screen shot of a zoom call between four people

ICYMI: A Racially Just Workplace

The third of the Friday Forums on Racism in Higher Education held on Friday, Nov. 20 addressed questions that provided insight and solutions on how we create a racially just workplace and how we create a more equitable and inclusive campus. The conversation was moderated by Jeff Herring, chief human resources officer at the University of Utah. Panelists included:

  • Kathy Obear, president, Center for Transformation and Change
  • Laurita Thomas, president, American Research Universities Human Resources Institute
  • Damon Tweedy, associate professor, Duke University

In case you missed it, view the full event and transcript below.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at the U is hosting these national conversations each month with the goal of helping attendees start on a journey to eradicate racism and share best practices for sustained growth and action. Friday Forums is a commitment to the state and region in elevating national conversations and showcasing models of disrupting complicit racism. Each session welcomes national thought leaders to lead discussions and provide opportunities for participants to share ideas on actionable items towards a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.

The next Friday Forum titled “A Call for Racial Healing” will be on Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. University of Utah staff and faculty members of all disciplines are encouraged to submit a breakout-session proposal here.

Nov. 20 event transcript: 

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Mary Ann Villarreal:

Thank you for joining us for the November installment of the Friday Forum series. We’re thrilled to have several 100 attendees from the university throughout the state and region joining us today. Friday Forums are commitment by the University of Utah to the state and region and elevating national conversations and showcasing models of disrupting complicit racism. During each session, we will engage national thought leaders in discussions and provide opportunities for participants to share ideas on actual items towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus.

Before I get started today, there are two pieces that I’d like for us to take a moment. Today, November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. This year, at least 34 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been murdered by violent means in the United States. That count might also be low given that we don’t often recognize those who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming who have been violently murdered. We want to take a moment to recognize that the people in our lives that are transgendered communities are an important part though not always visible that we want to recognize having them present and visible to make a meaningful impact in who we are.

I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge the universities and indigenous Land Acknowledgement. The University of Utah has both historical and contemporary relationships with indigenous peoples. Given that the Salt Lake Valley has always been a gathering place for indigenous peoples, we acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute tribe is the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Ute tribes. As a crossroad for indigenous peoples, the University of Utah recognizes the enduring relationships between many indigenous peoples and their traditional homelands. We are grateful for the territory upon which we have gathered today, we respect Utah indigenous peoples, the original storage of this land, and we value the sovereign relationships that exist between tribal governments, state governments, and the federal government. Today, approximately 60,000 American Indian and Alaska Native peoples live in Utah. As a state institution, the University of Utah is committed to serving native communities throughout Utah in partnership with native nations and with our urban Indian communities through research, education and community outreach activities.

Our today’s forum, A Racially Just Workplace, our moderator and panelists will address questions that provide insight and solutions on how we create a racially just workplace. What is needed to create a sense of belonging and how we create a more equitable and inclusive work environment. We hope that you will continue to grow with us this year as we embark on this journey to becoming an anti-racist campus. As always a few housekeeping items, this event has two parts, the general national conversation and then following that the concurrent tracks, you should have information in your email regarding the concurrent track that you signed up for.

Today’s discussion panelists will be answering questions developed by the moderator and previously submitted questions. If you have any technological problems, please use the chat box to request assistance. Finally, we have a number of partners, we have the Office of the President and University Cabinet, the University Marketing Communications, University Human Resources, University Business Auxiliary, University Student Affairs, Domo the Business Cloud, and Convene, our virtual meeting platform. My gratitude to all of them for making this event so successful. Now it is my privilege to introduce our moderator and panelists.

Our moderator is Jeff Herring, our chief human resource officer at the University of Utah. He has served in this position since 2013. Currently, Jeff is a national board member of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, CUPAHR, if I got that right. Kathy Obear, President, Center for Transformation and Change. Currently, she’s the president of the Center for Transformation and Change. Dr. Kathy Obear is nationally recognized as an expert in helping leaders change agents and facilitators develop the capacity to create equitable, inclusive and racially, socially just organizations.

Our second panelists, Laurita Thomas, President, American Research Universities Human Resources Institute. Laurita Thomas is the president of the institute, she is responsible for executive development of the leadership programming for the CHROs of 65 major research universities in the United States and Canada. Laurita Thomas served as the associate vice president for human resources at the University of Michigan for 15 years. Our third panelists, Dr. Damon Tweedy, MD, associate professor at Duke University. Damon Tweedy is an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University school of medicine and a staff psychiatrist within the Durham Veteran Affairs Healthcare System. He completed both medical school and his specialty trainee at Duke.

Within the VA system, he directs a team of mental health providers working across five primary care clinics. At the medical school, he leads a behavioral health seminar for second year students and as a small group leader for another course that introduces medical students to advance aspects of the doctor, patient relationship. We’re thrilled to have you here. Thank you. I’ll turn the time now over to our moderator, Jeff Herring.

