You are here: Home / Framework Review and Planning Updates / Archive / Challenge Six

Challenge Six

Diverse Leadership and Management

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


Goal: Develop a diverse management team at all levels of the organization

The development of a diverse and multicultural management team is closely related, indeed vital, to the recruitment and retention of a diverse and multicultural workforce. Penn State’s commitment to diversity must be visible in its most public face, that of the senior managers and leaders of the University. The charge to colleges, units, and departments to recruit and retain a diverse faculty and staff rings hollow if not modeled in the leadership and management of the University.

Progress in placing African Americans into important leadership positions has been fairly impressive. However, in recent years several African American employees have assumed executive-level positions at other institutions following unsuccessful efforts to advance at Penn State. While some progress has also been made in the representation of women in managerial positions, it still lags behind the overall representation of women in the workforce. In addition, other historically underrepresented groups are virtually absent from the managerial ranks at all levels of the organization.

Women and some minorities are also not currently represented proportionately in positions where promotion to higher level managerial positions is likely. Moreover, there is underrepresentation in venues that provide visibility, understanding of university-wide issues, and opportunities to display management potential, such as university-wide committees and task forces and high-level search committees. Short-term efforts to address these issues do not require massive dislocations. As an example, in appointing important committees, if administrators use some appointments as a professional development vehicle, then employees’ overall productivity, as well as managerial potential, will be enhanced.

The principal mechanism used to address these problems has been the Administrative Fellows Program, initially recommended by the Commission for Women. This program provides an opportunity to enhance the administrative talents and qualifications of women and minorities by involving them in mentorship experiences with top-level administrators. While a number of past participants have moved into higher-level positions as a consequence of participation in the program, only three Fellows are named each year. There is a need to develop a program of shorter duration that reaches further down into the organization and involves more employees. Such a program could include three-month job rotations, providing opportunities to learn the functions of various areas of the University. There is also a need for a structured program that provides interested employees with an opportunity to gain insights from women and minorities who have been successful in moving into higher level positions.

As a result of the circumstances described above, short- and intermediate-term efforts to diversify middle- and upper-level management positions will continue to rely extensively on external hires. However, all institutions must strike a delicate balance between infusing new blood into the organization and providing promotion opportunities for insiders with specific institutional knowledge. This places a special responsibility on search committees for middle- and upper-level administrative positions. These search committees must not only be broadly representative, but also knowledgeable of the University’s diversity objectives. Demonstrated ability to manage diversity should become a standard qualification expected of both internal and external candidates for leadership positions at all levels. There is also a need to scrutinize the interview process carefully to ensure that external candidates have the opportunity to engage diverse populations and acquire a sense of the community’s social fabric.

In the longer term, efforts to diversify Penn State’s management team will be heavily influenced by the new Leadership and Management Curriculum and the continuing implementation of Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) practices. To the extent that CQI implementation leads to flattened management structures, fewer traditional management opportunities will be available. However, as more team-oriented decision-making structures are introduced, there will be a need for different types of leadership and management skills. It is imperative that women, minorities, and other traditionally underrepresented populations have equal access to the vehicles by which these skills are acquired.

The action plan associated with the goal of developing a diverse leadership team is summarized in the following text.


Goal: Develop a diverse management team at all levels of the organization


  • Require demonstrated skills in managing diversity as a standard qualification for all leadership positions
  • Ensure diverse representation on search committees and provide complete information about expectations regarding candidates’ skills in managing diversity


  • Monitor diversity leadership implications of increased use of team decision-making strategies


  • Explore the feasibility of a variant of the Administrative Fellows Program targeted at middle-level opportunities; Report on resource implications
  • Monitor participation in the Leadership and Management Curriculum to ensure equitable participation by women and minorities