Diversity – what is it and what does it mean?

Julie Levitt, PhD, Division 48 President and Yolanda “Evie” Garcia, PhD, Task Force Co-Chair sat down and had an informative, yet candid conversation about diversity

One can ask many questions around this topic, but one of the most important questions would be, “What is APA doing to address this specific need in the divisions?” 

Julie Levitt, PhDYolanda “Evie” Garcia, PhDJulie Levitt, PhD, Division 48 President, and Yolanda “Evie” Garcia, PhD, Task Force Co-Chair, sat down and had an informative, yet candid conversation about diversity.  This conversation wasn’t just about attracting ethnic minorities to the Association.  No, it’s much deeper than that.  It is a complicated matter of defining diversity, attracting and engaging diverse members, sharing the power and accepting that the future will hold a very different climate of racial demographics. 

This all came about after reading an intriguing article in the Peace Psychology Newsletter written by Dr. Levitt, who at the time was the president-elect of Division 48.  Many may not have been aware that there had been an inter-divisional committee working to gather information and develop recommendations for implementing parts of a presidential task force report that pertained to divisions.    

The History

Dr. Garcia outlined the history of this project noting that it all started with an interdivisional grant.

In 2005, then APA President Ronald F. Levant, PhD, created the Presidential Task Force on Enhancing Diversity as one of his presidential initiatives.  The task force submitted a report to the APA Council of Representatives in August of 2005.  In 2006, Eileen Borris, PhD, then president of Division 48:  Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence:  Peace Psychology Division; and Dr. Garcia, then president-elect of the Arizona Psychological Association, co-chaired a diversity task force for Peace Psychology.  As part of this work, Division 48 in collaboration with Divisions 20, 35, 44, and 45; received funding from an Interdivisional Grant proposal, a program administered by the Committee on Division / APA Relations (CODAPAR); to gather information and develop recommendations for implementing the part of Dr. Levant’s task force recommendations that pertained to APA divisions.

The APA Divisions Task Force on Inclusion and Diversity committee was formed and it divided its work into 4 major tasks: 

  1. defining what diversity is with regard to the committee’s charge, recognizing that diversity may include many different and overlapping categories and that not all diversity is associated with prejudice or possibly lower status, 

  2. exploring ways to measure the “climate” of the divisions with regard to attitudes and nonverbal behaviors that support diversity or hinder the welcoming of individuals from diverse groups, 

  3. identifying deliberate, built-in structures that are effective in bringing new members and meeting their needs, and 

  4. developing a conflict resolution approach that would be effective for divisions to employ when there are conflicts among diverse sub-groups.

Equally important, the committee wanted to identify how to increase diversity in both the division memberships and in their leadership, how to welcome new members into divisions, how to increase the opportunities for them to become actively participating members.  Committee members engaged in dialogue with division leaders, minority constituencies, and others who wanted to participate in this discussion.  During these sessions, the committee talked about their problem-solving or conflict resolution models, and suggested divisions incorporate them in their organizational structure to become more inclusive.

The Bottom Line

The committee realized that while the 2005 Diversity Task Force report was a great launching pad for the Association to take a stance on increasing diversity, some things were missing from a divisional standpoint.  Divisions needed tools to help identify, address and implement changes in resolving conflict over diversity.  “Many divisions already saw the need to increase diversity, but they needed the tools, the resources and a rough template on implementing the process”, says Dr. Levitt, “but how do we do this?”   With this burning question in mind, Drs. Levitt and Garcia at the helm, L. Angelo Jürgen Gómez, CRC, Richard A. Rodriguez, PhD and Stephen A. Truhon, PhD set out to do some research to best answer this question.

The Leg Work

The committee soon realized that they we were working in a vacuum and did not know what divisions were actually doing regarding issues of diversity and inclusion.  The committee wanted to highlight some of the work divisions were doing to support minorities, so in 2009 they devised a survey (PDF, 199 KB) and asked divisions presidents to provide examples of what was going on within their groups. Twenty-seven of the fifty-four divisions responded to the survey.  Nearly half of the respondents reported that their division made changes to the bylaws and/or operating procedures in an effort to increase the number of individuals from underrepresented populations into their organizations and into leadership positions.  Several respondents reported that their divisions had always recognized the importance of inclusion; others made the shift without identifying reasons for doing so.  A few respondents stated that their division did not recognize a need for change.

A Few Numbers

The data from the survey suggested the following strategies for increasing minorities into the division: 

  • Bringing minorities into leadership roles (74%) 

  • Establishing committees made up of minority members and division leadership (37%) 

  • Member-initiated changes was one of the greater influences for structural changes (55.6%)

Division leaders talked about the shift ‘was the right thing to do’ and only five of the 27 respondents reported that no changes were made to reconfigure their division’s structure.

