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Revealing a Real Community Need

The ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace’ Certificate draws more than 120,000 participants
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By Keith Morelli ’78 | Muma College of Business

IF YOU TOOK ALL THE PEOPLE who registered for the USF Muma College of Business “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace” certificate offering this spring, you could fill Raymond James Stadium. Twice.

More than 135,000 people signed up to take the virtual program, eclipsing by 10-fold any other online certificate program offered by the business college. Those who successfully completed the program, at press time nearly 63,000 registrants, received a digital certificate as well as a Credly badge they can display on LinkedIn.

The theme of the instruction addressed an issue that cuts across all disciplines and is at the forefront of the culture of American commerce today: How to create and grow a workforce that includes differing races, religions, ages, genders and sexual orientations, and persons with disabilities. Such a culture not only improves broad societal issues, but it can also help companies develop novel business practices, increase revenue and improve performance.

A team of USF faculty from across the university developed the content in the certificate modules and leaders from Jabil and the Tampa Bay Lightning helped recruit guest speakers, which included former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks and Lightning CEO Steve Griggs.

University administrators felt the time was right for such a program to lead the way in making corporate landscapes more diversified and inclusive.

“Having a good diversity and inclusion plan is the right thing to do and it makes business sense,” says Moez Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean of the USF Muma College of Business, who led the effort to launch the seven-week certificate program offered free of charge, thanks to the sponsorships of the Lightning and Jabil.

“As a business school, we want to educate future and current employees at all levels on tools and practices that can help companies build and implement sustainable diversity, equity and inclusion programs,” Limayem says. “We, like our partners at Jabil and the Lightning, strongly believe that companies must examine the business case for inclusion and understand how it is relevant to their businesses as it can be a competitive differentiator in many ways when it is part of the corporate culture.”

Within weeks of announcing the program, more than 100,000 corporate executives, small business owners and educational leaders and others signed up to take the intensive course. As the start of the program approached, that number swelled. Enrollees represented 15 countries, including the United States, which led all nations with the most online registrations.

“That is an impressive number, but I don’t think it’s surprising that so many people signed up, given what is happening in our country and across the world with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” says Alexis Mootoo, ’10, MA ’12 and PhD ’17, assistant vice president in USF’s Student Success unit. She, along with Limayem and leaders from the partner organizations, helped outline the journey participants would take in shaping each two-hour module.

“It’s very exciting and encouraging that so many people signed up for this program,” she says, “indicating there is strong desire to be part of the solution.”

The instruction ranged from emotional intelligence, to stereotypes and unconscious bias, to recruitment and retention. The final module discussed a sustainable business model that embraces inclusion and diversity.

Mark Mondello, ’87, is CEO of Jabil, a global software corporation with estimated revenue of $30 billion this year. While he says the company is diverse, there always remains room for improvement.

“We have been on this journey for a long time,” he says. The death of George Floyd, starkly portrayed on video and in a summer of public demonstrations, shook the nation, and Mondello saw the need to focus on diversity at Jabil. “I looked at our organization. We had done a good job with diversity and inclusion, but boy we could do more. We lacked in recognizing unconscious bias and a basic understanding of others.

“We all suffer from some unconscious social bias,” he says. “We have made good progress, but we have so much more to do. We want everybody in the workplace, our workforce, to understand and truly believe their true self. If our employees are working hard and have the company’s success in mind, they can be their true selves.”

Jabil created a task force to look at diversity in its workplace.

“If we have an environment across Jabil where everyone can be himself or herself, we are going to thrive,” he says. “We are a large global organization and we have to make sure everybody is comfortable being himself or herself.”

Derrick Brooks, former Hall of Fame linebacker for the Buccaneers who now is an executive for the Tampa Bay Lightning, said he learned early in his career to empathize with others on the team, to respect each individual’s background and story. The result was a team that played as one unit, where members of special teams were just as important to winning as the quarterback and corner back. It was a special attitude, he says, and that team won a Super Bowl title.

