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Diversity and equity office offers help to search committees

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - April 9, 2007

Finding the best person for a job while also making sure that all state affirmative action requirements are followed can be a challenge.

But starting in June, UConn’s Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) will offer University-wide orientation sessions for search committees and individuals involved in hiring.

“We can share some of the pitfalls and offer detailed advice on how to cast a broad net,” says ODE Director Dana McGee.

She encourages search committee chairs and others involved in job searches to discuss the process before starting.

The new monthly sessions are intended both for faculty and staff who are serving on a search committee for the first time, and for anyone wishing to learn more about affirmative action requirements and how to conduct a fair and effective search.

The first will take place on Wednesday, June 13, and will last about one and a half hours.

Those interested should sign up by calling 860-486-2943.

Part of the Office of Multicultural and International Affairs, the ODE works with all campuses of the University except the Health Center, which has its own affirmative action office.

McGee says an effective search begins long before the job is advertised. “It’s about networking,” she says.

In certain disciplines, such as math and science, the availability of applicants of color and women is quite limited, McGee says: “As a Research I institution, we’re competing for a very small pool against places like Yale, Michigan, Cornell, Berkeley.”

To be successful in the face of such competition calls for a proactive approach. “You can’t just publish an ad in a newspaper or on a listserv and expect three weeks later to have a diverse pool,” says McGee.

“The state’s affirmative action statute requires state agencies to be proactive and nontraditional in the way they go about recruiting.”

The best searches happen when faculty and staff belong to and are involved with the various national and regional organizations within their discipline or profession, she says.

“You can’t just call, for example, a minority professional association and say ‘we’ve opened a job search, give us your membership list,’” says McGee.

“You need to develop a relationship, so they can trust that you’re bringing their members into a welcoming environment. Without that relationship, they’ll throw your ad in the garbage.”

McGee says affirmative action is applied in an unusual way in Connecticut: It applies only in the recruiting phase.

“The state’s litmus test is: Once the job became available, what did you do to let as many qualified applicants, including applicants from underrepresented populations, know that this job opportunity was available?”

Some proponents, as well as opponents, believe that affirmative action means you have to hire a woman or a minority, she says, but it is actually illegal to make a hiring decision based on race or gender.

What is key is whether an applicant meets the qualifications set forth in the job description.

“Hiring goals are not a quota, but a target for recruitment,” she adds.

“You don’t necessarily have to hire someone who fits these categories.”

As a state agency, the University is required to document its affirmative action efforts. Every search that results in a hire – and promotions, too – must be detailed to the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO).

“State and federal governments place very clear requirements on state agencies with regard to paperwork and how we open a search, how we recruit, how we evaluate the applicant pool, and how we make hiring decisions,” says McGee.

The state has called for state agencies to be more stringent in recording search committees’ recruitment strategies, and if insufficient, asking them to do more instead of approving the search file.

Hanna Prytko is one of two search compliance coordinators who review search files both prior to the interviews, and before an offer is made.

“In general, search committees try hard to do a good job,” she says.

“They know what they’re looking for, but sometimes have a hard time putting it down so we can pass it on to the auditors. When we have to go back to search committees, we generally find they do have all the information that’s needed, and logical reasons.”

In 2006, ODE conducted more than 800 search file reviews.

Up to 500 searches are held each year for faculty, staff, and managerial positions, each of which is reviewed twice.

“People may think the process is paperwork-intensive, that there’s a lot of red tape,” says Prytko, “but we’re here as a resource, to assist search committees and offer them whatever information we can.”

ODE aims to turn the files around promptly so as not to delay the search process. Many are reviewed within a day, and the average is less than two days.

The typical time for a job search, from advertisement to hire, is three months.

A new online search review process was launched in February, in partnership with Human Resources.

Applicant data and rankings are entered online by the search administrator, and the review is conducted by ODE and Human Resources online.

The results are compiled by ODE each year in a comprehensive affirmative action plan.

For the past two years, ODE has received kudos from CHRO for its presentation of the documentation.

“That doesn’t mean CHRO is happy with the diversity of our workforce,” McGee notes, “but they do see a good-faith effort.”

Retention of minority faculty and staff is also key, she says.

“We have to hold onto them. We’ve lost a few to places like Yale and Cornell.”

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