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Panel discusses diversity in workplace

Katie Peralta | Monday, November 12, 2007

A panel of six business professionals from various backgrounds agreed Friday that diversification in the workforce is the duty of the employer and that it is a process that is never completely concluded.

As a part of its first MBA Diversity Conference, the Mendoza College of Business hosted the panel in a discussion, titled “Diversity as a Strategy, Making a Difference in Mainstream Business,” at Mendoza’s Giovanini Commons.

Addressing the issue of the importance of diversity in the workplace, Jannifer Crittendon, the director of institutional equity at Notre Dame, said that the importance lies in three different categories: social justice, legal and regulatory compliance and application to certain business cases.

“[Maintaining diversity in the workplace] is just the right thing. It allows equal opportunity for education and employment,” Crittendon said. Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., Crittendon added: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated.”

Crittendon said businesses enjoy many advantages in diversifying their workforce.

“Companies need to understand that diversity can mean improvement,” she said. “With more immigrants and minorities entering the workforce, there is a war for talent.”

She added that businesses should strive to be the not only the employers of choice, but also the providers of choice “for its products and services.”

Andrew Givens, vice president of partnership marketing for ESPN, said business is not as effective “if everyone looks and thinks alike.” Speaking of his experience in the television industry, Givens said that Time Warner, Nickelodeon and MTV all have done good jobs in diversification.

Ricardo Hernandez, Director of ITM Controlling and Supply Management and a native of Mexico City, said diversity is not always visible, making it hard to fully diversify.

“If different backgrounds are not represented [in the workforce],” he said, “the company is going to miss out in the market.”

Gina Shropshire, a 1983 Ph. D. Notre Dame graduate with a B.A. in American Studies, emphasized the need for continual evaluation within companies of its diversity. Shropshire said that evaluation within a company is not a fixed issue.

“Companies are letting the momentum die,” she said. “[Diversification] is not something that is ever done. We need people who can communicate the ideals of a company.”

Hernandez echoed this idea of diversification as a continual process when he said that companies fail by believing that diversification is not a process, but rather an event. “[Companies] have to walk to talk, or else it will not work,” he said

Emphasizing the idea of valuing the contribution of each individual employee, James Summers, president of Summers Consulting in South Bend, also said that two of the key issues for businesses are organizational effectiveness and sustainability.

He said the responsibility of having workers be as effective as possible is that of the employers. The innovative ideas of employers, Hernandez said, bring the company higher profitability.

The impetus for the conference came from Nick Gantt, a graduate student at the Mendoza College of Business. A friend of his at the University of Michigan informed him of a similar conference Michigan had been hosting for nearly 30 years. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t we have something like this?'” he said.

Gantt hopes to hand over the reigns to another business student this year to keep the conference going for years to come.