During the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s quarterly Q&A on March 28, the UMB community learned the results of a personnel review that was undertaken after town halls last year sparked conversations on institutional diversity and inclusion.
University President Jay A. Perman, MD, began the session at the BioPark’s Discovery Auditorium reminding attendees of the forum on race that was held at UMB on May 6, shortly after the death of Freddie Gray and accompanying city unrest. At a follow-up discussion on July 28, the University laid out the steps recommended by the Diversity Advisory Council to improve career and professional advancement at UMB, cultural competency, and community service and engagement.
“Today we’ll talk about one of the three issues in particular: career and professional advancement,” Perman said to the BioPark audience, “and what our next steps are in terms of ensuring equity and opportunity for all of UMB’s employees.”
Roger J. Ward, EdD, JD, MPA, chief accountability officer and vice president for operations and planning, led the subsequent 45-minute presentation. He said a rigorous review of UMB’s personnel actions over the last three years, which was spurred by the town halls, showed no significant differences in positive personnel actions by race, ethnicity, or gender. A positive personnel action is any action that increases an employee’s responsibilities, wages, or benefits or that comes with other valuable perks.
The analysis did reveal a deficiency, however. It showed that about three-quarters of UMB’s employees — across all schools and units, staff and faculty alike — had no positive personnel actions at all over the study’s three-year period, indicating a lack of upward mobility.
“There are far too many people with no positive personnel actions, and that’s something of concern to us as an institution,” Ward said of UMB, whose workforce is 60 percent female and 40 percent minority. “We can’t continue to recruit and retain the greatest talent, the deans tell us, without showing a path for growth.”
Ward explained four steps UMB will take to “create a culture of opportunity.”
- Create career advancement pathways. Developing these career pathways will provide employees a clear route to advancement. Starting its focus for career advancement at the lowest-paid positions — housekeepers, security guards, and veterinary facility aides, which employ the highest shares of under-represented minorities — Human Resource Services (HRS) will construct pathways that provide structure and opportunity for employees to move into jobs that have greater, and broader, growth potential.
- Expand and clarify career development. Competencies for every job at UMB will be identified so that employees will know what skills and training they need to move into a job above their own. A training system will be implemented this year to help employees master these competencies and help their supervisors provide appropriate development opportunities. HRS is planning to add a staff person dedicated to coordinating this suite of career development efforts.
“[If] I’m a housekeeper or I’m a security guard, and I apply for the next position up, for security guard II, for instance,” said Ward, “and I don’t get the position, I’m told I don’t have the necessary skills, the necessary experience. It’s not clear to me what those skills are and what exactly that experience is. We have to do a better job as an institution to clearly lay out in the Performance Development Program [evaluation] process that these are the things you need to do if you are interested in advancing your career.”
- Create an Office of the Ombudsperson. The ombudsperson will help employees with strategies and tactics to resolve conflict, improve their work climate, and enhance job satisfaction. Operating out of the Office of Accountability and Compliance, the ombudsperson will collaborate with HRS and its career advancement coordinator to train supervisors and employees in conflict management and workplace civility, so that these skills might be strengthened Universitywide.
- Administer a campus climate survey. Overseen by Gallup, the confidential survey will give UMB leadership an honest, accurate snapshot of the University on topics such as diversity and inclusion, job satisfaction, and campus environment, helping UMB pursue its “best place to work and learn” goals.
Matthew Lasecki, SPHR, associate vice president of HRS, told the BioPark audience how he has been trying to make career advancement more “feasible” since coming to UMB last year. “How can you make it so people can take advantage of it and use it,” he said. “We have a working model in place, so our next step is talking to our customers to find out if this model will work for them. We started our focus at the lowest pay grades because that is where the greatest need is, and then we’ll work through the rest of the University positions.”
Ward, who joined UMB in March 2009 as the associate vice president for academic and student affairs before rising to chief academic officer and interim dean of the Graduate School (2011), to UMB’s first chief accountability officer (2012), VP for academic affairs (2013), and VP of operations and planning (2015), said an opportunity for growth was certainly one of the questions he raised in the interview process.
“I hear that question all the time. Am I going to go there and get stuck? We have to make room for advancement,” he said.
Perman warned that everyone can’t get a promotion every three years “because we have to run things in an affordable and a prudent manner. We have to get to a number that’s fair, but also to a number that’s manageable.”
Ward said a benchmark study undertaken by HRS would help to determine what that number should be.
“We want to make sure individuals have a very reasonable opportunity and a fair and equitable opportunity to be successful,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
To read more about UMB’s town halls, visit http://www.umaryland.edu/president/q-and-a-with-the-president/qa-archives/.