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Diversity Leadership Congress to meet next month

Former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman
Former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman

More than 300 academic, administrative and student leaders will gather next month for the Diversity Leadership Congress, which represents an opportunity to accelerate MIT's long-standing efforts at promoting diversity and inclusion by inspiring and supporting those most responsible for creating such a culture.

"The Diversity Leadership Congress is designed to acknowledge that progress on diversity at the Institute occurs locally," said MIT President Susan Hockfield, who originally proposed the congress earlier this year. "We want to support these leaders and give them the tools for leading their local efforts and inspire them to do even more."

All members of the MIT community are invited to participate in the Nov. 18 congress in a number of ways, including attending one of the remote viewing locations (the Mezzanine Lounge and West Lounge, both in the Student Center, as well as Room E25-111). Facilitators will lead group debriefings at these locations, and notes from the talks will be added to the congress proceedings. Members of the community may also submit questions for the panelists in advance of the event ( Individuals and groups will be able to watch video of the Congress once it is posted online following the event at the Congress' web site,

Participants at the congress will also be asked to continue the conversation in their local departments.

"Our goal is a balanced and diverse workplace where there is a deeper understanding of differences and the value these differences offer--resulting in better problem solving," said Vice President for Human Resources Alison Alden.

The event, which marks the first time an MIT president has convened academic, administrative and student leaders to discuss the topic, is not about unveiling a new approach for diversity or prescribing goals for individual groups or departments. Rather, it is designed to provide a better understanding of how participants can foster an Institute-wide conversation to accelerate progress at MIT.

Hockfield will open the congress by acknowledging the important ongoing efforts to address diversity challenges at MIT, and will invite participants to further raise the bar on diversity leadership practices.

Speakers will then provide an opportunity to learn from others. Former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, the first African-American to lead the U.S. Department of Labor, will deliver the keynote address. Tom Kochan, the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, will moderate a panel discussion that will share successful diversity leadership stories. Panelists scheduled to appear include Phil Harlow, chief diversity officer at Xerox: Shirley Malcom, head of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and Michael Summers, an HHMI biologist at the University of Maryland who has been honored for his contributions in mentoring students from underrepresented groups.

Small group discussions will address how MIT's leaders can individually and collectively apply what they hear and begin shaping goals and strategies.

"This is a great opportunity to hear fresh ideas from outside MIT and then to tailor them to our unique community," said Kochan. "Our goal is to help give people a better understanding of what is possible in their leadership roles and to discuss how we can make those possibilities real at MIT."

A planning committee has been working since April to shape the event. In addition to Alden and Kochan, committee members include: Robbin Chapman, manager of diversity recruitment in the School of Architecture and Planning; Chancellor Phillip Clay; Francine Crystal, organization development consultant in Human Resources; Michael Faber, advisor, Office of the President; Jason Forte, a senior and speaker of the Undergraduate Association Senate; Wes Harris, the Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the associate provost for faculty equity; Kirk Kolenbrander, vice president for Institute affairs and secretary of the Corporation; Oaz Nir, a graduate student and president of the Graduate Student Council; Christine Ortiz, associate professor of materials science and engineering; and J. Phllip Thompson, associate professor of urban politics and community development.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 29, 2008 (download PDF).

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