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Diversity Initiatives Help a Department Meet Its Staffing Needs and Usher in Cultural Change

When Ralph Semmel was appointed head of APL’s Applied Information Sciences Department (AISD) in 2005, one of the first things he did was look at the diversity of his staff. Semmel was already aware of the diversity statistics and had been working related issues for several years before the reorganization that created AISD.

“I wanted us to be proactive,” said Semmel, “and take a long-range view of hiring with an eye toward creating a more diverse environment in the department. We believe that a diverse staff is essential to providing more creative and better results when tackling customer challenges.” With that goal in mind, he asked his department’s Operations Executive to collaborate with the Human Resources and Services Department (HRSD) in developing an action plan for increasing the pool of minority candidates for AISD’s technical professional staff needs. Ideas were gathered from several sources, including the department’s minority staff members, who made some innovative recommendations.

One of the first to be implemented was the establishment of a Diversity Initiative Team comprising Semmel, nearly a dozen minority and female staff members from the department, and representatives from HRSD. The team reviewed ideas submitted by staff and choose those that could be quickly implemented.

Within 2 months, the team zeroed in on ideas to increase outreach at selected colleges and universities by adopting a school, participating in on-campus information sessions, supporting college career fairs, or increasing participation in APL’s internship program. They consulted with a representative from the Laboratory’s College Relations Office, who provided much-needed advice about working with colleges.

AISD then provided a team of 12–14 technical staff members to assist with more than a dozen college career fairs and information sessions. The department funded and staffed career fairs at James Madison University (which has an Information Assurance Program) and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a multi-university Diversity Career Fair that was held at the University of Virginia.

AISD hiring supervisors supported the recruiting process by participating in college kickoff meetings and training sessions. They took a systematic approach to college recruiting by crafting specific requisitions for each technical group’s needs. Those early efforts paid off. The department not only raised its awareness of the importance of diversity but has also been very successful in hiring the candidates needed to meet its fast-growing sponsor base.

AISD’s endeavors had another positive, although unexpected, result: several Asian staff members in the department decided they wanted to share their culture with their colleagues. So AISD’s Lien Duong and others organized APL’s Asian American Heritage Club (AAHC), which is open to all Laboratory staff. AAHC put together APL’s first Asian American Heritage Festival in 2006. With enthusiastic support from the department, hundreds of staff members gathered to enjoy Asian food, live entertainment, and cultural displays. The celebration inspired other affinity groups to share their own customs in similar ways, establishing an APL tradition of inclusive diversity events that bring staff together.