“As you enter these modules, you control one thing, your attitude,” Brooks told the attendees during the first session. “If attitudes are contagious, is your attitude worth catching?”

Identifying biases and treating everybody with respect are good first steps, said Valerie Alexander, an author and CEO of The Dragonfly Firm, a private consulting company she founded in 2016. Diversity in the workplace must engage everyone, she said, especially workers packing unconscious biases that need to be recognized.

“When it comes to biased behavior, your intentions don’t matter,” she said. “It’s time to opt in, lean in. Get your whole body and brain into this. Entire participation is required to make progress. None of us can opt out.”

The “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace” certificate program was not the first for the Muma College of Business. In 2020, just after COVID-19 swept the nation, Limayem spearheaded a free certificate program on “Post-Crisis Leadership.” The thought was to help everyone who suddenly found themselves working reduced hours, working remotely, laid off, furloughed or just looking for a liferaft. The program, also offered free of charge (certificate programs typically cost attendees up to $3,000 or more) drew nearly 10,000 registrants and the college repeated it later in the year.

The college’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management offered a similar certificate for those in the hospitality industry, which suffered immensely through the pandemic. The latest step to engage with the college’s business partners and continue its mantra of being a resource for the community was a certificate on diversity.

Implementing diversity, equity and inclusion policies into the workplace is just the beginning of building a culture that will benefit business and society, Limayem said.

“This is a journey, it is not a destination,” Limayem told enrollees in his opening remarks. “We do not have all the answers, but we have the energy and willingness to work with you.

“Our goal is to help you and your organizations move through that journey so you can improve diversity, equity and inclusion in your organizations. We are doing it because it is the right thing to do.

“The challenge to all of us: Starting tomorrow, reach out to a person in your workplace or school or neighborhood who is different from you and promote or hire that person,” Limayem said. “We are the CEOs of our own companies, our own lives.”

Many Helping Hands Make for Success

By Brenda Carolina Santos | Muma College of Business intern

TO DEVELOP AN EFFECTIVE “DIVERSITY, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace” certificate program, organizers forged a unique partnership involving university faculty and administrators and executives of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jabil, which served as sponsors. This collaboration made the program — drawing more than 120,000 registrants — a reality.

While outside business partners were a big part of the machinery, it really took teamwork within the university, as offices and disciplines across USF came together in support.

“This is my first time working collaboratively under One USF and it’s quite amazing to see how this has spiraled into this exciting conversation,” says Allison Crume, associate vice president and dean of Undergraduate Studies, who took part in the project. “Being able to create a safe space where people can come together to address this is also exciting.”

Appointed to the position less than a year ago, Crume pointed out the importance of advocacy in creating the seven-week certificate program.

“Everyone’s role is to be an advocate,” she says. “It’s everyone’s job.”

Alexis Mootoo, the assistant vice president of resource management and development in USF’s Student Success unit, was one of the leading figures in the development of the program. She also served as moderator, leading panel discussions during many of the modules.

“It wasn’t until I spoke with Dean Moez [Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean of the Muma College of Business] that I was able to connect the dots,” Mootoo says.

She says the program illuminated the path for organizations seeking to establish diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. “It is important that we give feedback in order to effectively move forward, even beyond the certificate program.”

Topics in the program ranged from uncovering unconscious biases, to having conversations that may be uncomfortable with employees, to recruitment/retention and community outreach. These topics led to opportunities for speakers and participants to network with those outside their regular social circles, expanding their perspectives through the connections they made.

“After the ‘Post-Crisis Leadership’ certificate (the first certificate offered by the Muma College of Business during the pandemic), it was great to see how the university was able to reach the public like never before,” says Eric Eisenberg, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a speaker in one of the modules in the diversity certificate.

“This is universities doing what they should be doing, bringing expertise to those who need it.

“This is a tremendous learning opportunity,” he says. “How can we learn from these different perspectives? This has also brought people together who have not talked before. This is changing the practice in the workplace.”

To those who enrolled in the program, Eisenberg offers this: “Take what you have learned back to your workplace, like an experiment, and see how things change.”