May 24, 2022
SPOTLIGHTING-Diversity and Inclusion: How to Turn Dialogue into Action with Dr. Kari Bolen Episode 70
We've got to engage in building a robust system of advocacy, and one that really centers on social support. And you can do that with community partners, you can do that internally if you're coming from sort of a post-secondary institution space.
But that really needs to be sort of at the core of it. How we kind of think about supporting the narrative around workforce development needs to be interrogated a bit, how we sort of invite others into that
discussion, and how we encourage bridge-building, especially, if I'm thinking from the context of the college with our empowerment programs, historically, address the needs of our minoritized populations - and what does that support and what does it look like for us to promote collaboration.
The workforce landscape is rapidly changing and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education.
But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?
Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College and host of this
And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.
And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals; more internships, and PCC students in the workforce.
We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us. You, the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.
We believe change happens when we work together and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi.
And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.
When it comes to diversity, how do we find ways to become a part of the solution? Well, this topic is just as layered as you might think. And today, we have PCC's Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Dr. Kari Bolen, to distill this topic down for us. Let's dive in.
Welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo with Pasadena City College. And my co-host here today is Leslie Thompson. Hey Leslie.
We do have a special guest here with us today. She is our Chief Diversity Officer for the college, Pasadena City College, Dr. Kari Bolen. Hi, Dr. Bolen.
Hello, hello? Good morning everyone. I am just pleased to be here.
We're excited. I know I've shared this with you multiple times. I can't-
This is what excitement sounds like.
Yeah, I can't even tell you how many times we've shared about thank you for choosing us. Thank you for choosing us as your family, as your new family, your work family. But we are so thrilled to talk about really the work around diversity, equity and inclusion. What does that mean for the college? What does that mean for employers? What does that mean for us as professionals? And so, if it's okay with you, we'd like to dive right in if that's alright?
Well, I'd like to start with a little background information. If you could tell us a little bit about your education and career path and how you arrived at this particular position and how you chose PCC as your new work family.
Yes, great question. Of course, I've been a huge fan of PCC. PCC has been sort of on my vision board for quite some time now. I've shared in some spaces that I got some roots here in the community where my
grandmother was the first black computer programmer in the administrative office. And that's kind of her claim to fame having worked at PCC at one point at junior college for 30 years. So, we
spent quite a bit of time on campus as we would visit her during the summer months.
And so, I was just over the moon when this opportunity bubbled up to the surface. My career in higher education has been for double digits. I'll just leave it like that. And I really kind of started out with an interest in law. And when my senior year came up and I was applying to law schools and all that good stuff, I realized that that was just not my calling in life, that I needed to engage with individuals, and that in particular, around justice.
I had a very interesting sort of upbringing having resided in communities where we were sort of the only and lonely. I identify as African American. And that really kind of was a jumpstart to my own sort of racial identity development. And so, I didn't have the language for it then, but once I got it, I was certainly using it, and wanted to
learn more - to deepen my understanding of my own identity development and that of others.
And so, that was kind of a precursor to this role. I've worked in a number of capacities: disability services, student activities, alumni affairs, residential education, but nothing quite gives me the same sense of joy and completion as diversity affairs.
And so, I'm excited to be in that role, in this particular capacity right now. And I've had some phenomenal mentors that have helped me to sort of get to this place that I'm in today as the Chief Diversity Equity
Inclusion Officer. Inaugural - I like to say that that's my claim to fame, is that it's an inaugural position.
You're the first one and we're so happy you're here.
Yes. First but not the last.
Well, I think that as we grapple around or think about, I should say, as we think about our efforts as a division, as economic and workforce development ... Leslie and I have had these conversations around how do we best engage employers in this work with the college?
Because for us, I mean, we're getting quite a bit of inquiry on companies, corporations, small business, medium size ... any size business really - coming to us and saying, how do we do this although
this is not new? But how do we become better employers around diversity, equity and inclusion? How do we change our culture, our company culture, how do we ... et cetera, et cetera. And you think about all the things that they talk about.
