How did you wind up coming to Berkeley to work in the Chancellor’s Office?
When I was looking for a job at the university, one was open in the Chancellor’s Office; I thought that would be a great place to gain an overview of the entire campus. I wasn’t concerned about the level or type of position, especially since this represented a big turn in my career (I had my own gardening business previously). I was more interested in what I could learn from working in that space with a 40-foot view of what’s happening all over.
What has helped you build up to your current responsibilities?
There are a few things that have really helped. One is having very supportive bosses. The other is volunteering to do things that might be a bit risky such as asking to take on new projects, new initiatives. Sometimes that means doing way more than your job description, and be willing to fall down once or twice. You have to figure out how to do something new to you, and it will require new skills. You don’t get it right the first time.
Ask a lot of questions, be willing to not know anything, be humble.
When you’re in that kind of situation, where you need to develop new skills, new connections to get something done, how do you manage that?
Ask a lot of questions, be willing to not know anything, be humble. The first large project I had to manage in the Campus Community Initiative was a city/university partnership. I was the lead for the campus, and the deputy city manager was the lead for the city. I didn’t know about past relations with the City, the connections between offices, projects, budgets, and politics, and because I was still new to the University, I didn’t know the key people or the ins and outs of university culture or City of Berkeley culture.
So first, I got lists of folks to talk to from my bosses, then spent many, many hours on the phone calling everyone I could find who might know about some area I needed help with. Then I met with the folks they suggested, and read and read and read. It was everyone else that told me what was really going on.
Can you think of a time when you wanted to volunteer for something, and had to sell that idea to your boss?
That’s a theme in my career, it’s really a part of most every project or initiative I’ve been able to work on. I think it’s important to look for what the possible new impacts and connections might be in whatever area I’m working in. What new thing can we create to have an impact? In my current position, it’s often about where old boundaries around diversity issues can be broken open, or how new partnerships, collaborations, and ideas might be able to positively impact people on issues of equity and inclusion.
What are some of the skills and techniques you use to make that kind of push?
For me, there’s a lot of research time on the front end, whether that’s reading everything you can about an issue, or talking to people, or creating a network of supporters and partnerships, before you even make the proposal. Sometimes it’s also about creating the resources needed. It’s very front-loaded for me.
Also, it’s good to know your circles of influence and how you operate in them. I think even the most highly ranked person in an organization would tell you that.
How do you have productive conversations talking to a bunch of people who don’t know you?
There are many methodologies out there to help with that kind of situation. Early on in my work at the University I was introduced to Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which is a style that made sense to my personality and way of interacting with the world. It calls for a lot of curiosity into discovering what works for people and organizations.
What’s the difference between AI and more traditional interview and survey methods?
The more traditional way of looking at things is to focus on problems—what’s the problem, what are the complaints? When you start with problem-based questions, negative emotions are invoked as part of the conversation about the current state, and that becomes the starting point. An “appreciative” approach begins with being curious about what people are hoping for and what successes they have experienced in the past related to the topic you are trying to address. Questions focus on aspirations and new ideas, to encourage people to respond from a positive place.
Equity & Inclusion works to draw back the barriers that society puts up, whether that’s discrimination based on identity, or lack of resources in a community or family, or lack of knowledge about how higher education works. It’s our job to help build a campus community that fosters these principles on a daily basis.
What does the Division of Equity & Inclusion (E&I) try to accomplish, and why is it important?
E&I is the one of the main mechanisms the campus has to help provide the opportunity to learn or work at UC Berkeley to everyone (students, staff, and faculty), and once here, to reach their full potential, regardless of societal barriers that limit that potential based on aspects of identity. Whether or not they know the pathways to get here, it’s our job to make those pathways accessible. We work to draw back the barriers that society puts up, whether that’s discrimination based on identity, or lack of resources in a community or family, or lack of knowledge about how higher education works. It’s our job to help build a campus community that fosters these principles on a daily basis.
