things where they can be changed. As we all know, some conversations won’t move things much because you are dealing with a hardened view; other conversations will. Having conversations with those who are uncertain and want information is the kind of conversation I am happy to engage in. 

"Sometimes it is not who in the conversations, but who is listening to them and what they are learning from them that is important. Finally, as we all know, it is behavior, not talk, that ultimately matters: sometimes the needed behavior doesn't follow from all the right talk."Sonia Goltz, 2021 Diversity Award winner

Q: Your nomination includes the research you’ve conducted and published. What drew you to this field of research? Are you working on anything now?

SG: My personal experiences did. I began research on the topic because I had a need to understand what I was experiencing as a professor in academia. In my first study on the topic, I went all over the U.S. and interviewed women who had sued their universities for discrimination. More recently, I have been interested in the concepts of freedom and power as it relates to achieving equity. I also write about the topic of organizational change as it relates to equity initiatives. 

"For the past 25 years, Dr. Goltz has devoted tremendous time, energy, and creativity to addressing issues of advancement, equity, fairness and respect. Her scholarship makes a sustained contribution to the literature on DEI in academe. Her career contributions to transformative University change are substantial, enduring and sincere. And her fierce dedication to DEI work is inspiring."Patty Sotirin, professor of communications, 
co-PI for ADVANCE at Michigan Tech

Q: You’re among the core group carrying out the NSF-funded ADVANCE Initiative. When was ADVANCE established? Can you touch on the various aspects, and tell us which have been particularly impactful — and where more needs to be done? 

SG: NSF began awarding the ADVANCE grant in 2001. ADVANCE at Michigan Tech started with the PAID grant in 2008, brought in by then-Provost Lesley Lovett-Doust, which focused mostly on bringing in more women in STEM to faculty positions on our campus. It was successful in meeting this objective, but when there are high turnover rates, attracting people is not sufficient. So in our Adaptation grant, we have focused more on retention.

The idea of an Adaptation grant is to introduce initiatives designed and tested elsewhere. Our ECM (Early Career Management) committees on campus were based on University of Michigan’s LAUNCH program, which is for untenured faculty. The ECM program here began prior to our Adaptation grant, but arose from the preparations we did for our grant proposal. The ECMs were almost immediately successful, both in terms of clear beneficial outcomes and increasing demand from department chairs, so that was very encouraging.

Our ACM program is part of the Adaptation grant and is modeled on U of M’s LIFT. We have affinity groups of three to four associate professors each from across campus — seven groups total this year. Each group is guided by a full professor and explores midcareer topics. We also have introduced the Advocates and Allies (A&A) program, modeled after North Dakota’s State’s A&A program, which is specifically tailored to majority-identifying faculty — generally cis men — who are interesting in learning more and helping change campus structures and culture to remove barriers to change.

The third initiative, Academy for Responsive Leadership, is modeled after Iowa State’s program for department chairs in which they receive both basic training on being a chair and a later training specifically about equity issues. Similarly, our initiative provides modules and other resources that complement the chair training being developed by the Provost’s Office on campus. All of these initiatives are described on our ADVANCE website.

To answer the question about impact, what we are finding through our experiences on campus, which is also consistent with research, is that one program cannot get you equity. It is too easily dismissed or forgotten. Also, introducing just one program in an organization to reach a goal often signals to employees that the goal is not important. It’s a mistake, for example, to think training everyone on the concepts will get us there. There has to be a concerted, multipronged effort. Each equity program needs to support the other equity programs. The advantage of the Partnership grant is that we have institutions with the same goals supporting each other with ideas, programming and materials. We started small and are building. We have a long way to go, but the momentum is picking up. Some things are easier than others. It was easy to create programs to bring more women in, for example (PAID grant), but has been exceedingly difficult to change the culture in order to be able to retain them, particularly in some units on campus. But changing the culture is going to have the most impact.

"Our ADVANCE programs are a stimulus, a beginning. There is a lot more sustained effort that will be needed. But I have seen people all over campus begin to step up to the challenge and I'm actually quite optimistic we will eventually get where we need to be, although clearly we needed to be there yesterday."Sonia Goltz, 2021 Diversity Award winner

Q: What (or who) inspires you to dedicate time to improving DEI at Michigan Tech, and across the state and nation?