Jeff Herring:

Thank you, Mary Ann. I want to add my thanks for letting us participate in this great conversation. We’ll jump right into the questions. This is a pre-submitted question that came in, but I’m going to turn it over to all the panelists to have their input on this, but maybe we’ll start with Damon, for you, and then the rest of the panels. How do you combat aspects of whiteness that are commonplace in the workplace, such as the normal ideas of professional dress, timeliness, time scarcity for some of our folks working on committees? You probably see some of this in the healthcare profession, even more so on campus sometimes. Damon, we’d start with you maybe on your thoughts.

Damon Tweedy:

I think it probably comes in when we’re talking about … In healthcare setting far as standards, the hairstyle, for instance, might be one that comes up a lot. When you talk about professional doctors, can a doctor have a certain hair … Because of the military context and things like that. So I remember a story of talking to a doctor, very prominent doctor in a very prominent location, and he was up for promotion and they basically told him, “You can’t have that kind of hairstyle yet.” Some pretty, very, very neatly done dreadlocks, but it was this idea that you can’t be taken seriously as a doctor seeing patients and that sort of way, so that’s one thing.

As far as the time scarcity goes, I think you see that clinically with patients. I mean, I think there’s this idea that we have to put people … There’s often no allowance or forgiveness for people and not take into account the barriers it takes to get them to a clinic or to a particular location. I think those are some areas where I see it come up the most.

Jeff Herring:

Great, thanks Damon. Laurita, any experiences or thoughts that you’ve got on how we’d combat some of these social norms that come into the areas now in our workplace?

Laurita Thomas:

Thank you, Jeff, I’m delighted to be here. I appreciate the invitation. One of the examples I thought of was in healthcare. Many of us enter healthcare environments and we are immediately told to be quiet and there are signs all over about quietness. There are clearly cultures in the world where vivacious, lots of people and family, lots of music and energy are part of the healing process. So there’s no room for that in our environments that are primarily European dominated with the, “You must be quiet so people can get better.” So I would suggest that when that happens and there’s a conflict that exists, we might follow normal processes for learning how adaptable and flexible we can be.

At Michigan, the decision we made for those that needed to have, and this is of course pre-pandemic, but they needed their families around them, they needed to have some music and fusion, there needed to be more celebration, we would try to find spaces within the environment, even if we had to take over a classroom to allow people to support the patient’s healing and the way that was best suited for them. For certain staff members, actually being able to clean a room to music can make you more productive than not, you can move with the music and proceed to do your job with more joy than you would otherwise, and so why not use or approve or allow earbuds so people can have that and respect the broader rule as well?

I think the primary process is to listen to what people need and changing the environment, be flexible, be adaptable, get ideas and suggestions so that people feel included and people feel that what matters to them matters to you as well.

Jeff Herring:

Great. Thank you, Laurita

Damon Tweedy:

I was just going to say, those are great examples. That music therapy is something we certainly have been incorporating and there was definitely resistance at the beginning and that’s becoming increasingly utilized. So, that’s a really great example and a very practical on the ground way.

Jeff Herring:

Great. Kathy, your thought.

Kathy Obear:

Speaking of the resistance as a white manager, when I worked in higher ed student affairs, I resisted this idea of whiteness. If anyone had asked me to take a look at it, I would have said, “This is just for business practice, professional, what is a good leader? You have to be on time.” I had not done my work as a white person, and so some ideas for creating a work environment to look at all those unwritten rules. I literally just developed a handout that I can send folk of like a 100 descriptors of unproductive, unwritten rules, and then maybe a third that I think are more transformative, but to really look at how is white culture, whiteness niceness been built in, so avoid conflict and make sure your white leaders are comfortable top down leadership, and even how we define good leaders or good employees, jump in, extroverted, devil’s advocate, the bait or very impersonal, no emotional, all those ways have just embedded into our unconscious or conscious beliefs.

Leaders, supervisors, and employees need to look at how white culture has been embedded into literally everything we do. Just one more quick thing, ever since the pandemic started, I’ve started every workshop, every call with deep breathing, meditation and how are you, breakout rooms. Just how are you doing as … not just light, but in this pandemic, in this time of racial reckonings since George Floyd’s murder, how are you doing? Those engagements has made folks far more engaged and productive. So it was just a quick example of countering whiteness, changing a practice and actually getting more engagement, productivity, belonging, and innovation.

Jeff Herring:

Great. Thank you all, great insights. Kathy, I’m going to pose the next question directly to you. In your book entitled, But I’m NOT a Racist, your common challenges many whites face as they work to create more equitable inclusive organizations, maybe you could share one or two examples of some of those with us.