You know, for us, it's we're kind of like in this limbo of how might that work? What might that look like for employers to engage with an institution like ours to help facilitate those conversations and efforts within their organization. And just thinking about ideas, what might be you think some thoughts around that?
That's I mean, a really good question. I think the first piece that I might ask of employers is really to begin by taking a deeper examination of their motives and goals around diversity. It's in some spaces, can be seen as kind of a fad. Like it's kind of something that we're supposed to be doing.
You need to know why DE&I initiatives are critical for your business and for your organization. And if your answer is, "Well, I don't want my company to implode from a scandal," well, that's not good enough. You need to find something aspirational and sort of start building towards that. And away from sort of diversity as a box that you check off.
And I think we have such an awesome opportunity to do that. There are communities that have in this particular season that where now,
they've been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, for example. And for them, it has posed some really traumatic challenges to their economic wellbeing, stability, and mobility. And these communities more often than not are communities of color, are also part of sort of occupations that are at greater risk now of elimination as a result of where we're at technologically, and so forth. We're kind of seeing sort of the globalization of different work industries and all that good stuff.
And so, these types of disruptions as you might call it are really demanding not only new skills, but kind of new concepts of workers in workplace. And so, training is so incredibly important when we're thinking about how we're wanting to sort of mitigate the challenges
and barriers for our students, for individuals outside of post-secondary education in kind of this shift that we're at right now.
Even thinking about sort of the standard 40-hour workweek, it's kind of disintegrating as we're sort of in this period of sort of 24 access to, and demand for information and work and services. It kind of begins to sort of reshape what work requirements look like.
And so, kind of in that same vein, employers have to make a commitment to today's workers, and in various ways - in ways that they didn't have to before. And so, that means sort of investing and
innovating teaching and learning models, talked about training models - again, that supports the identities and lived experiences of our workers, models that foster a racially just workplace; that really
should be at the forefront of today's conversations within our industries - professional development and policymaking for employers and sort of what that looks like and centering equity there.
I mean, we have to turn sort of dialogue into action and go beyond sort of this symbolic approach to DEI as it relates to the workforce, and address some of those challenges.
I love quotes and not often do I actually remember who says it, but I can remember a quote. But this kind of thinking through the quotes that kind of move me, I made sure to make sure that I give due credit to Booker T. Washington, who was an educator, was an author, and an activist, and wrote more than a century ago that "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, is by the obstacles by which one has overcome while trying to succeed."
And so, it's really important for us to understand that as I'm looking forward to talking a little bit more about that economic liberation and economic justice has not really been in existence for everyone. And some may argue still is not.
So, when we kind of reflect on in your question on sort of workforce development, as kind of a gateway to economic opportunities, we want to understand that historical political, societal subtext. And I believe that employers have the obligation to understand that.
And so, when you're thinking about pushing for increased recruitment in historically minoritized population, you're thinking about anti biased training for individuals from the CEO to the male carrier. And you're thinking about how sort of you sponsor sort of non-white employees for high potential leadership development programs. It's important for you to have sort of that historical context to help drive
some of that.
And also, to be abreast as to the research, what is the research showing? I mean, it's showing that that black African Americans are less likely than their white peers to be hired, to be developed, and ultimately, to be promoted. And that their sort of lived experience in the workplace is worse even than that of other peers of color.
So, having that content knowledge, I think is incredibly important and would behoove our employers to prioritize as they're thinking about their own sort of PD during this particular time and particular climate.
I love that answer, first of all. And I love the part about dialogue into action. Just yesterday, we were talking to an employer and we were saying kind of a discussion around what a DEI employer program would be that PCC would partner with them. And we talked about the need to engage in meaningful dialogue around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Not just the importance, benefits, and necessities of fostering it within a particular culture, but also, almost the moral imperative. Like in order for it to be sustainable, it has to be internally driven and socially just. And just like you said, it has to intrinsic. And it needs to be built into and taken into consideration all the context that we speak about; the historical context, the researching the realities of inequities as they exist. So, that's a great answer.
