First diversity workshop highlights workplace issues

By Michael Rinaman

The issue of minorities transitioning into the business world took center stage at the “Diversity in the Workplace” workshop this past Tuesday, an event fulfilling many of the recommendations of the Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues .

Alumni and students from the College and graduate schools attended “Diversity in the Workplace: Sharing Knowledge and Promoting Leadership” at the new University of Chicago Graduate School of Business Center in Hyde Park, with events of the evening including a meet-and-greet dinner, welcoming addresses, panel discussions, and a dessert reception.

The conference, organized by the Office for Minority Student Affairs (OMSA), Career and Planning Services (CAPS), and the Alumni Association, was the first effort in what directors hope will become an annual event. It drew inspiration from the previous “Being Black in the Workplace” and “Asians in the Non-Profit Sector” conferences. The Organization of Black Students, Latin American Student Association, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Pan-Asia Solidarity Council, and Student Government Finance Committee also helped in the organization.

“It was certainly a goal that we had to inspire current students to give back to their own communities as they transition into the professional world,” Michael Barin, a co-director of the conference and the programming coordinator at OMSA, said.

Feedback from people at multiple stages in the work world, whether they are undergraduates, graduates, or professionals, helped conference participants understand what experiences others with the same or different ethnic backgrounds have accumulated. Along with this access to personal information, students were afforded the opportunity to network with the alumni and learn about specific interests in their fields of study.

Organizers emphasized the importance of networking, both during college and in the years after graduation. At the dinner, students were given the opportunity to sit down with alumni from a variety of fields and of many ethnicities.

According to Barin, this dinner was organized to randomly assign people to tables that were not divided by ethnicity or by industry. “We just wanted to make sure there was some opportunity during the evening to have some cross-cultural networking, because, while the alumni at the table might not have had the same career interest as the students, we thought that, nonetheless, they would have good advice for the students,” he said.

During the panels, which included one with African-American speakers, one with Pan-Asian speakers, and one with Latino speakers, the issue of the importance of networking or building contacts through mentor relationships arose constantly. The three panels had University alumni from fields spanning the legal, medical, business, and academic worlds responding to questions posed by mediators as well as by students.

The panel format was at the bequest of the students, and was used in order to reiterate the solidarity of specific ethnic communities. During the hour-long sessions the panelists not only related their own experience in the work world, but also gave advice on specific issues that the students brought up.

Organizers said the conference marks a step forward in alumni relations for students of color. “The conference addresses some of the points in the PIMI, and it also was the Office of Minority Affairs wanting to help the student organizations with their efforts at connecting with alumni of their ethnic groups,” Barin said.