Kathy Obear:

So again I am, most white people in organizations. I remember I’m a good one, I’m a good individual, I don’t have intentional racist thoughts or hate. So therefore I’m not part of the problem. Therefore, it’s really up to the folks of color, indigenous folks to take care of it. So one of the key first challenges for white folk is to really get, “Yes, you’re a good individual, but what at the group level have we experienced white privilege access to more resources, assumed white, more deserving, and to really recognize the common racist microaggressions in the work environment that happened every day in meetings, in conversations and emails.”

So, I call that getting to the group level, and most whites still see themselves as individuals, that’s part of the larger culture that taught us that and reinforces it, but in the work environment, to go, there’s differential life experience between indigenous folks, Black folks, other folks of color or white, and really it takes a while. It took me years and I don’t think it tends to take that long. So, that’s one. Then finding the courage to speak up and some effective tools to notice racist, microaggressions, policies, and practices that have racist impact, I’m sure unintended most of the time.

But most whites are, like I’m seeing it now, but now I’m in other fear, and so really having some white accountability group space to practice, move through fear, nudge each other so that we are truly partnering with folks of color and not staying silent to keep the status quo, whites and superior position, folks of color, indigenous folks minoritized in place. We whites think, “Well, I’m just going to be quiet because folks of color want to give them space.” The truth is, our silence reinforces our privilege, we have to learn to partner with, follow the leadership of color and not sustain the silence to perpetuate the status quo.

Jeff Herring:

Great. Thanks Kathy. Some great practical advice there. Damon and Laurita, I’ve got a parallel question. What do faculty staff of color want their white colleagues to know and do? I guess to know and do?

Laurita Thomas:

I think I want my all of my colleagues, not just white and Black for inclusion sake, to be open-minded, to be curious, to be willing to learn, to be willing to invest in learning and development of themselves, and to … I heard a phrase yesterday, “I’d be curious and not furious.” Because we’d become very divisive about a lot of topics now, and that closes us down to learning and appreciating what’s necessary. For my leaders, I want environments to be created that provide psychological safety, that show behaviors, that generate trust, that there is authenticity in their leadership, their willingness to be vulnerable and to share examples of when they really had learning experiences that could change their behaviors that they could invest.

I think that, to the extent that stereotypes exist or archetypes exist, none of them apply to any one person at any one time. So, the most important thing is for us to stay open-minded and learn from each other in order to create relationships that build trust. The way you do that is if you don’t know what to do, or you don’t have a path you just ask, “What would you do to learn about such and such?” I mean, it’s very clear in a culture right now that we don’t want individuals that might be representative of a cohort to have the burden of doing all the work, we want that burden shared, we want to transfer the need to learn and grow. So, the most important question is, how could I learn more about that? And then pursue the action or behavior to do that?

Jeff Herring:

Great, Damon.

Damon Tweedy:

Yes. I would say that I think student faculty staff in most cases of color are going to be in a very underrepresented place when they’re in these institutions. I think it’s really important for people … Our country is very divided, right? So I think it’s really important for people to understand that, like, if I’m a student or a young faculty member going into a room and all the faculty are white, I have no idea. There’s a lot of mental energy that I’m going to be consumed upon me to think about trying to navigate, what side are these folks on? What do they think about me? There’s so much energy that’s spent with that.

So I think it’s so important for people to be … and especially for student as well. Like is [inaudible 00:17:57] to support my thought, by beliefs cannot be myself is so important to be intentional with your support that indicate that you are going to be an ally for these students, is so important. There’s so much wasted mental, emotional capital when you talk about it that way. I think it’s also really important for us to think about [inaudible 00:18:15] standpoint, we could try to convey support, so many times, in fact, Black faculty are another factor of color assets, do all this diversity work in some way, but it’s not really valued in a tangible way, is not valued in a sense of the currency of compensation, is not valued in terms of protected time, is not valued in terms of evaluation for promotions.

So we have to really rethink, what are we doing, we’re putting these things out to folks and not really recognizing the cost and then not really valuate when time comes for it, we know how we measure someone’s progress. So I think it’s a really important things to consider.

Jeff Herring:

Great. Thank you all, next question for all of you, and it’s a pretty broad question is, what should institutions do when their employees are in denial that racism exists and don’t want to pull up their sleeves to do the work that is required to fight racism? Sometimes I view that as the distinction between not a racist and anti-racist. So, thoughts on that. Laurita, maybe we’ll start with you again, if that’s all right.

Laurita Thomas:

Most of us value data and describing situations where the data is absolutely compelling about the differences, it’s really important to share that. I think most people learn from stories though. So, if you have a really good data storyteller that helps understand the implications, then people may be more willing to be more open-minded and move to a place of, “I want to learn more.” So, listening to the stories of people’s experiences and what the impact is, if as Damon said, I’m more worried about how I’m going to be received than how I’m going to contribute, then I’m not doing my best, and I’m not contributing to a thriving organization.

