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Challenge Four

Diverse Workforce

A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State: 1998–2003


Goal: Develop and implement strategies to improve the success of search processes in identifying and assessing the credentials of women and minority employee candidates for faculty and staff positions

Goal: Expand faculty and staff retention programs to include all underrepresented groups

Goal: Accelerate the introduction of "family friendly" policies and programs, expanded reward systems, and expanded personal and professional development opportunities

The need for a diverse workforce is part and parcel of the human resource requirements associated with successful continuous quality improvement initiatives. A diverse workforce in which the contributions of each member—faculty, staff, or administrator, are respected and valued is an institution’s most important asset. Such a workforce is able to synthesize a variety of perspectives and processes for the successful completion of tasks. Employers can build on established individual and group strengths and develop policies that create an environment to get the best out of each individual.

A crucial factor in the recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce is the development of managers and supervisors within the staff and faculty who have the skills to recruit, manage, and mentor diverse populations. Managing diversity within the workplace means creating an environment where each faculty and staff member is empowered to contribute to the work of the unit, being sensitive and alert to the interactions among and between faculty and staff, and articulating clear expectations about behaviors in the workplace. Effective mentoring in a multicultural setting involves offering opportunities for faculty and staff to learn about diverse people and cultures. It means understanding diverse learning styles and approaches to problem-solving. Most significantly, however, mentoring in a diverse workplace requires provision of appropriate feedback to those being supervised about the contribution of their work and behavior to a multicultural Penn State.

A diverse and multicultural workforce will include more than token representation of racial/ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, veterans, women, and people with disabilities within all faculty, staff, and administrative ranks. Although comparative data are not available for all of these categories we do know that in terms of racial/ethnic diversity Penn State has one of the least diverse work forces of any CIC institution. To illustrate, based on 1997 data, for the nine CIC institutions for which data are available Penn State ranks eighth in the proportion of employees who are members of minority groups. These data suggest that our efforts must be even more extensive than those of our counterparts. Success in addressing this challenge will continue to be hampered by our low staff turnover rate.

As is the case at most institutions, the constraints affecting the recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce vary for different types of occupations. Faculty and many professional staff are hired from national applicant pools, while other employees are hired from local labor markets. The demographics of the geographical area surrounding University Park limit opportunities to diversify nonprofessional positions through normal hiring practices. At the same time, the geographical isolation of the State College area also hampers our ability to recruit faculty and higher-level professional staff who are members of underrepresented groups.

Several strategies have been employed to address these concerns. The President’s Opportunity Fund and the Women’s Recruitment Fund are sources of financial assistance for making competitive offers to prospective faculty and professional staff. These types of financial assistance must be correlated with efforts to increase the pool of faculty candidates. The CIC Chief Diversity Officers are currently attempting to increase the numbers of Ph.D. graduates from CIC institutions who move into faculty positions at other CIC institutions through systematic sharing of vita.

The Minority Professional Entry Program provides opportunities for prospective staff members with the necessary academic preparation, but little or no work experience to gain training in a professional support position. The Staff Assistant Training Program provides an eight-week training opportunity for Pennsylvania minority business school students during the summer months. Since the program’s inception, about half of the participants have found permanent employment at Penn State. Penn State also maintains a Minority Recruitment Outreach/Vita Bank to identify and increase the number of potential University minority staff members.

Despite these various efforts to diversify the pool of potential employees, there is still a continuing complaint from academic and nonacademic units that there are insufficient numbers of candidates from underrepresented groups in job applicant pools. In its work with search committees, the Office of Affirmative Action and Diversity Education provides resources to facilitate the identification of strong and diverse external candidate pools. It is not clear, however, that the screening processes that search committees actually use do not inadvertently screen out well-qualified women and minority candidates. To counter this possibility, every search committee must be charged with clear instructions to ensure equitable treatment for women and minorities, as is mandated by the University’s strategic goal to recruit, hire, and retain a diverse faculty and staff.