I would like to kind of go back a little bit and ask about - so we talked about this being a new role, and I wanted to raise the question of how do you prioritize your initiatives? So, I know you have a lot of stuff to
No pressure, no pressure. But we want to be engaging because we do feel strongly that kind of workforce development is kind of like a gateway for mobility and equity. And we want to be an integral part of that. And we want to understand our roles too. We want to understand barriers that we may be able to eliminate. And also, an honest dialogue about barriers that we may contribute to.
So, kind of thinking about that as the role of the Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, all the initiatives on campus, all the things that you need to weigh in at a federal state and institutional level: regulations, norms, and all of this - how do you determine where to focus first and where do you think you'll focus your energy first? And the second part of that is how can EWD partner with you?
I appreciate the question, and I also appreciate sort of you recognizing the breadth of the role, because it really is kind of a Jack of all trades. And I mean the other part of that piece is a master of none. The hope is that you are a master of several of those things, right? Because you
are having to your point, to have a competency and change management, a competency in organizational development, a competency and critical race theory, psychology and law to a greater
And of course, I'm not certainly saying that I have mastery in all those areas, but you do have to have sort of a broad stroke knowledge of all in order to adequately, I would say, assess the work and ultimately, make recommendations towards greater equity.
So, I consider my role as a diversity strategist, and really what that means is that I kind of stand in a position to kind of facilitate the development of diversity as not just an initiative, but really, as a lens, right through which we do goal-setting, action, and measuring of success. At least that's how I see it.
And a scholar that I tend to lean on quite often is Author Damon Williams. He speaks to great length to the role of the CDO and just overall strategic diversity and leadership. And he talks about its primary function being to sort of explore ways to improve organizational culture and campus communities, quality of life for all constituencies. That's really kind of at the core of it. That's kind of like in a nutshell.
And that really is quite a feat, as you mentioned. So, again, I really appreciate that sort of acknowledgement because everyone wants something or needs something different. That's just what equity work is about. It's not equality work that's giving everybody the same thing. But it's the equity work, meeting folks where they're at and giving them what they need to be successful, and that might look different across the spectrum.
And so, we're really having to kind of evaluate the environment to which sort of multiple individuals from a cross-section of backgrounds are a part of, and then thinking through creating intervention sort of tools to make the environment conducive for all. And that's in part why I don't do this work in a vacuum, I don't do it in a silo. This work is done in community, and it's also process-driven work.
And really, the reason why it's so important and I think for me, so rewarding to do it in community, is because diversity benefits everyone. I mean, the entire community has a stake in diversity efforts. And in my role, the primary focus is really to enable sort of a multipronged approach to meeting those diversity aims and doing so sort of in community thinking through concrete and measurable outcomes, thinking through what does a cultural shift or transformation look like, and who does it impact? And who's at the table to make those recommendations and share that narrative.
And so, I've been engaging in a listening tour since my start in November, really to do just that. Really sort of identify really the response to that very question that you posed, and identify sort of
where are the deepest gaps and where are the untapped resources, and what might be sort of our best approaches to addressing them.
So, I mean, I'm already thankful for the partnership and collaboration that I've had with EWD in thinking through and centering really the equity conversation, creating platforms like this, and inviting me to
the platform to kind of sort of highlight and elevate the conversation around diversity and inclusive excellence.
And I think creating more sort of conversational communities and identifying sort of in community what those needs are based on the constituencies that we represent, is a large part of sort of what that partnership can look like and should look like moving forward.
Do you think - and this might be a loaded question. I'm wondering as an institution, as we do this work, as we shift mindsets and culture and processes and policies and really addressing those barriers that we can have control over, some of the barriers that we don't have control over outside of our building here, outside of our campus, what could we do outside of this college to address those barriers and or help remove them?
