Reflecting on the Michigan Agenda for Women, President James J. Duderstadt told a group of women of color that first we try to change behavior. If that doesnt work, well change people.
The president addressed the women of color at a Sept. 30 roundtable discussion sponsored by the Women of Color Task Force. The discussion is one in a series being held this fall to address specific concerns of women at the University.
The University was created by and to serve all the people, the common man, Duderstadt noted. We have grown to embrace many more people, and if they are to truly engage in the life of the institution we must change. The Michigan Mandate is changing the Uni-versity in a very basic way, to one that is a multicultural learning community in which everyone is treated with respect.
Over the past couple of years, the president noted, a similar effort has been undertaken that reflects the importance of gender and the issues facing women. Launched last spring as the Agenda for Women, the program is designed to make the University a leader in higher education and society in promoting the achievements of women.
Noting that he is deeply interested in your concerns, Duderstadt emphasized that the roundtable is only one approach in the process of communication, adding that women should feel free to bring issues to my attention because the communication process has to be ongoing.
Prior to addressing concerns of audience members, the president briefed the group on issues that had been brought up in other meetings and discussions. They include:
Among the questions and the presidents answers:
Can we give input on the compensation proposal and how will we find out the results? A proposal to address compensation is being developed by Jackie McClain, executive director of human resources/affirmative action. The president wants the proposal in place this year and information on it will be published in The University Record.
The flexible benefits program, particularly with respect to unused sick leave, is a two-tiered system that has a long-term disadvantage to staff. Many of the elements of the plan have not been pinned down. This is the kind of input we need.
How will you address the shortage of minority women in departments? There is a serious problem of underrepresentation overall and in specific areas. A global approach doesnt work. Well go directly to the unit and say You have to do this. The executive officers met in September to identify units with underrepresentation. Well use a combination of the carrot and the stick. This is a personal responsibility for me.
What about fairness in job evaluations? This is important for advancement. Most universities lag behind business and industry in the emphasis on developing people. We tend to select for ability rather than develop individuals. This will require a change in approach. Were very rigid now, with boxes that dont let you grow. We must adhere to the philosophy that the development of people is the most important thing this institution does.
How can women of color get into the pipeline for advancement? We must develop a combination of mentoring activities, education and intern experiences, as well as respond to employees needs for career counseling. In some cases, a variety of lateral moves might give staff more opportunity to learn new things.
The University also must help staff overcome the fear element with respect to training. People must feel comfortable to develop and enhance their skills. We must build strong positive incentives to reward supervisors for helping staff members. Staff are the most loyal to the University, are valuable to the University. If one person leaves, its a loss to the University.
Middle management doesnt want to change; the glass ceiling for women of color is cemented in. First well try changing behavior. If that doesnt work, then well change people.
What about faculty who end up as administrators? Most of them are researchers and never trained in management skills. They dont have a clue on how to direct staff. This is a very sensitive issue, and the University has a responsibility to address the issue, perhaps through required management institutes. In the long run this will make a stronger university. We should establish a program and require it before the faculty move into management positions.
Supervisors are reluctant to allow staff flexible time to pursue their education. When the letter [announcing the roundtable meeting] came out, my supervisor threw it away. There must be pressure from the top. This will require a change in culture. Were too rigid and have to convince managers and supervisors to be more flexible toward their staff. If staff dont have opportunities, how can they be expected to advance. Its always difficult to get down to the level of the institution that affects lives. Its like pushing on a rope. We have to convince them that it is in their best interest to help employees. Its not easy and it wont happen overnight, but Im committed to doing this.