Val Hayes, M.S.W., J.D., was attracted to Penn's Office of Affirmative Action because she was attracted to a university engaged with the community around it and eager to make the place a better place for all employees.
A year and a half later, she's still impressed by the University's eagerness to promote diversity in its workforce and impressed by its relationship to the community that surrounds it.
The Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs wants everyone - white folks too - to use its services when discrimination hits home.
Photo by Candace diCarlo
Q. Before you came to Penn, where were you?
A. Cornell University. I was there for about 8 years. My experience at Cornell made me conclude that I want to stay in this field as long as it is possible to do so.
Q. What would make it impossible?
A. If Congress, for example, says that there's no need for affirmative action.
If they say there's no need for contractors to take a look at themselves to make sure they're not discriminating, then the question becomes, in an academic environment like this, and with Penn's academic mission, will it still look at itself to make sure it is not discriminating, even though there's no federal mandate to do that.
Q. Do you think universities will still look at themselves?
A. I think it's critical for academic institutions to do that because of the nature of the business. We're involved in teaching, research and public service, and we develop leaders. It is a very diverse world we live in.
Q. What drew you here?
A. I noticed before I came here, in its Agenda for Excellence, Penn wrote the community in it, which is very unique from where I stand. Strategic plans and goals and missions of an institution - they really look internally, and don't really look externally for any kind of connection. That was one of the things that attracted me to Penn.
I also noticed from Penn's Web page, that faculty, staff and students are involved in the community, primarily through their academic mission, and that's what makes Penn unique as an employer.
Q. What kind of report card would you give the University in affirmative action?
A. Its plus is that it wants to do the right thing. From where I sit, Penn has exercised a lot of good faith effort to try to bring [a diverse group of] people here.
But there are reasons why individuals don't select Penn which have nothing to do with Penn's environment.
One thing that I heard when I came here is that the environment here for minorities, and particularly African Americans, from African Americans that I spoke with, is not welcoming, or African Americans cannot move as quickly up the ranks or transfer as quickly as other people here.
Another thing I heard is climate issues, people feeling it's hostile or harassing in some way.
Q. Have you taken steps to counter these problems?
A. For example, this academic year, we have partnered with [Human Resources' department of] Training and Organizational Development and Carolyn Jones, the training consultant there, and have developed a program around creating respectful work places.
We work with Training and Organizational Development to talk to groups about the responsibility of managers and supervisors who actually control the work place to make sure that we are not discriminating.
Managers and supervisors are agents of the University. So when they're here between 9 and 5, 8:30 to 4, for example, they represent Penn.
We prefer to present these programs before mixed audiences, meaning managers, supervisors and employees. Everyone gets to hear what their roles are and what they can do to ensure that their work environments are respectful and harassment free.
The line before harassment is disrespectful behavior.
Harassment is not something that is kind of out in left field, that all of a sudden just appears in the work place. Harassment is the result of a series of interactions that I would like to think were first respectful, and then became disrespectful, and then disrespectful to the point that's so severe, persistent and pervasive that it interferes with a person's ability to work.
People come to Penn to work. They don't come to Penn to get harassed and to be disrespected.
Q. What steps is the University taking to increase diversity?
A. A lot of the initiatives that Penn is taking appear to be affirmative action efforts to me. But what motivates Penn, I find, is they do this because it's part of their strategic plan and it's in their academic mission.
Q. For example?
A. Sansom Common. Penn wrote the community into its strategic plan and then went about implementing it and worked with the general contractor, Turner Construction, to make sure that there was representation of minority and women business enterprises in the construction of the Sansom Common Project. They worked with the subcontractors to make sure there were women and minorities in skilled and unskilled labor, on the job.
Q. I saw a woman digging out there.
A. There you go, it is not business as usual when it comes to construction projects, and there are a lot more, as you know, that are planned here on campus. We're really a model for that.
Now I saw that as an affirmative action effort. Other people who were involved in that didn't see it right away.
Q. What did they see it as?
A. Well, they saw it as getting the community involved in what Penn was doing and saw it as a way to help the community grow as Penn grew. There's a whole community advisory group, including several ministers from West Philadelphia as well as City Council involvement and the Minority Business Enterprise Council.
And then they didn't just stop at the construction. They went to the retailers that were coming in to say, we've got to hire West and Southwest Philadelphia residents, so help us do that.
And a lot of this work is coming through [Excecutive Vice President] John Fry's unit.
Then there's the hotel training program. The EVP's unit asked the Skills Development Center to train West and Southwest Philadelphians to take on the jobs at the Inn at Penn. And we worked with Doubletree to make sure that happened.
We worked with the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition to help us in getting minority business enterprises and women in business enterprises involved.
In fact I was so excited about that project that when Penn hosted the Ivy affirmative action officer meeting, I invited Glenn Bryan from Community Relations; Jack Shannon, managing director of Economic Development; Herb Young, who is director of community affairs with Turner [Construction], who is really keyed to all of this because that is all he does; Charles Solomon Sr. with the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition - he works with MBEs [minority business enterprises] and WBEs [women-owned business enterprises] all the time - and Ron Story from the Skills Development Center.
And they gave an hour and a half presentation on how the community was involved, to the point where Columbia [University], who also has a huge community to deal with in New York City, was looking at using the Penn model.
One of the things that Herb Young from Turner Construction said, If the client wants it, the client will get it. If the client doesn't want it, it won't happen. Penn wanted this to happen. It had nothing to do with federal law. It had nothing to do with our affirmative action obligations. They wanted to do this. That was what was very attractive to me when I came here.
Penn is moving on its own.
Originally published on April 15, 1999