For the University of Utah or any other university or organization that we care about to thrive, the data says, “In order for us all to be productive, people have to be respected, they have to feel included.” There has to be a sense that I matter, and that I’m valued and to take that to the team level or the unit level or the department level, we want everybody to thrive. My experience in higher ed is that we all want to be excellent. In order to do that, then the environment has to be such that each individual can feel like they can do their best, they can bring their whole self to work and contribute to an organization thriving.

Jeff Herring:

Great. Thank you, Laurita. Damon, input.

Damon Tweedy:

Yeah. No, I mean, I think that’s very well put. I don’t think I can … yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what I would say.

Jeff Herring:

It’s fantastic, Kathy, your thoughts.

Kathy Obear:

Laurita, listening to you, I see myself in the training I’ve been doing, stories, microaggressions, getting the hearts of whites to shift. What I’m finding is there are still some whites who are not changing their behavior, and I’ve been saying for a while, but for the last month, I’ve been very clear with leaders as I’ve worked with them. We need to get this in the line of supervision, that this is no longer, “Oh, come on. Can’t you all just be inclusive, do your part.” It’s this is required behavior. You will no longer be tolerated, no racist microaggressions, racist policies practices will no longer be tolerated. We’ll engage, we’ll help learn, we will put in performance management, but there is a set amount of time where you will have the chance to learn and grow, but in the line of supervision.

For leaders to get there, here’s what I found. I’ve had leaders look really clearly, particularly since George Floyd’s murder and time of racial reckoning, what is your vision of a racially inclusive or racially just in this case university? And have clear conversations, what would we be doing differently, being differently, feeling differently? So to that end, what expectations do we have demonstrated capacities of leaders, managers, supervisors, employees, students? Now, I’m not saying top down, but start with leaders and then have community transformational conversations.

Then as I said, those structural supports of, “Here are the clear performance expectations, we’re putting them into all the HR practices, hiring, promotion tenure, recruiting, and then we train managers and leaders and supervisors to implement them.” Now, this is a huge lift, I’m believing it’s the only way to get beyond nice thing to do training, “Oh, come on.” Nice website to transformational change and behavior change, we will no longer tolerate, and here’s the accountability structure.

Laurita Thomas:

I agree that, all of what we’ve learned over various initiatives in my career, there’ve been many initiatives, if you will, to make the world a better place, especially where we live, but accountability is a key factor. So at the University of Michigan, the president said, “We want every single person in our community engaged.” So, top-down start is very important because they established that it’s important and it matters. But the accountability at the leadership level closest to most individuals is what’s really important, and that’s what shows how it matters. So offering a learning experience, but only the people showing up that are already committed and participating is not effective.

So, there has to be some expectation that the whole chain will show up that it’s a legitimate and expected use of work time, if you will, for staff that have to keep up with their work hours and that it will be endorsed, and that the leader too will participate to the extent that’s appropriate and not necessarily something else to do. Accountability at Michigan was every single unit had, had to set goals for their environment, and they had to write reports and not only did the chief diversity officer and all of our team read the report to president, read the report, and the president would jot off a quick note of ceremony and congratulations, where he saw innovation and creative ideas and good outcomes. He would also send notes that were asking very specific questions when he saw just words and not results.

That created and generated a conversation at the university among the 80,000 community members, that this is really different, this is really meant this time and that the right people are paying attention to what we collectively do close to where we live, work, discover, and play.

Jeff Herring:

Yeah. Agreed, and I’ll add just a comment on this one that I think that’s the discussion that we’re having at the University of Utah, is how to take these aspirational goals and vision statements of diversity inclusion, and actually insert the accountability to that incorporating these into performance plans at the individual level. So you can have the aspirational organizational statement, but that’s got to be brought down into a personal level, I think, to really have that flow from the bottom up. So great, great thoughts.

Laurita Thomas:

One of the tools, Jeff, we created was called a Diversity Passport, along the theme that we highly value knowing what’s going on in the world and impacting that, what we did … I had a group of volunteers just collect lots of things, individuals or teams could do to become more educated and to take action, and we made the format look like a passport that you would earn stamps from. You had to bring your passport to your performance review, and review not only what did you do, but what did you learn from that and what action resulted from that. It was a fun way to put together a series of accountability measures that everybody in the organization could get together and talk about. “Well, what did you learn this week that’s in your passport?”

Jeff Herring:

I love incorporating some aspects of fun into this journey that we’ll all be on together in this. It reminds me of my excitement of going to Epcot as to go and learn about all the different countries to get my passport at that. So, the world’s fair, I love that. Damon, I’ve got a question specifically for you, if that’s all right. In your book, Black Man in a White Coat and a numerous articles and interviews, you’ve talked about the lack of diversity and racism that occurs in healthcare which affects health outcomes for medical schools to hospitals, what incidents can you give us about how to address the diversity in these workplaces?