What happens first? I mean, we're part of other economic development agencies as partners: the Workforce Development Board, the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, LAEDC, et cetera, etcetera. And we do a lot of work on really the skills development for new talent, upskilling the existing talent. We do a lot of work around that.
But I feel as though, we're missing the fact that we're not seeing it through the lens. Sometimes, we don't see it through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Like we're so concerned about - and we should be, and not that we're not. We want to put more folks in the workforce, build the local economy, get the skills that folks need to have that upward mobility.
So, we're doing a lot of fostering and cultivating and nurturing, but sometimes, I don't think that we are intentional in our work about
seeing it through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I wonder if there's outside barriers that you see that you think that you might say this is something that we should probably focus on as an institution outside of these buildings.
Yeah, no, that's a good question. It reminds me of an article that I was reading and actually, a colleague of mine had sent it to my attention. It was a report that was on employment trends and it found that 2020 presented greater challenges for employers looking to expand their workforce.
It was talking about sort of as the country's labor market is kind of near full employment and job openings are remaining at high levels, that sort of thing. And it gave sort of an example of sort of the industry around technology and technology hiring. The report revealed from, I guess, a survey of IT hiring decision-makers that around, I think it was 86% reported challenges finding skilled workers.
But it was interesting that I got that article and I'd just left a conference where the keynote speaker - it was an information technology conference - had just shared that there had been some recent research done concerning R1 universities that showed that they were graduating black students at twice the rate that leading tech companies were hiring them.
So, my question was like, so why is that? And so, I think that EWD really positions colleges to be responsive to employers, but also, to the needs of individuals entering into today's labor market. There's a disconnect, I mean, with just the little bit of information that I just
shared with you. And so, I think for me, my response to that would be we've got to engage in building a robust system of advocacy and one that really centers on social support.
And you can do that with community partners, you can do that internally if you're coming from sort of the post-secondary institution space, but that really needs to be sort of at the core of it. How we kind
of think about supporting the narrative around workforce development needs to be interrogated a bit, how we sort of invite others into that discussion, and how we encourage bridge-building.
Especially if I'm thinking from the context of the college with our empowerment programs, historically, address the needs of our minoritized populations, and what does that support and what does it look like for us to promote collaboration, and what can that impact sort of look like in response to this sort of competitive 21st-century workforce?
You know, Salvatrice, you and I have had some good conversation around what does it look like for us to increase efforts around integrating our credit and non-credit workforce training programs to really, again, better meet sort of the shifting need around the labor workforce and looking at our non-credit courses, and the labor market demands and thinking through maybe even new non-credit programs and employer certificates, especially in light of where we are.
So, I think the other piece, as far as support and partnership and coalition building, is funding. I mean, I know that that's probably the tip of everyone's tongue, but especially where we're at now over the next several years, depending on the industry that you're in, budget
cuts is kind of, I mean, a norm. And they'll certainly impact sort of community colleges, for sure; ability to invest in new workforce programs and even maintain existing ones.
But I think the other piece are that community college workforce training programs, what they'll want to sort of think about is how best to sort of maximize our online and remote instruction. So, when we're
thinking about what does support look like? How do we continue to address some of the equity gaps, whether it be digital or so forth, that's one piece; thinking about sort of traditional occupational programs and how they rely on in-person, hands-on instruction, particularly in the trades, and how colleges will likely have to come up with creative ways to help workforce training faculty adopt new ways of teaching.
So, yeah, again, I'm probably sharing more issues than I am solutions, but it ultimately is us kind of thinking through what does that infrastructure of care and support look like for one another, especially during sort of this twin pandemic, and what does our investment look like?
I'm thinking about our work-based learning approaches and apprenticeships, internships, and kind of our co-op education. You know, you think about sort of how financial barriers often prevent our low-income students from accessing those high-quality internships, many of which are really unpaid, traditionally unpaid.
So, what does it look like for us to create sort of those community partners, with employers who are sort of holding fast to interrupting that and providing competitive salary options for internships so that
we can address some of those critical concerns for particular populations.