Respondents also described a variety of ways in which their division assessed the need for change: 

  • Discussions by the Executive Committee (48.1%) 

  • A committee was given the task (29.6%) 

  • Interviews (14.8%) and surveys (11.1%)

One respondent mentioned that APA provided the data (PDF, 610 KB) that demonstrated the need for change. Two respondents stated that there was no need for a formal assessment because it was clear minority recruitment was needed.

Steps Taken

Some steps divisions took after the needs assessment were: 

  • Made bylaw changes to be more inclusive 

  • Created a committee comprised of minority and leadership members 

  • Held public relations campaigns to help division members understand the ramifications of change 

  • Appointed a more diverse Executive Committee, including creating a minority seat

Other changes included adding minorities on membership committees, implementing mentoring programs, creating sections within division with a focus on minority interests and research and enhancing their Convention programming by providing scholarships to attend, adding a diversity social hour, conducting diversity training workshops, increasing minority member presentations and in journal publications.

Among these, the committee also recommended designating an ombudsperson(s). The ombudsperson role is defined as a person(s) to whom division members or those interested in joining the division who feel disenfranchised or not welcomed in the leadership could consult to facilitate inclusion. The ombudsperson(s) becomes an advocate by recommends ways in which those feeling marginalized can define what they would want in change and would work with division leadership to develop better ways to welcome and incorporate those who want greater inclusion. While no division leader reported the use of an ombudsperson, survey responders did describe bringing minority members into the division’s future planning, creating representation for minorities within division leadership and activities, and providing research and travel awards for minorities.

Dr. Levitt acknowledged and cited many of the accomplishments and strides APA has made in addressing and increasing diversity within the Association.   APA has been at the forefront of setting a public tone for emphasizing the need for change, offering encouragement and support for minority participation into APA governance, appointing a minority as Chief Executive Officer, who encourages diversity, and providing financial support to the Interdivisional Grant Program.  APA’s stance has not only been focused on ethnic diversity, but diversity at all levels.

The Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA) has a host of wonderful projects and programs that are ongoing to help APA with its goals to increase diversity. OEMA’s Semi-Annual Report, August 2010 (PDF, 66 KB) showcases the work being done in this area for the Association.  With many of these programs housed within OEMA, one could ask, what is the Association really doing to help divisions with minority recruitment and retention?  What are divisions doing to help themselves with minority recruitment and retention?

“We have to get away from thinking that because we have a person from a diverse background on a committee or on the executive committee, we are addressing the issue”, states Dr. Levitt.  She goes on to mention that the same small pool of active ethnic minorities tend to be asked by more than one division to serve in various positions. These dedicated members may be spread too thin and asked to hold many different governance positions within APA.  Divisions need to start thinking of new ways to bring in young and early career psychologists from diverse backgrounds.  With division members aging and the U.S. demographics rapidly changing, “recruiting ethnic minorities won’t be simply the ‘nice thing to do’, but rather, will be the correct action because without such incorporation there will be questions of the relevancy and survival of both divisions and APA!  Moreover, increasing the number of minorities on an executive committee doesn’t always preclude increasing the numbers of minority members.  Divisions need to change their cultures and their structures so that they can welcome those from diverse backgrounds and facilitate the opportunity for their full participation.  This will allow those from different ethnic/cultural backgrounds and age groups, as well as those with physical disabilities to have a say in the division’s future.”

Drs. Garcia and Levitt shared their desire to have a website that would serve as the hub for, ‘diversity enrichment for divisions’.  This website would have resources, templates, success stories and discussions on how to move, or at least attempt to move a division forward in addressing issues dealing with recruiting minorities.  Divisions would be able to share ideas and strategies, such as how to run a successful mentoring program.  This hub would be a place to help make divisions more conscience of the changing demographics.  It can also be the venue to host discussions on how the new majority will fit in and how to engage the new minority. The website is close to completion.

Some thought provoking questions Dr. Levitt posed for divisions to consider and possibly answer as we move into this new era of member recruitment included: 

  • How can my division be more sensitive and prepared to respond to the issues and importance of diversity in culture/ethnicity, age, religion, orientation and ability within our membership?  

  • How can my division begin recruiting younger members? 

  • How will my division deal with the changing demographics of our country and profession? 

  • Does my division see the efficacy of diverse members, membership and participation in leadership?

Dr. Levitt ended our conversation with one final thought:  “There are many different ways in which division leaderships have and are working to address the issues of greater understanding of the interests and needs of those coming from diverse backgrounds.  There is more than one way to approach this topic and more than one approach may have to be tried to find the one that works for your division. Open dialogue with all groups is essential to survival and leveling the playing field.” 

For more information on the work of the committee or to further discuss ideas regarding a possible website for enhancing division diversity, please contact Julie Levitt, PhD and Yolanda “Evie” Garcia, PhD.