Damon Tweedy:

Yeah, so I think the first point is that this isn’t just about a sense of hurt feelings or emotions, or trying to make things right, this is really life and death stakes. I mean, people we see it with COVID, we see it with maternal mortality. There’s a long list of things where we see these, how the foundation of our healthcare system really costs people their lives. I mean, it’s that simple. So I think we have to recognize the stakes in what we’re dealing with.

I think another important piece that we needed either sort of … I think one of the problems with medicine is that there’s a sense that the scientific enterprise is somehow … we’ve trained in that method and somehow we are above reproach in some way, and it’s important as a scientific enterprise is to the practice of medicine. Of course, it’s very important. You can’t underscore how important the human element is of medicine, the human endeavor, the fallibility that comes with that human component. So I see so often, this bias plays out in so many different ways.

So I guess … two points I want to make here. One is I think we really … like when I’m talking to providers, I think it’s really important for them to have a sense of humility. I mean, I think we need to think about the patient having a knapsack, right, of experiences. So, a person comes into you and the patient seems like you’re not trusting your advice, and then the provider gets defensive and they say, “Well, what’s wrong with that person?” They get labeled like they’re non-compliant and all those [inaudible 00:29:06] tracks. But what they really need to understand is that that person has a knapsack of experiences, right? It’s not just that person, it’s their family members’ experience with the healthcare system, it’s the racial history of the healthcare system.

I think we need to reckon with all of those components, that provider themselves also needs to have the humility to think about their own knapsack of experiences. Like what are they bringing to the table? What have they learned from their family? What do they learn about race? What message have they internalized? So, I think the more that we can do these self-reflective things, it’s really an important component to addressing the larger problem. Another piece about the diversity part, again, as a Black physician, I’ve seen so many patients, the numbers are really stark. I mean, I’ve traveled a lot, seen a lot of places, and you go to a school and there’s one or two Black students in a class, 30, 40% of the patients are Black in a particular clinic, I’ve had many experiences like that personally.

There’s a lot of real challenges here. Oftentimes I’d be like the doctor being the one who is like a translator, like a patient would say, “I don’t trust this particular plan of care.” I’d be brought in as almost like a medical translator to assure that this care was on the up and up. And you just think about how flawed and how broken that system is that, that this kind of thing would be necessary. Right? So, people would tell me that I’ve actually literally saved their lives because now they’re buying into the system, they’re taking insulin, whatever may be the case. In the idea that, it’s humbling to think that you can have that role in helping someone, but it shows the fault lines in the chasm between the community and … It’s so deep.

So we really need to think about this. So, this crisis of diversity in medical care, I mean, it’s really important. I’m not saying we need a surrogate medical care, but it’s a very real fact that many … there was a study came out not too long ago, looking at how Black infants they’re careful about Black pediatrician, the survival rate in their early period was like twice. They were twice likely to survive in that sort of early phase. I mean, the striking, we need to understand and interrogate that and understand how this isn’t just like us trying to create a perfect society, this is about life and death. People are really suffering if we don’t address these issues in a very tangible way.

Jeff Herring:

Excellent, insightful. Thank you, Damon. Laurita, question for you as a practitioner and HR, probably your time at University of Michigan, and as you help all the AAU institutions with this, is it possible to have a racially just workplace without requiring implementation of policies that outline the determination and monitoring of things like racist, merit based competing job offers by race, gender, educational qualifications, and achievements, can we achieve this without putting into some of those formal structures?

Laurita Thomas:

Of course it depends on the organization, and its authenticity about their commitment to the goals that they’ve established. There’s a part of me that says, “No, you have to have policies that guide and direct the work and help people see the path to more fairness and equity.” I know that transparency about how the organization does what it does for its faculty and staff, volunteers, students, transparency about policy is extremely important. So, there are many of our policies that could be subject to broader review for the implicit biases that led to those policies that then result in unfairness in its application.

So, I would suggest that it’s really important to listen to the resource groups that you may have in the organization, the constituency groups, those that speak for the experiences of faculty and staff and the environment, find out where those experiences are impacted by policy. For instance, we had a parental leave policy and we were about to expand it. I had on my committee of faculty members say, “Well, this really will work for our faculty women, but do we need it to extend it to the staff that are women?” I saw that in a meeting. So, I just asked the question, “Please show me the data that makes a difference when a woman is about to give birth on that table or in that bed or in that path environment in the hospital. What difference does it make if it’s a faculty woman or a staff woman in the birth process?”

So, the question is the assumptions that we bring often create the injustice, and in the process of reviewing and developing policies that are intended to be more fair, then we have to ask the question about how do people experience those policies to learn from those and then make changes as necessary to be more inclusive and yet help the organization be effective and thrive.