And so, we have to take sort of a targeted intervention approach to the work. And again, as mentioned, we do it in community.
You mentioned that you raised more issues than solutions, and I think that that's probably because there are more issues than solutions. And going back to what you said earlier about action, I'm wondering, how
do we move the work from just talk around DEI into actual action. Like we talked about engaging, we need to engage students, faculty, staff into the meaningful efforts around DEI. We need to engage employers.
I'm glad you mentioned our work-based learning initiative and the need to get employers to agree to paid internships, because that is some of the work that's being done right now. And within all the pillars of EWD, we're trying to being intentional with the programming and looking at it in a different lens.
Thinking about what you said earlier about giving everyone the same thing is not equity. Kind of understanding where folks are meeting them where they are and giving them what they need, that's when we think about being intentional in our programming, that's what we talk about.
But how do we move into action? Like how do we start moving those bricks? Like what's your plan for the area of your purview, and then
so that we can model that in our own efforts to start taking action too?
Great question. I think first there, I mean, really needs to be kind of a shift in our understanding of why diversity matters. I know that much of the research shows that a more diverse community improves learning, problem-solving, enhances research - you can just kind of go down sort of the laundry list, I don't have to convince you all.
But so, I mean, we need to start setting kind of our values in that work, and that includes a commitment to financial and human resources around the work. So, that's certainly a major piece. I
remember following the events of May 25th, seeing organizations just, I mean, just move quickly towards DEI efforts, whether it was around hiring efforts, or as I mentioned, providing more resources to go towards particular PD training and that sort of thing.
I mean, there was real momentum following those events. And for some of them, they've been sustainable and for others, they've been quite symbolic, and that's what we want to get away from. So, that's why for me, I mean, one of the biggest pieces is identifying sort of where do we set our values as it relates to DEI?
And one of the reasons why for me this position was so attractive is that our fearless leader, Superintendent and President, Dr. Endrijonas decided to place this position at the executive level. That's not universal. And that in and of itself sent a messaging around the priority of this work.
I think we also need to ... in thinking about sort of moving the work from talk to action, that we need to sort of change the narrative around, what does it mean to center diversity inclusion within the workplace in particular, and even on college campuses. Again, it not being sort of that diversity check box - we got X amount of individuals from Y group, we've met the diversity quota, et cetera.
And in addition to that, you'll also hear statements even on higher education campuses that say we care about diversity, but we want to make sure we're not lowering the bar. And if I had a dollar for every time someone said that, my goodness, I wouldn't have to show up to work today. And that's really discouraging.
You know, we need to make sure that we have a shared understanding and a shared sense of responsibility and responsibility around this work. This is not my work, it's our work and I'm privileged to be a
part of it. But we really need to sort of be in concert with recognizing the vast benefits to diversity and then creating those conversational communities that are driving those changes, and then holding one another accountable.
I honestly need to have like accountability t-shirt company, because I would wear that everyday. Accountability is absolutely crucial. It's key.
That's key. It's absolutely key.
Absolutely. It's the cornerstone of this work in particular. And I would argue much of just work in general, you're not going to be successful or even meet your bottom line without an accountability piece as part of it. So, when I think about shifting from conversation to action, the accountability piece continues to sort of bubble up to the surface.
In my role right now, I think I'm spending much of my time doing community building. Much of what I'm doing actually is in around diversity mapping. And it affords us kind of this reflexive opportunity to do some self-inquiry. And kind of think about our campus structure and how it's grounded in diversity and what that looks like in terms of values and principles and goals and outcomes.
And most especially, I would say, resource allocation. And so, if I'm thinking about how EWD and others can kind of get on board with that, I would almost encourage other departments and divisions and entities to do just that, to do their own self-inquiry and do their own
diversity mapping, and think through what their diversity efforts look like, their programs and courses and curriculum and so forth, and who are they impacting? Who are they leaving out?
