Roundtable Fosters Conversation About Diversity, Culture

A sense that the ball is being moved forward — this was what Charles Isbell Jr. was looking to get out of the Diversity Roundtable that took place on June 6.

Isbell, a professor and senior associate dean in the College of Computing, has attended the annual event open to faculty and staff for the past few years.

“I think it’s important to participate in events like this because they encourage honesty, and it’s an opportunity to talk with others and be made aware of things you might not otherwise know,” Isbell said. “I like the idea of being part of something that will actually effect change, and it seems like the Office of Human Resources is really after positive change.”

This year’s event, themed “Unlikely Common Ground: The Importance of Civility and Human Connection in Achieving Inclusive Excellence,” brought members of the Georgia Tech community together to continue the ongoing discussion about creating a more inclusive culture.

Close to 200 participants, including senior leaders, deans and school chairs, engaged in small group discussions focusing on questions such as “Where have you witnessed a specific act of intolerance and or workplace incivility and failed to step up?” and “What are simple ways to create a more civil environment?”

Each table had an opportunity to share their collective ideas with the larger group. For example, several tables mentioned that they’d seen acts of intolerance and/or incivility between faculty and staff members but had not stepped up because of fear of retaliation. One of the common suggestions for creating a more civil environment was to require civility or sensitivity training for all employees.

“I think that training for all is a good idea,” Isbell said in an interview following the roundtable. “But we have to find a way to make it so that people understand the inherent value of this type of learning — and so it is not misinterpreted as a punishment. We need to find a way to make civility and ongoing development of interpersonal skills a strong part of the culture at Tech.”

Scott Morris, associate vice president of Human Resources, and Archie Ervin, vice president for Institute diversity, were pleased with the feedback and ideas that resulted from the discussions.

“The Office of Human Resources’ signature roundtable format creates a comfortable environment for employees to talk about ways we can build better relationships that will make our work environment better,” Ervin said. “The Georgia Tech community will benefit from more conversations and exchanges among our employees like those we had at today’s event.”  

As Isbell hoped, the roundtable was also an opportunity for leadership to share the strategies and initiatives developed based on prior feedback.

“Last year, you told us that we needed to work on culture transformation, and we heard you,” said Pearl Alexander, senior director responsible for culture, inclusion and learning strategies in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). “OHR has spent time over the last year engaged in leadership conversations and culture-building dialogues with unit managers and their teams. In addition, with Scott Morris’ support, OHR has re-envisioned professional development that will promote greater self-awareness among faculty and staff and enable managers to build trust with employees.”

For example, under the leadership of Cheryl Cofield, director of diversity and culture, a series of brown bag lunches focusing on culture and inclusion topics will be held throughout the fall. The first lunch will focus on bullying and incivility in the workplace and will take place on Aug. 31 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Student Center. Future topics will include managing multiple generations in the workplace and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning inclusion workshop.  

Cofield has also spearheaded the creation of several employee resource groups for staff members (stay tuned for more about the resource groups in a future issue). For information, call Consuela Ward in OHR at 404-894-0705.

“The groups are meant to help increase employee engagement through professional and personal development, networking opportunities and other activities that support the Institute’s business goals,” Alexander said.

Cofield and Alexander, who regularly facilitate sensitive dialogues during leadership retreats and special team meetings, also encouraged leadership from units on campus to contact them about scheduling culture-building dialogues for their faculty and staff members.   

For employees interested in attending pre-scheduled training on diversity, a course on “Welcoming Diversity in the Workplace: Prejudice Reduction” will be offered multiple times this fall, with the next to be held on Aug. 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.training.gatech.edu.

“I was very pleased,” Isbell said regarding his experience this year. “Based on what I heard, it appeared that our leadership really listened and is genuinely interested in taking meaningful steps to change the culture.”

For more information about Tech’s diversity, culture and inclusion initiatives, contact Alexander or Cofield.

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  • Diversity Roundtable: Charles Isbell Jr.

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