Jeff Herring:

Great answer. Kathy, you were nodding in agreement on that, anything you want to add to that?

Kathy Obear:

As I listened to Laurita, I’m thinking, I know pretty much how to monitor hiring practices and suggest strategies to look at data, but I’d never thought until this question, how do we monitor the offering of salaries and raises with a race lens? With the idea of getting the data in HR and then all leaders, and then in every division and looking at it with the equity inclusion lens, the teams, and then interrogate, what’s the criteria we’re using for hiring, but also for, how did we decide this person should get this much more than this person, because I’ll bet most every organization, every university, there is a differential between what White S offered and what folks of color and indigenous folks get offered when they come in, whether it’s based on those racists implicit biases of the school they went to, or how many years of experience or the unwritten rules and competency.

So, the idea of monitoring, first of all, assessing, and then how do we ensure, but then how do we monitor? So it’s not just a nice thing to do, but the University of Utah will no longer tolerate racist differential, raises and hiring and promotions money. Do you think the university is ready for that level of clarity?

Laurita Thomas:

Well, sometimes it’s not always as hard as people think it will be. For instance, when we found the differential in gender, in one particular department, and then we started asking more questions again, how do people experience that? We learned that certain groups of people, particularly white men came to the negotiation of their salaries with far greater data and demands, and they knew how to negotiate to get to the higher salary. So one of the things we started doing in the pipeline was teaching negotiation skills, and what data should you be taking to these meetings when you’re asking for, or seeing a salary review and make the unwritten norms, as you mentioned earlier, making them more real for people and use what works.

Then another thing is observable behaviors. There are a number of biases as you mentioned, related to the school you went to and who’s writing your recommendation and all of that. We have to work harder to define observable behaviors that lead to success at work. If it’s your number of citations and research, then have your librarians do the research on your citations, as opposed to a friend who’s going to write in superlative language, the ones that they’ve read or that they are aware of, or they participated in. So, look for those processes that are going to provide the same data that’s important to you, but in a more fair way.

Kathy Obear:

Laurita I never thought of this, that, and then how is racism baked into who gets published, R1 journals and how often, and have that part of the conversation. Just again, look at those criteria for baked in racist dynamics that we never thought of.

Jeff Herring:

Excellent insights. Laurita, I was just going to say you provide a great segue into the next question. You talk about references, there’s some worry this is a pre-submitted question as well, but there was some worry in faculty hiring and selection processes and retention promotion tenure, that we rely on these letters of recommendations very heavily and know that these letters are likely to carry the biases of the letter writers. Do you have any suggestions for soliciting feedback that is unbiased as possible? You’ve given us some, any other thoughts? Any of our panelists, I’ll open it up to you.

Damon Tweedy:

I’ll speak from the healthcare realm. So, in the healthcare realm, things are very doctor centric, right? What did the other doctors think about you and your work, but there’s so many other moving parts in the healthcare system that can be built into that. What do patients think? What about, say, nurses and social workers? There’s so many other people that are involved in the healthcare enterprise. So, how are they perceiving and seeing your interactions, they may see your interactions in a different way. We had a recent documentary at our institution and it’s called Keepers of the House, and it’s looking at the role of that housekeeping staff in the role of patient care and healing.

Again, we have such a doctor centric view of these things, and so it’s a fascinating look at the broader picture and whose voices are even considered valuable, right, and to what extent? So, I think that’s a big part of when we talk about evaluating someone whose voices are important in that discussion and deliberation. So I think the more we can think about that holistically, the better we can expand that whole picture.

Kathy Obear:

One thought is, because I love those ideas of Damon, so if they’re internal person, you can do all those kind of, but if it’s external for hiring, I know higher ed folks call people that aren’t on the list, and I don’t know if all people know that, but because at least in student affairs people know people. So I know senior vice presidents who have just picked up the phone and called people they knew, and that can work if that person they’re hiring is racially competent, and it can also work against folk of color if they’re calling folks who don’t have the capacity to understand race and racism and whiteness.

The other thought I had is proactively before we even get to the letters of recommendation, how are we helping candidates show their competencies around creating racially just classrooms work environments through portfolios, through live opportunities to just demonstrate their skill and capacity with case studies or presentations. Then to really look at our interview questions and make sure we’re looking at competencies not just fit in those sorts of things and then get your search committees really skilled to focus they’re not on all those implicit bias. So that the recommendations may not carry as much weight because I know when I used to write them person could do no wrong. Well, they were great, I am really complicit in that process, as I think about it.

Laurita Thomas:

Just to supplement that, the largest part and the time that should be spent by search committees is defining criteria for success and selection in that role, and to be very intentional about challenging ourselves on, “Are those based on observable behavior or data?”

