The Great Responsibility of Leading a Diverse Community

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By Dr. Stewart Edelstein

Anyone who lives or works in Montgomery County can attest to the rich diversity of our population. On all scales—from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, economic status and sexual preferences , I have long been proud of our county’s commitment to recognize and embrace the contributions of all residents. And plenty of others are picking up on it too. In a report issued earlier this year, four Montgomery County cities—Germantown, Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, and Rockville– placed in the top ten “Most Ethno-Racially Diverse Cities in the U.S.”

There is great responsibility in holding such a leadership position, especially considering that the U.S. won’t be as diverse as Montgomery County is today for another 30-plus years, according to this New York Times calculator.

To me, it’s personal. At the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), we boast one of the most diverse student populations in all of Maryland’s higher education institutions.

Across our nine university partners, half of the students are the first in their families to go to college, and most come from families with incomes much lower than the county’s $99,000 median household income. USG students like Nadia, Antoine, and Sumaiya—all featured in this video—remind me of the importance of keeping diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of what we do. But there is still much work ahead to eliminate the disparities that exist, especially regarding access and affordability of higher education and career attainment and success for all.

Putting issues of diversity on the table, and more specifically putting equity in the center of decision-making, starts with recognition and conversation. Which is why earlier this fall, I had a unique opportunity to host representatives from the student body, business, education and community organizations, during a one-day retreat and discussion at USG on creating more equitable and culturally competent workplaces, which we appropriately called Diversity by Design.

Diversity by Design 2

At the Universities at Shady Grove, we saw an opportunity to bring this unique cross section of leaders together to talk about one very specific moment of transition: from college graduation to the workforce. Despite major initiatives to address diversity and inclusion in the workforce, there remain significant barriers to entry especially for students of color, with some reports noting that on average African American candidates are 16% less likely to get invited to a job interview, as compared to their white counterparts.[1]

This reality highlights how important and pressing our conversation on workforce diversity is. As my esteemed colleagues from regional businesses reminded us, there is a very real business benefit of promoting a diverse pipeline and intentionally building diversity in the workplace. Sodexo, for instance, trains its hiring managers to seek more gender-diverse talent from new and refreshing places, instead of always hiring through the same schools and job fairs. Why? Because Sodexo discovered that diverse work groups make better decisions.

But, business policies are not the only thing that requires attention. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics projects that students of color will make up the majority of growth in higher education over the next decade. It was clear in our October conversation that institutions that have a diverse and inclusive environment will be better positioned to capitalize on this growth.

At the Universities at Shady Grove, we work collaboratively with our nine university partners to prepare students of all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds for a variety of careers through degree programs, experiential opportunities, and leadership development. At USG, diversity is in our DNA, but there is always more to do at the transition points—attending college and graduating—to ensure that all students have the greatest chance of succeeding in the workplace and in community life.

I believe that what happens here at USG is as important as what happens beyond the degree, which is why we’ve launched a series of conversations, under that headline, on similar topics in the coming months. From STEM education and cybersecurity, to building an entrepreneurial mindset, we believe that the best formula for success beyond college is in a well-rounded education with 21st century skill sets.

This is the start of a broad and inclusive community conversation, and we need all voices at the table to help us shape the future. Learn more and join us at www.shadygrove.umd.edu/Powerof9.

[1]  Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market

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