SG: Nationally and internationally, I admire the leaders who advocate for social justice in a very visible way but I also admire the writers, social scientists and philosophers who help us think more deeply about the issues. I have relied on many of them in my research. Even more, though, I am inspired by all the unsung heroes working in the trenches with no fame associated with their efforts. There are many of these on our campus. I would say this year, I was inspired particularly by some of our University senators.

There are women who started work on DEI at Michigan Tech well before me who set an example for me and others. Sue Beske-Diehl worked for 15 years to get day care on campus — she continued even after her own children had grown. Chris Anderson and Betty Chavis created programming and also kept DEI on people’s radar for years during a time when many of our leaders on campus would rather not have to think about it. Peg Gale, one of the first women deans on campus, helped manage the first ADVANCE grant.

Q: Diversity, equity and inclusion are as much a part of the public dialogue as they’ve ever been. We’re at a moment in time when there’s a discernible shift in acknowledging systemic racism and taking action to make permanent change. How can we as a campus community move forward?

SG: We need transparency and accountability and also we need to change things in partnership with each other. Whatever it takes, we need to do it together, even if it is difficult, and guess what? It is going to be difficult. Doing just the easy things will not move us forward. This is true with anything in life. Right now, I sense there are many people ready to help implement changes, which is good because the composition of the United States is rapidly changing and Tech still has much work to do in terms of student and faculty composition as well as creating a culture of inclusion. It is going to take leadership throughout campus to move us forward.

"Dr. Goltz reflects on looking up some of her former students on LinkedIn and notes that she 'realized how successful they had all become in different ways. They had found jobs that fit them within the management field. They looked happy and were doing well.' She also reflects that 'Ultimately, we are trying to have a positive impact on the rest of people's lives. So I am trying to hold that in awareness during day-to-day activities.' Dr. Goltz certainly does hold that in awareness and deserves the recognition that this award will go some way to provide."Andrew Storer, dean of the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science,
co-PI for ADVANCE at Michigan Tech

Q: It’s been a year. Advocates, activists and educators are feeling both the impetus and the workload of moving forward to address DEI issues in impactful ways — particularly during a pandemic. How did the pandemic affect your work? 

SG: The pandemic stymied our ability to offer some of our ADVANCE programs, particularly for the A&A initiative. We had to be resourceful and pursue some unplanned opportunities/programming. At the same time, the pandemic brought into stark relief the inequities in our country, creating more impetus for addressing them. The importance of having adequate child care, particularly for working women, comes to mind, but also the inequities in terms of the distribution of health care, the ability to work from home and the financial resources to make it through a pandemic. Seeing these things more clearly helped motivate some people to do more about inequity. As a result, I have come out of the pandemic with even more awareness that change is not linear and doesn’t always go according to plan. Also, often the unplanned opportunities, including changes in social awareness/motivation, are where more success will be achieved.

Q: In challenging times or any time, self-care is vital for health and happiness. What do you do to relax? Do you have a favorite creative outlet or guilty pleasure?

SG: I agree that self-care is critically important. Guilty pleasures: I read a lot — mostly news, and I can get glued to my iPad; I watch home improvement shows; I eat ice cream and other sweets. Not-so-guilty pleasures: Yoga helps center and relax me, besides being good for my health. Regular spiritual study and practice helps lift me beyond being small and petty. I am very happy when I garden. Finally, laughter and play helps, and for that I have grandchildren I spend time with. They help me keep everything in perspective. 

Q: What’s one thing we can do today to further equity and inclusion on campus and in our community?

SG: The one thing we each can do today and each and every day to further equity and inclusion and just improve our own lives in general is to get to really know someone in all their humanness, warts and diamonds. Then we can wonder at the amazing person they are and why we never saw that before. Verna Myers puts it well in her TED Talk, “Walk Boldly Towards Them.” We need to move toward our discomfort and toward difference and get to know people holistically rather than through our own incomplete or mistaken concepts of them. We need to continually examine and challenge our own perceptions.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.