Personal Reflections: An Evolutionary Understanding of Diversity
By Hosea Long
Assistant Vice Chancellor
Chief Human Resources Officer
Diversity is a term that has come to mean different things to different people. Ironically, the diversity of the individuals describing the term usually results in diverse meanings. I have worked in the human resources field in Arkansas state government for more than 34 years, with 27 of those years in higher education. Prior to coming to higher education, I worked in a variety of state agencies. In the ‘70s and ‘80s there was not a lot of discussion about diversity; instead, affirmative action was the most discussed methodology for increasing workforce diversity.
One of the jobs I held in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was affirmative action coordinator in the governor’s office. In that position, I was responsible for assisting state agencies in developing affirmative action plans. I look back on those experiences and recall how the focus was primarily on increasing the numbers of African Americans and women in under-utilized positions – those in which their numbers were low. Suffice it to say, there was a significant amount of under-utilization back then. There was not a lot of appreciation for, or thought given to, the value of adding variety to ways of thinking and carrying out the myriad duties that more women and minorities would bring.
As I moved around in state government and became involved in higher education human resources, I became more aware of all the qualities the term diversity meant in defining the workforce. One thing that truly opened my eyes was the Hudson Institute Study on Workforce 2000 that I read while working in human resources with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the late ‘80s. The study projected that by the year 2000, more women and people of color (African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc.) would be in the U.S. workforce. Although UALR was ethnically diverse at the time, I recall thinking that for any employer in an off-the-beaten-path state like Arkansas, the prophetic words of the Hudson Institute Study applied to a point much farther down the road than the year 2000. After all, the extent of the diversity that I had seen involved mainly white people and black people. The one thing I had yet to become aware of, even after reading the Hudson Institute Study, was the unseen diversity that all people bring to the workforce regardless of their ethnicity, race, or gender.
When I came to work at UAMS in 1990, I realized in very short order that the projections discussed in the Hudson Institute Study were already a reality in my home state. This was the first time, after being born, reared and educated in Arkansas, that I had experienced firsthand such diversity in one location. I saw it in the variety of human hues and textures, vocal utterings and culturally based behaviors displayed in this coming together of people from around the world. In 1990, UAMS had fewer than 6,000 employees, but it was already a global gathering place for people dedicated to improving the health of the people of Arkansas.
Shortly after coming to work for UAMS, I began having discussions with my boss, Bob Wheeler, chief human resources officer at the time, about developing a diversity process for UAMS. Through Bob’s leadership, the Office of Human Resources presented a proposal to then Chancellor Harry P. Ward, M.D. Dr. Ward endorsed the proposal, and we have had an institutional diversity process in place since 1996, with Carmelita Smith being our first manager of diversity.
I have seen numerous diversity programs over the years and many starts and stops at continually providing cultural competency training and education to our UAMS family. Oftentimes, I find myself somewhat frustrated that we have not made more progress in developing a broad institutional consciousness about diversity which continually strives to include, without hesitancy, all of the diversity our workforce represents in meeting the needs of our patients, students, and employees. I have to remind myself that improvements to the human condition take time, and it is necessary to put improvements in place by making changes designed for the long term. In all honesty, I am convinced that one of our greatest strengths at UAMS is the diversity our workforce represents.
When I look at many of our academic departments and institutes which have been and are headed by individuals who are not native to the United States, I see how diversity works and works well. The banquet table of ideas provides greater opportunities for successful outcomes when the ideas come from a diverse group and are flavored by different life experiences. I’m convinced of that when I look back over the last 12 years of my being successfully treated by Dr. Bart Barlogie and his diverse team of faculty, researchers and staff that comprise the Multiple Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy (MIRT).
I received my diagnosis of multiple myeloma from Dr. Barlogie on March 12, 2000. Since that time, he and his team of knowledgeable, skilled and caring researchers and health care providers from vastly different backgrounds have worked diligently to bring me to this point. I have experienced 12 years of remission and look forward to many more. Don’t tell me that diversity doesn’t contribute to the common good. I think I am but one example of proof that UAMS has to offer. Diversity adds value when we acknowledge it, accept it, celebrate it, and provide opportunities for all of its human bearers to optimally contribute to organizational success.