The rise of the #MeToo movement, wage gap issue, and paid-family leave debate have sparked a shift in workplace management discussion. Marshawn Wolley, SPEA’s director of community engagement and strategic initiatives, uses recent headlines to help the next generation of leaders examine how to effectively manage diversity, including the role of supporting women in the workplace.
Through SPEA’s Managing Workforce Diversity course (V443), management majors and other students learn how to appreciate differences among employees and incorporate an understanding of workforce diversity into their management style.
“If you’re leading an organization that serves a diverse population, you absolutely need women in leadership,” Wolley says. “They’re going to have sensitivities to issues that men may not have.”
Wolley knows the advantages diversity can provide. He’s served in several high-profile management positions in the Indianapolis area, from roles in the mayor’s office to ensuring the inclusion of minority- and women-owned businesses in Super Bowl XLVI.
He combines those experiences with case studies, real-world examples, and concrete activities that prompt students to think about how they should respond to inequality in the workplace.
“It’s about expanding their horizons and helping them understand what the world out there is like,” Wolley says. “I want to make them better managers. If managers aren’t intentional about diversity and inclusion, it creates issues for women. We want to raise students’ awareness about the implications of their actions, while giving them the tools to address those implications.”
One concrete tool students learn is an approach called amplification, a technique Wolley borrowed from a 2016 Washington Post article about a tactic women in the Obama administration said they used to support each other toward advancement.
“We take an institutional barrier that is more conceptual and give them a practical tool that they can actually use,” he says. “It’s an individual action each one of them can take in their daily lives.”
The women in the article explain that when another woman made a key point during meetings, other women would acknowledge, repeat and give credit to her for her idea. They said this amplified the woman’s contribution and kept anyone else from taking credit for it.
“It is empowering for the women in class to say they’ve been in similar situations,” Wolley says. “They take to the idea of amplification quickly, and by the end of the semester the entire class is participating.”
Wolley also wants to ensure students better understand their future workforce by stepping into someone else’s shoes on what he calls a privilege walk.
“It’s an opportunity for my male students to understand what women might think about,” Wolley says. “I ask the young men if they ever think about being inappropriately touched or even raped while they’re walking somewhere. That’s an eye-opening question for them.”
The discussion about sexual assault is often a break-through portion of the course. Wolley uses the #MeToo movement as a starting point. He finds many male and female students alike want to openly talk about their own experiences.
“That conversation is powerful,” he says. “We use it as a way to get through a tough conversation: learning how to listen, how to read when people are becoming emotional or shutting down, and how to respond as a manager.”
Another learning opportunity comes when Doneisha Posey, the deputy director and general counsel for the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, speaks to the class. Posey discusses an array of potential hiring discrimination pitfalls, but the conversation peaked on the topic of hiring a woman who may be pregnant.
“What if a company is interviewing a woman who is far along in her pregnancy and after they hire her, she leaves when she has the baby?” one student asked. “Is the employer just at a loss?”
“How would you know for sure if she was going to take off time? Some women can’t or don’t want to take time off,” Posey said. “You can’t assume that a pregnant woman is going to want to take time off or become a stay-at-home mom. It’s not at a loss to the employer, because you don’t know.”
Wolley chimed in, saying it could be an opportunity for the company to demonstrate a commitment to the employee.
Posey closed the topic with a final question: “What about the men who want to take off? No one asks about that?”
Wolley noted the students’ silence to that question with a smile. He said they previously talked about the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood bonus concept, and this conversation had added another perspective for them to consider.
Despite the thought-provoking content, Wolley says he doesn’t push students to change personal views.
“I want them to be exposed to the concepts,” he says. “If they don’t agree, that’s fine, but at least they’ve been exposed to the ideas. They are equipped with practical tools on how to better work with a diverse employee base.”
Wolley notes that a good portion of students will stay in the Central Indiana area. He points to growing diversity in Indianapolis, and the fact that students will work with that diverse public as well.
“Diversity can either be something that holds you back or something that you leverage,” he says. “I want students to be able to reserve judgement and just try to manage, instead of imposing their world view on others. That’s critical to being a 21st century manager.”