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Diversity & Inclusion Outlook: Marilyn Harris

Drury University Chief Human Resources/Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Posted online

Marilyn Harris was appointed in November as Drury’s first diversity and inclusion officer. She brings 20 years of experience to the liberal arts campus, where she’s tasked with infusing diversity throughout the college.

2020 Projection: Springfield will continue having events to encourage discussion. But at some point, talk has to turn into action. People will slowly start implementing change within organizations. You don’t want to push people away; you want to bring people together.

SBJ: What’s required for an organization to be diverse and inclusive?
Harris: You have to have leadership buy-in to ensure that everything that you say you want to do actually happens. You definitely will have to educate people in order to make sure people have an understanding what diversity inclusion is ... so that as you start changing policies and putting procedures into place, they understand why. Sometimes you try to educate people who don’t even want to be educated. And so you have to find the nonminorities who are willing to step up to the plate and be a part and help them make the change. You’re asking people to change how they think ... how they feel. I would rather have a slow walk than a sprint with no real change.

SBJ: Your position is the first of its kind for Drury. Springfield Public Schools added a similar position this school year. A study from online job site Indeed found demand for diversity and inclusion officers grew 20% from 2017 to 2018. What’s behind that growth?
Harris: At any organization, you need someone who’s intentional about making sure the organization is doing what they say they want to do. That has to start somewhere, even though the work requires everyone. You’ve got to have that point person … somebody to guide and direct, someone to push departments to be different and think different to do things that they maybe hadn’t done before.

SBJ: Are these roles typically connected with a human resources position?
Harris: In a lot of places they’re not. But I see the two roles being closely related in the fact that a lot of times for an organization the biggest part of diversity is your hiring. If you’re not hiring diverse and inclusive individuals, how can you say that you’re a diverse and inclusive organization? It starts there in who you’re recruiting and how you’re recruiting and where you’re recruiting.

SBJ: How would you gauge Springfield’s climate as it relates to embracing diversity?
Harris: It appears that Springfield is trying. The (Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce) seems to be very proactive in trying to have events and get people to think about this topic. For them, it’s going to be huge because getting businesses to be diverse and inclusive is going to impact the landscape of Springfield. Hopefully, over the next several years we’ll be able to actually see those conversations turn into something that’s real.

SBJ: A study from McKinsey and Co. reports ethnically diverse companies outperform homogeneous companies by 35%. How does embracing diversity affect the bottom line?
Harris: Statistics have shown that diverse organizations and their employees are more productive. It just brings about a better environment of what people say about the place they work for. When your morale goes up, everything else goes up.

SBJ: What are the next steps for Springfield?
Harris: Leaders of the organizations need to step forward and embrace it. It starts from the top down. That’s when you’re going to really see the change throughout the community.

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