If a K-12 student has been successful in one of our academic preparation programs and is accepted as an undergraduate, with the help of some data tracking structures, we are able to provide a more seamless path to support for them as an undergraduate, and then even as graduate students or into their careers.
What are some successes you’ve had drawing back barriers?
E&I consists of units that are about three-quarters programs and one-quarter policy, research, data, and other institutional support, like strategic planning on diversity. The latter part is the world I work in. The programmatic side has had some great successes around K-12 students getting into Cal. There have been great strides in what we refer to as “to and through” pathways for students. For example, if a K-12 student has been successful in one of our academic preparation programs and is accepted as an undergraduate, with the help of some data tracking structures, we are able to provide a more seamless path to support for them as an undergraduate, and then even as graduate students or into their careers. This is a proactive approach, rather than depending on catching a student when they may be at a crisis point in their academic career.
On the policy/research/data side, one of the barriers in the past to knowing how to move the university forward on diversity issues is access to the appropriate data. We have had a great partnership with the Office of Planning & Analysis, and many others across campus, to help provide access to that data to campus units. This allows action to be very data-driven, which also allows more flexibility to change course when we may not be heading in the right direction or moving as quickly as we’d like to.
You were a process consultant for the Leadership Development Program at one point in your career. How did you wind up doing that, and what did you get out of it?
I actually got involved in LDP through a training on using Appreciative Inquiry in higher education that Inette Dishler, who led the LDP program, also attended. One of the most important things I got out of the LDP consultant experience was a better understanding about the differences amongst staff perspectives on what the University does or is, or doesn’t do or isn’t, based on what they are exposed to in their daily work. It’s very different across units.
My philosophy is that we’re all “them” and we’re all “us.”
One of the goals of the Wisdom Café is to bridge that gap, to help staff talk to each other about what their job is like, how we’re all working together. How do you avoid getting into the “us vs. them” mentality?
That mentality can come from lack of empowerment, I think. Feeling that there’s no way to be heard or to have input into something the university is doing. My philosophy is that we’re all “them” and we’re all “us.” It goes both ways. Finding a way to move toward the connection or common ground, even if it’s very basic, often helps create a fuller understanding of the role we can all play as leaders in the organization, whether or not our job title says so.
Asking people to help you understand why they want what they want is key. If all you do is ask that question to everyone you work with, you’re going to get a long way.
One of the things I learned working with people on campus is that if they insist on something being a particular way, there’s probably a reason for it. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, you won’t have good results if you start with the assumption that there’s no reason for it.
I agree. Asking people to help you understand why they want what they want, why it’s important to them, is a key question to ask. If all you do is ask that question to everyone you work with, you’re going to get a long way.
What would you say to staff about how they can improve equity and inclusion in their departments?
Staff can have an incredible amount of influence on diversity, no matter what their role is on campus. One simple thing is to start talking about it with your peers. You’d be surprised how courageous an act that can be at times—it is also a way that every staff member can choose to take leadership. There are also great classes available to staff through both the KEYS program and the Multicultural Education Program, all available through UC Learning. These not only help improve individual skills and knowledge in these areas, but can help in meeting folks all over campus who are also interested in them.
We also have Staff Diversity Initiatives in our division, a program that is specifically for working on staff issues of equity, inclusion, and diversity, and working with staff, faculty, and students to help address them. SDI sponsors all the staff identity organizations (race/ethnicity, disability status, veterans, etc.) and directs the Multicultural Education Program.
We also offer consulting to any unit about possibilities for them in creating a more equitable and inclusive environment, for their own staff and for their clients (students, faculty, other staff). As part of that service, Equity & Inclusion supports units in creating strategic plans on equity, inclusion and diversity. Any staff member can find out if their unit or division has a strategic plan that includes this. There are staff in E&I that can come talk to your unit about this as well. Folks can also call or email our main office for more ideas (2-7294, email@example.com).