Staff Diversity

Institutional Details

  • Region of Country: South
  • City Size: 200,000
  • Institution Size: medium
  • Institution Age:  18 years
  • Role of Author in Institution: Director
  • Building Blocks Topic:

Case Study


 Hiring an openly gay male as a Director in an institution that was culturally negative about alternate life style choices.

What strengths did you draw from?

I had worked with this person eleven years in a different institution and knew he was the right person for the position.  Also I was new to living in the deep south and did not realize how much resistance there was at each level from employees, peers, visitors and the Board of Directors.
How did the challenge present itself?
I asked my upper management team about how they would feel if one of my employees from my prior institution would apply for a position an upper management position at Sci-Port.  I stated that he was openly gay.  I quickly learned that we were pretty much a “don’t ask, don’t tell” institution and that we had no one who was openly gay working here.
What did I try?
I talked to the person that I was interested in hiring and asked if he could use some of his vacation time to come down for two weeks and step into the job.  He would get a feel for the area and the differences and staff would have the opportunity to work with him.
What changes resulted?
The management team loved him.  They thought he was smart, great ideas and exactly the skills that we needed.  I asked them to place a secret ballot on whether I should hire.  It was unanimous that he was the person for the job.
It did take many staff awhile to fully adopt him on the team.  But, after his hire it became safe to be gay and two other staff who had worked here for a long time felt comfortable being themselves at work.  We threw out the “don’t ask, don’t tell” because it had nothing to do with their ability to perform at work as a great member of the team.

What did you learn along the way?
Even though the right answer was so intuitive to me, many people hold on with all of their might to something they have believed for a lifetime.  I can’t be so dismissive of how they feel and believe because just me saying so makes it right with them.  It took time for people to adjust their perceptions and I’m sure there is staff that would prefer to not be inclusive but are aware it isn’t tolerated in the workplace.  I can’t mandate how someone feels no matter how strongly I believe they are wrong.
How did what happened match the goals?
Okay, I wanted it to be a magic moment where everyone say the world like I say it, but it wasn’t.  But, it has opened the doors to a more inclusive workplace.  Staff knows that I want our floor staff to be representative of this community and we seek out employees that help us match this goal.
What would you do differently next time?
For once not much!  I think the smartest thing I did was have the upper level management team vote on hiring.  They had exerted buy-in and it made things much easier.

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