DAC Recommendation: A More Inclusive and Respectful Workplace

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The recommendation to create a more inclusive and respectful work environment (Category #1) may be the most important one—I see it as the foundation upon which everything else must rest.  How else can we collaborate more effectively in our work?  How else can people feel secure enough to communicate effectively with one another?  How else will we get good ideas from everyone?  The School will not be the best possible place to work, and we will not be completely effective in carrying out our mission, unless everyone here is valued and feels that they are valued.  I suspect that our culture is better than most on campus, but information generated in our planning process has made it clear that we can and must do better.  A key part of this initiative involves figuring out how to do a better job of breaking down irrelevant differences that make it harder to collaborate effectively in our work.  We must become a place where everyone is viewed as a colleague who has a significant role to play and who is valued equally regardless of that role.

 I’m not sure how to accomplish this objective, and I need your help as we implement the recommendation.  We are looking for more than superficial, feel-good change—it involves more than asking people to be nice to one another.  It is deeper than increased civility.  I will appoint a committee to help figure it out, but I also am interested in hearing your ideas now.  Do you agree that this is an important issue?  What steps could we take that might make a difference to you?  Should we concentrate on making progress in the course of our regular work together, or are there special things we might do to make a difference?  Are you interested in working on this initiative?  Let me know what you think.

15 thoughts on “DAC Recommendation: A More Inclusive and Respectful Workplace

  1. Do you agree that this is an important issue? Yes!

    What steps could we take that might make a difference to you? Create more opportunities for individuals from the many varied disciplines, ethnicities, economic and geographical backgrounds to address issues of internal importance and to socialize.

    Should we concentrate on making progress in the course of our regular work together, or are there special things we might do to make a difference? Some things that may be done is to not limit discussion of the activities of particular working groups to only members of that group. Solicit and actively seek out the opinions, views, and thoughts of others members of the School (both locally and those working at remote locations). The recent brown bag discussions of using AI as a tool to break down barriers and build more genuinely collaborative discussions should be expanded to allow everyone an opportunity to review and discuss its potential use internally.

    Are you interested in working on this initiative? My interest and passion are very high yet my available time is limited. Much of my “work” involves traveling around the state meeting with potential donors, soliciting donors to increase their giving and modeling the behavior that we seek to establish internally. yet, I will offer whatever available time, mental capacity, and social capital I possess to continue this ongoing work.

    It is an act of courage for people to come together and look at inequality and perceived uneqal preference. Those with “privilege” need to be able to see it as part of the problem, rather than blaming the “disadvantaged” as deserving (and culpable) of their fate.

    It is this type of courage that we must all be willing to exemplify to build beyond the deams of Albert & Gladys Coates.

  2. I agree that this is an important issue. I have no idea how to address it but would be glad to participate in any effort to do so.

  3. I also agree that this is a critically important issue. I’m wondering if there are people in the building who teach and advise our clients about issues like this, and if we could take advantage of their expertise.

  4. I agree. A decade ago I was told once that including staff on a committee for something was not necessary. We now are actively working to better include staff on the Dean’s advisory committee. This doesn’t take the decision-making responsibility away from Mike, but mean everyone has the chance to be heard.

    But it also means people need to step up and participate if they have something that needs to be heard.

    One of the most important steps is inclusion of various staff and faculty on advisory boards for our internal decision-makers. Let’s lead by example. For example, when our internal informal working groups get together and discuss a program or how things went with a publication, are some of the staff associated with it at the table? When the MPA program has its retreat, we all sit around the table, but I would love to hear more from our staff about our program and our choices with it for the future. The MPA faculty often have less experience with running student programs than the staff we have had in our offices, and all of us want the same thing – a successful way to provide education and service to the citizens of North Carolina.

  5. I agree that this initiative is the “foundation” for all other work at the SOG. I believe the first step is to work on ourselves – “Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt. Next, it is critical that we not have the same folks serve on most of our committees. Let’s give new/different colleagues a chance to participate and contribute.

    I would like to participate in any effort to raise our collective “self-esteem”.

  6. My experience across campus is consistent with Mike’s assessment about the culture of the school as compared with others. Of course we can always improve, and I would like to take a more active role in creating an environment that will lead to improvement. I’d be happy to serve on this committee or contribute in some other way.

  7. One of the reasons I love working here is that it is so much more inclusive and respectful than my former workplaces. That said, there’s always room for improvement, and I’d be more than happy to work on this initiative. My thought is that the more we learn about our colleagues interests and and experiences, be they professional or personal, the more likely we are to find ways to collaborate more successfully. I think we could accomplish this goal through a a few reasonably simple efforts. These could include short, informal presentations at faculty meetings or brown-bag lunches by SOG faculty and staff on issues or projects about which they are most passionate. I could imagine a brown-bag lunch series once a month at which five or six SOG faculty and staff members would talk for 5-10 minutes each about the coolest thing they are working on right now. Another way to break down barriers is to encourage participation from a wide range of SOG personnel in our new SOG community service events–check out the sign up sheets in the 3rd floor break room and spend and hour doing good and learning more about your colleagues. (pardon the shameless plug!)

  8. I find myself agreeing with the sentiments here; this is certainly one of the most inclusive places I’ve ever had the privilege to work, and I think it speaks to that point that the number one priority is making sure that the environment really and truly is inclusive and respectful.