And as I mentioned before, identifying what those larger gaps are and where some of those untapped resources are, and then thinking very intentionally and critically about creating infrastructure to either address those and or to do some dismantling. There's nothing wrong with doing some dismantling as long as you've got a plan for rebuilding.
It's probably necessary.
Yeah, I would think so.
I mean, if you want to build a robust system of advocacy, it's going to be necessary to dismantle some stuff.
That's absolutely right. That's absolutely right. And that's a hard pill to swallow, especially for peers of ours that have been doing it the same way for quite some time. That's why, as I mentioned, us identifying that shared understanding and appreciation for diversity not in rhetoric, but in its actual application, is really important. It's kind of a step one.
Yeah. That's awesome. I mean, I can see that for sure being the case because we hear it all the time: "Well, that's how we've always done it." Any given process, like folks in general have a problem with change and process changes and things like this, and this is a major shift in thinking, and it's a major shift in perspective. Particularly, when people don't see themselves as maybe part of ... I don't want to say part of the problem, but you know what I'm saying? They don't see themselves-
No, no, you should say that.
They're part of the problem. They don't see themselves as part of the problem. It's not enough to just do no harm anymore. Now, you have
to actively do something right.
That's right. You want to be part of the solution.
Part of the solution. It's not okay just to do nothing anymore. And that's a challenge to change that.
Yeah, I think the other piece that as you were speaking, just made me think of it - I think the other sort of obstacle or hurdle is diversity fatigue. It really is a real thing.
It is, it is.
And you can probably ask any other diversity practitioner. I mean, you become exhausted around discussions of diversity and inclusion, especially if you're in a particular industry where I mean, there is no movement. And so, again, we have to kind of, sort of help people think about and talk about diversity differently. And I think that only sort of begins by us kind of sitting at the table and sort of unpacking what it means to us individually. And that's where that self examination comes in.
And to your point, acknowledging that sort of braze in racism and sexism and so forth that exists within us and or within our communities and so forth and wanting to be a part of sort of that shift
and that transformation, and that change is really step one.
I was part of a conversation the other day, and I appreciated what a colleague had said. They were talking about black economics, and they shared out that you can't have black economic liberation without having black education justice. And then you can't have black education justice without having again black ... or rather having black liberation.
So, I appreciate that. That if we're thinking about liberation of communities, it requires economic justice and it requires educational justice. And so, that's really the nexus. That's really the piece that needs to be across industries, sort of at the forefront of how we're thinking about addressing DEI concerns and or centering it within sort of the workforce conversation - is that that liberation is beyond the equity piece. And it's looking at justice across the board.
And yeah, so if we're looking for economic stability and success and prosperity for our colleagues and peers and students and so forth, it doesn't happen without that. It doesn't happen without that educational justice. It doesn't happen without justice in a number of different areas.
So, this work, I mean, it is bone marrow deep - it is bone marrow deep. And so, for our colleagues that see it as just terminology that we're using right now, because of the particular national global climate or a fad or something that's not as important as it needs to be, or some sort of structural piece, like let's just make sure we have X amount of representation - they are sorely mistaken,
Right. And they're not going to move forward. And they're not going to help us get to that important nexus for liberation and education. You're not going to get there unless folks get there with you, right?
Thank you so much, Dr. Bolen.
It sounds like you have a good charge in front of us, a positive charge, and all of us need to just have to do so much work in collaborating and doing this work together. And know that you have a partner here at PCC, and we look forward to working closer with you.
But thank you so much for spending your morning with us. And Dr. Bolen, if we have audience or members who'd like to get in touch with you, can they do that? Can they connect with you?
Absolutely. I mean, that is one thing for sure that I make myself accessible and available. So, please encourage your listeners to get in touch with me. I have some coffee chats coming up. If you're a member of the Pasadena community. If you're not, you can find my phone number online, please reach out. I mean, I'd love to hear your
Thank you so much. We'll put your contact information in the show notes. Thank you for listening, and we'll catch you at the next episode.
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