Community / November 10, 2014

Diversity Fireside Moves Conversation Beyond Race, Gender

Working professionals must expand their definitions of diversity to include more than just race and gender, U.S. Office of Diversity & Inclusion Director Veronica Villalobos told faculty, staff and students on Oct. 31, 2014, at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

The new American workplace, as described by Villalobos during the school’s inaugural Diversity Fireside Chat, requires inclusion based on race and gender — but also on other factors such as national origin, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and even different ways of thinking.

“Without inclusion, organizations become Noah’s ark,” Villalobos said, referring  to a method of pairing or distinguishing similar types without considering differences beyond race and gender.

She said two people who look the same can be quite different when additional aspects of personal identity are considered. “Inclusion is about making every voice represented,” she said. “Even if there are similarities between us, we can identify very differently.”

Villalobos also spoke about hiring biases that linger in the workplace, which she said stem from unconscious preferences that people grow up with. She said her own family faced biases as Mexican-Americans living in El Paso, Texas.

After facing discrimination from one local bank, Villalobos said she realized, “We were born and raised here, but we never quite fit in.”

In the professional world, she said inclusion begins with training managers to recognize the biases that exist before they start the hiring process. Once diverse teams come together, she said barriers begin to fall. “When people work with people who are different than themselves, the differences fall away, and they are just people working together,” she said. “What’s important is getting the work done.”

Smith School Dean Alexander Triantis and Diversity Officer and Professor Hank Boyd participated with Villalobos in the informal chat. Going forward as a nation, Boyd said companies can’t do things the way they have always done them because society has greater expectations today.

“When it comes to the corridors of power, for a lot of minorities and persons of color like myself, it’s hard to get in there,” Boyd said. “But we’ve got to open that up.”

He said success will come when people of color are proportionately represented on senior leadership teams. “I would say the end goal is that when we look across the ranks of companies and organizations, especially in the leadership roles, that we look like the rest of the country in terms of what is America,” Boyd said. “That hasn’t happened yet.”

This lack of minority leadership is also apparent to sophomore Sade Ayinde, an economics major. “At the University of Maryland I think there’s really a lot of great support systems for students that are of color or just going through any specific challenges,” she said. “But for me the challenge of diversity, as a student leader, is that I just see that there’s a total lack of leaders of color with a lot of the campus leadership … and I’m hoping to change that over the next few years.” 

Erica Bonelli, Intern, Office of Marketing Communications

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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