    Many of the suggestions here are good ones; I think that making sure all of our groups have representation in the varying advising groups and committees is important, because we all have an amazing variety of knowledge and experience, not to mention interests that may fall outside of our more specific roles here at the School. There’s also the added bonus of having an outside viewpoint; a set of fresh eyes can sometimes lead to questions which would lead to a better

    I’d also really enjoy the ‘informal brown-bags’ that Chris has suggested. Not only would it help everyone have a better picture of just how much work we do, it would also help facilitate more informed discussions about other strategic priorities.

    I’m certainly very happy to do whatever I can to help with this or any other initiative!

  9. In my opinion, one way to make the formal work environment more inclusive and respectful is to offer more opportunities for people around the building to interact in an informal setting. Many of the ideas above are along these lines. I really treasure the interactions I have with other employees over the cattle call line, or at the car-free lunches. I think the shared service project idea is fantastic. And I hope we can find other opportunities to come together, perhaps to attend Carolina sporting events or arts events or even dinner and a movie. When I get to know people personally, I am much more likely to look for ways to include them in what I do. And the conversation in these informal settings often drifts to work, so it is a great chance to learn more about what people are doing.

  10. I think it would be helpful to talk in concrete terms about where we are feeling short. We could generate a list of anecdotal evidence. It might say, “I felt like I was not being valued when my colleague asked me to do x which was below my skill level,” or whatever may be the case. I think this is a situation where anonymous input would be the best route. (Sorry Mike.) My experience is that people at SOG are so well intentioned. Some folks may be oblivious to the fact that they have offended a colleague, and they may be open to change if they were made aware of the impact of their actions.

  11. I too agree that this is one of the most inclusive and respectful environments that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work in, however, there are divisions amongst groups and these divisions will need to be broken down if we are to improve our environment.

    As a side note I’d like to say that I do believe that our administration team sets a very good example of how we should and can interact with one another and I think it’s important that that doesn’t go unnoticed.

    That being said, I will say that the primary reason why I join committees that are outside of my normal job description is to get to know people throughout the building and to build relationships with them. I believe that the more we know our colleagues (or at the very least what their role is in the building), the better we are able to do our own jobs as we can better appreciate one another’s role at the SOG. A little knowledge goes a long way in fostering an inclusive and respectful environment. The committees I’ve joined have also enabled me to get to know people who are not in those committees through events such as the “car-free lunches” and meals on wheels. There are not many opportunities for staff, faculty, administration, EPA AND students to mingle together. I’ve found that the car-free lunches are really one of the only events we have that foster this socialization. I find myself looking forward to each car-free lunch date, wondering who will come to this lunch and what will I learn about them. I would suggest that we begin to offer more opportunities such as these, or encourage people to get involved in the opportunities that already exist.

    When we begin to look at this issue, I think it is important to look at our accomplishments in fostering inclusiveness as well as our failures in order to learn how to best move forward.

    I too would be happy to help in any way I can with this important initiative if needed.

  12. I agree with what has been suggested, but want to pick up on Alyson’s observations about specific situations in which people feel as though they are not given the opportunity to do their best work or are micro-managed. One of the most effective ways to generate empirical (not just anecdotal) evidence is through 360 performance reviews. Right now there is no mechanism for SPA or EPA employees to provide feedback to faculty and administrators about how we do or don’t create a respectful work environment. Nor are their clear expectations or performance standards for faculty to use in assessing their own behavior.

    A typical first reaction to negative feedback is to dismiss the complaint, or assume the problem is really the other person’s. Until each of us is willing to ask “What is my role in this problem?” and wants to hear the answer in order to do something about it, we might be more friendly and polite, but still not change our behavior in ways that make working relationships more respectful and productive.

    1. Count me in for willingness to help. While I also agree there are many things we do well with regard to respect and inclusiveness (this blog and the DAC being biggies), it is not across the board at the SOG.

      Similar to Maureen’s experience (but less than a decade ago), I heard said that it wasn’t necessary to consult faculty about X–an area I thought faculty input would have been valuable. Logistically and practically, many of our “us and them” divisions may make sense, but we need to keep checking and rechecking our assumptions and err on the side of respect and inclusion.

      It is, by way of example, a tad bit unsettling to me that I’ve spent as much time as I have wordsmithing this comment…so as not to risk having it be misunderstood.

      To end on a positive note, I really Like Chris’ 5 minute talks suggestion and look forward to the first event…I might liken it to reading a short series of blog posts from some of our many interesting SOG bloggers–where I’ve learned a great deal about what some of you do.

    2. I agree with Vaughn that implementing 360 performance reviews could be an effective way to provide upward feedback and provide a voice to SPA staff members and EPA professionals who otherwise lack a formal opportunity to share constructive feedback with faculty and senior administrators. If done correctly, this mechanism could help to strengthen supervisory and communication skills across the organization.

  13. I agree with Alyson’s comments regarding the need to understand more specifically what we are talking about here. How pervasive is the problem? Are there systematic patterns of exclusion and disrespect within the SOG or does this occur as isolated incidents among a small number of folks? It is difficult to know if this is an important School-wide issue to address without more context.

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