It is also not clear that units have sufficient information about nonwork related concerns of potential employees to create a comfort level with respect to issues such as religious worship, options for child care, primary and secondary education options, desirable residential locations, culture-specific opportunities for social interaction, etc. There is a need to establish a standard body of information that can be drawn upon, as well as a network of contact persons who can provide specialized information to candidates who are members of various underrepresented groups.

Problems in retaining faculty and staff who are members of underrepresented groups are also multifaceted. One of the most serious problems at present is the aggressive recruitment of high-caliber faculty and staff by other institutions. The success of such efforts is compounded by limited opportunities for upward mobility and other rewards within the Penn State system.

In the case of faculty, the Senior Mentor position in the Center for Minority Graduate Opportunities and Faculty Development is a nationally-renowned innovation. The Senior Faculty mentor works with untenured minority faculty to maximize the probability of successful navigation of the tenure and promotion process. Services include individual consultations, workshops on topics like the promotion and tenure process, publishing, proposal writing, and vitae preparation. One of the interesting dynamics associated with these initiatives is the increasing attendance by majority women and men, which signals the need to expand access to these important professional development opportunities.

Support for staff is much more meager. Although a Minority Staff Development Center was established in 1991, it proved to be a short-lived venture. More generally, the Staff Focus Group has not yet proven to be an effective vehicle for propagating initiatives to reduce barriers contributing to attrition among staff. There is clearly an unmet need in the area of providing support for personal and professional development of staff at all levels, as well as mechanisms to acknowledge significant involvement in efforts to promote diversity.

Future success in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce will depend significantly on the University’s success in implementing "family friendly" policies and programs such as flexible scheduling throughout the University. Recent commitments to expanded child care programs provide a much needed service and send a positive message to the community. In addition, we will need to seize every opportunity for spousal/partner hirings to attract high-quality faculty and professional staff. Continued support of diverse cultural performances is also vital for providing a quality of life supportive of recruitment and retention of faculty and staff.

There is also an ongoing need to treat all employees as respected individuals and to provide the maximum feasible opportunities for personal and professional development. Too often such opportunities are restricted to higher-level staff. The results of the recent Faculty/ Staff Survey revealed an unacceptable level of discontent with the workplace climate, which does not bode well for the retention of the highest-caliber faculty and staff.

Used appropriately, the Staff Review and Development Plan instrument provides a means of constructing individualized approaches to preparing all employees to function comfortably and productively in a multicultural work environment. The Staff Focus Group can be of assistance in identifying barriers that prevent employees in some job classifications from taking full advantage of educational and other opportunities.

At the same time, we must also be willing to develop creative ways to reward faculty and staff for their contributions to Penn State, and such reward systems must recognize appropriately the diversity of individuals and types of contributions if a truly multicultural workplace of the type desired is to emerge.

There is also a need for better information about why employees leave Penn State. A multiunit effort to establish a systematic exit interview process is underway. It is important that this process address the issues of specific concern to underrepresented groups, rather than focusing only on generic issues.

The action plan to address the goals associated with recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce is presented in the following text.


Goal: Develop and implement strategies to improve the success of search processes in identifying and assessing the credentials of women and minority employee candidates for faculty and staff positions

Goal: Expand faculty and staff retention programs to include all underrepresented groups

Goal: Accelerate the introduction of "family friendly" policies and programs, expanded reward systems, and expanded personal and professional development opportunities


  • Monitor the success of efforts to create a diverse workforce


  • Develop information packets and a list of contact persons to assist units in recruiting faculty and staff from underrepresented groups
  • Develop and implement a plan to establish a functional staff development center serving women and underrepresented minorities
  • Prepare annual updates on workforce composition


  • Appoint coordinators/directors of minority programs to search committees


  • Provide Educational Equity with job descriptions for all academic searches for dissemination to CIC institutions


  • Develop a plan to expand access to support services provided by the Senior Faculty Mentor


  • Complete design and implementation of a systematic exit interview process; Use the findings to recommend policies to reduce disproportionate attrition of faculty and staff who are members of underrepresented groups
  • Maintain support for the Minority Professional Entry and Staff Assistant Development Programs; Solicit increased participation as feasible
  • Continue design of and advocacy for "family friendly" employment policies and augmented reward systems