Jeff Herring:

Fantastic. Amen. Here’s one, as we do this work together on your experiences, how do we know where we’re going and how do we know when we’re going to get there? We’ve gotten there. So, Kathy, you do a lot of work with this. I’ll start with you maybe on what your thoughts are, you work with a lot of organizations.

Kathy Obear:

I have a list now, literally it’s just like three weeks old of so many day-to-day activities, many Damon and Laurita talked about, and to say. So, what would it look like when we’ve made significant progress, dismantling racism and creating true racial justice and fairness and getting groups to chew on that, not only leaders, but everybody. To Laurita’s point, your affinity and employee resource groups, student groups, but to have a campus wide conversation of truly, what will it look like? And not only high level, but what will hiring look like? What will student advising look like? I can keep going.

So, what will meetings look like? How to plan it? So that we have very robust, complicated dialogue about what will it look like to get there. Therefore, where are gaps, which are huge on most campuses I get to work on, therefore, what are expectations, and then what do we need to be doing in order to close those gaps? And a key part is revising all of our current policies practices, not only once, Laurita and Damon talked about, but literally a small team of five people in IT, in housekeeping, how do they get trained and permission to analyze every practice interaction with a race lens and recommend or make improvements?

That’s how infused these capacities and accountabilities need to be. That’s how we’ll know we’re there when everyone says, “Oh, I’m a part of this, here are the changes we’ve done, here’s the results we’ve had.” They might be a secretary in a fifth level down from the senior leader, and they’re like, “This is how we’re changing our practices around race.”

Damon Tweedy:

Yeah. I’d say in the healthcare, one way we would know where we’re going in the education piece of it. For years, this topic wasn’t discussed at all, issues around diversity, about race, about health disparities, it wasn’t even on the table. Now it’s being talked about, but it’s any separate silo kinds of courses as alternative to the curriculum, I think we’ll know we’ve gotten somewhere when it’s part of the everyday discussion of every different disease entity that we see, and every time that we see a person we’re seeing that individual through these particular lenses, and it’s just baked into the educational mission, I think that’s when we will know we’ve really gotten it, when it doesn’t have to be a separate conversation, it will be so seamlessly integrated in every patient encounter that we have, every research endeavor that we do that will always be seen through those lenses. I think that’s when we’ll know we really got where we need to go.

Laurita Thomas:

I’m going to key off of Kathy’s word, how do we measure progress? Because I would like to propose, we’ll never get there. The world is constantly changing, the people that live in the world and that we interact with are constantly changing. So, it’s a lifelong journey to learn how to demonstrate the respect, to learn what people’s experiences are and adjust and be flexible and adaptable to them. So I think it would be very, very important that in establishing our aspirational goals, that should be the vision and the passion for which we’re striving. But because change is constant, it’s important to have measurable goals along the way that you can say we have made progress, but the need to say we’re done, we’ll never be done.

Jeff Herring:

Great words, great words. There’s been a feeling articulated, I think, from everyone that’s engaged to some of this work or the focus of the feelings is on exhaustion and being overwhelmed with some of the social justice change agents that often experience, overlay that with the public health experiences that we’re all going through, everything on that. What tips do all of you have for our participants to help deal with the fatigue of this as ongoing work that Laurita said it never ends. How do we keep the energy going for championing this work? We’ll start … Damon, if you could want to give us your thoughts.

Damon Tweedy:

Yeah, I mean, so certainly there’s that balance, so as a mental health professional, I can talk about all the things that need to be done in terms of self care or charging the battery and those sorts of things, which are all extremely important, right? Because it’s very easy to lose sight of things. I think it’s really important, the idea of being present in the moment and just being able to enjoy the moment if what it is and realize that there’s still these other issues, but maybe setting aside a time which … because you can spend all day like consuming things on social media and getting yourself riled up and online, you have to find ways to set aside certain times where it’s just for you and for your family and the things that are important to you. So, all that has been important.

For me though, is also, a shift in mindset is really important because I think for a long time, I would see these conversations as a burden. Like, “Why do I have to do this again?” There’s so many other things that I can do, why this, why that, and I’ve shifted the mindset to realize that there’s a real gift and an opportunity here. I mean, it’s something wonderful about being able to help, expose someone to something that they’ve never reconsidered and then to help them, guide them in a different way. It’s really a privilege for me to be able to have that role, and so the more that I’ve been able to see it that way, it’s really helped with my approach to it. Right?

So I think, for me, that’s been really important thing from the self standpoint. All that being said, there’s still all these larger issues we have to address constantly, right? We can’t ever lose sight, but we have to find pockets of ways to enjoy ourselves, enjoy the moments, and also recognize there’s a gift in being able to help shape the world to a better place, however flawed this world is. Again, it is an ongoing process.

Jeff Herring:

Laurita, thanks Damon. Laurita.

