Executives teach students about diversity, equity, inclusion in the workplace

By Sophie Edwards

The College of Business recently hosted its fourth annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace event with over 900 students, faculty, alumni, employer partners, and community members participating. 

“We are committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in business, in society, and at Louisiana Tech,” said Dr. Chris Martin, Dean of the College of Business. “We strive to create a rich learning environment that appreciates a multitude of perspectives, leading to enhanced decision making and performance. It is critical that our students understand how to study, work, and lead in this type of environment because it reflects the global, diverse, and inclusive workplace that most will enter upon graduation.” 

The event, now in its second year of online delivery, was previously hosted in conjunction with Grambling State University and featured an in-person panel of executives from JP Morgan followed by a hands-on activity and networking. 

“When COVID-19 hit, though, we had to find a way to recreate the event so that our students still had exposure to these important topics,” said Jessica George, Executive Director of Student Services and Placement in the College of Business. “We looked at this as an opportunity to reach a wider audience and include top speakers from across the U.S. It also gave us the chance to host networking sessions with talent acquisition teams from many of the speakers’ corporations.” 

The conference featured six virtual seminars, with DEI thought-leaders from organizations including IBM, Lowe’s, GDIT, Microsoft, Deloitte, General Motors, JP Morgan Chase, and Ford Next. The conference also offered eight networking events where business students from Louisiana Tech and Grambling were able to meet with recruiters from these top global companies. 

Jessica Litolff, a Master of Business Administration student at Louisiana Tech, was one of 400 students who participated in this year’s conference and several of the virtual networking sessions. 

“My biggest takeaway from the event was that diversity, equity, and inclusion is a journey, not something that can be overcome overnight,” Litolff said. “There will always be problems because of learned behavior and cultural norms, so diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives should not focus solely on mindsets but behaviors. We should ensure employees feel seen and heard in the workplace and community. Every employee should feel empowered to show up as their true, authentic self.” 

Karen Perham-Lippman is the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Program manager at Lumen Technologies. Perham-Lippman led “Authenticity, Allyship and Advancement”, a session on how everyone can be a leader in ensuring the psychological safety of their work environment. 

“We all have the ability to take action as champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Perham-Lippman said. “This includes creating awareness, challenging our definitions, educating ourselves, and promoting cultures of acceptance, empathy, and inclusion. College students doing this work deepen critical thinking skills, and further develop effective communication skills through broadening their perspectives.” 

After the virtual sessions, Crystal King from Dow led a post-conference case study for College of Business students. 

King is a Louisiana Tech graduate where she earned her degree in Chemical Engineering. Now, she is the Senior Lead Site Director for Dow’s second largest site. 

“I do everything I can to make sure the work environment I create is physically and psychologically safe,” King said, “but until we become more comfortable speaking up about these issues, we will always have our tail in between our legs.” 

In the activity, students confronted their own unconscious biases when they connected biographies to pictures of Dow employees. Afterwards, students brainstormed solutions to real-life examples of DEI issues encountered in the workplace. 

“At this conference, students saw DEI beyond just a definition – beyond principles and philosophies,” said George. “We are talking about these issues in the classroom, but here, students were able to see what it actually looks like exercising these principles in an organization.” 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is one of six values the College of Business intentionally incorporates into its curriculum and co-curricular activities. 

“While DEI is certainly the right thing to do, there is also ample evidence that fostering diversity and inclusion in organizations is a powerful enabler of business performance. When DEI efforts become a part of the organizational culture, it also helps to attract, develop and retain exceptional people,” Martin said. 

After the conference, the College of Business encouraged students to think about these issues and apply these values to their studies and job searches. 

“One thing that we really want our students to understand is that this is an important topic they will be faced with in the workplace. They need to be aware of the business case for D&I,” said George. “Recognizing that we have further to go in the DEI space, we want students to go in with an awareness, a passion, and a hunger for assisting in that change.” 

To view the recorded sessions from the 2022 conference, visit tinyurl.com/LATechDEI22. 


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