Laurita Thomas:

I’m actually thrilled that people are willing to share their stories of exhaustion. That’s fairly new in this journey, that many of us have been on since the day we were conceived. So I think the actual acknowledgment of that exhaustion and the stories that are told that lead to that are really, really critical to our health, and some of the things Kathy mentioned early on and what Damon has mentioned is important to enhance that resilience that we all need to count on in order to keep tackling the issues again and again and again. We recently had an intergenerational conversation about this and for people that are baby boomers like me, we were raised to be told the stories of what our ancestors and what our elders had experienced, and that although what we’re experiencing is difficult, it just doesn’t care.

Sojourner Truth, make as many trips as she did in order for people to have freedom, then certainly I can make as many trips necessary to help open a door for someone else that’s going to take it to the next level. Now, two generations below the baby boomers, there’s a sense of really, that just makes me angrier because why are we still having to deal with the same things that you did? And so there’s another strategy, another series of strategies related to vision and aspiration and what you want to see and to help people in the process of becoming what we can be, there’s more future focus.

Some of the conversations they have to create their resilience, throughout it all, many of us rely on our spiritual backgrounds or our religion or whatever, if whoever we worship could provide for our communities in that way, then we have a ways to go to accomplish that as well. So I think there are a variety of strategies, and based on your own experiences, your environment, your support systems, your willingness to seek out support when you need it, all of those have to come into play to continue the journey.

Jeff Herring:

Kathy.

Kathy Obear:

When I started thinking about to do some writing about this, there were some women of color and I’m pretty sure it was a woman of color in a disability women of color group that wrote about community care, and I never conceived that self-care was anything beyond the individual, that’s how much whiteness was infusing my idea of self-care. So if just to build on these great ideas, think structurally in your organization. How can you invest in ongoings places, not employee resource groups, but only with places for BIPOC, for Black, indigenous and other folks to come together, do the healing trauma word, how do I thrive in a predominantly white, constantly full of whiteness racist dynamics organization.

And really invest in how do I find liberation and joy in this time, parallel investing in whites to do that work of racist attitudes, behaviors, we’re exhausted, where are we, how do we keep going and do it in ways that no longer spins in guilt judgment fear, but free up all that energy so that we can truly partner with folks of color. So this parallel work of white accountability groups and BIPOC Affinity space could be one structural way for your organization to say, “We are invested in you all, you are doing so much for our organization, we want to support.” First ask what’s needed, but those are very common next steps that many organizations are doing.

Jeff Herring:

Fantastic.

Laurita Thomas:

Just a quick phrase I heard very recently on this journey, “Care is a new competency, and so we have to see the humanity in all of us.”

Jeff Herring:

Great words, great words. I want to thank you, we’ve only got about five minutes. We’ve got some housekeeping at the end, but I want to thank all of you so much, Damon, Laurita, Kathy, for your insights and input. This is important work that we’re doing across the campuses. I think everyone mentioned it as ongoing work, but you have my gratitude and I’m sure Mary Anne’s gratitude for all of this. Just briefly while I’ve still got the time, I just want to mention some of the work of what we’re doing at the University of Utah or those in our institution that are listening to take some of this to action. EDI and human resources have partnered to create an EDI certification program that empowers divisions, offices, schools, colleges, departments, to improve their work culture by taking actionable steps aimed at creating and perpetuating an inclusive, safe and welcoming office space.

The proposed certification will be customizable where areas can pick and choose action items to improve EDI culture for their specific teams. The process takes our campus community one step further in helping to incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion into the day to day culture at the University of Utah. The proposed framework will be divided into three levels by categories that align with EDI Friday Forums, these that we’re on today. The framework will provide our leadership with a starting point as well as room to grow as your teams engage in this work. So, look forward to that, everyone out there, it’s a goal for us to take some of these aspirational ideas and make them into actionable steps.

Thank you all for participating today. Thank you for my colleagues on being part of this wonderful conversation that we’ve had today. With that, I will turn the time back over to Mary Anne.

Mary Ann Villarreal:

Wow. I have to watch this conversation again. You dropped some rich pieces of … not just information, but action. I heard, “Are we ready? I heard that Kathy. I heard when we see it integrated and all we do, Damon, and we need to continue to share stories of exhaustion. They need to be told that and so much more. So I will return to watching this conversation again, thank you so much. I want to say thank you to all of our participants for joining us for another installment of Friday Forums. I hope that you have found this as insightful and the pieces that lay ahead of us, the challenges we meet together.

I also want to thank our incredible teams that make this event possible and our ASL interpreters, Ryan and Claire. Thank you for keeping up with us and making this as an inclusive community. I welcome your feedback, we welcome your feedback. You’ll get a post-survey, and please join us as the next Friday Forum, January 29th, A Call for Racial Healing, which will be moderated by our chief safety officer Marlon Lynch. Thank you all and be well.