Diversity, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination in the workplace were the main topics of discussion at a dinner hosted by Cal Poly Career Services in the Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.
Career Services program coordinator Carole Moore, who put together the event, said that students will all represent diversity at some point in life. In light of recent events, such as the crop house incident in fall 2008, Moore said she hoped to bring forth some positive feelings.
“Graduates need to improve awareness and sympathy to diversity in the work environment,” Moore said.
At Cal Poly, the percentage of non-white students was 24 percent, according to the Cal Poly Fall 2007 Fact Book. The percentage of freshmen women attending Cal Poly dropped from 48 percent in 2005 to 42 percent in 2007.
With graduates entering the workforce, Moore said that she hoped the event would help students learn about the expanding definition of diversity that includes race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
The panel that led the discussion included materials engineering professor Linda Vanasupa and three Cal Poly alumni who all worked for different engineering companies.
Vanasupa began the discussion by describing the Latin root of the word “diversity.”
“Difference is extremely useful and, in a physical sense or a biological sense, drives all things,” she said. “So difference in the workplace or difference in the world, change is required,” she said.
During the discussion, each member of the panel shared their experiences and how they felt diversity existed in their career. Cal Poly art graduate Tyson Tate shared how being hearing impaired affects his role as a sales representative making phone sales, and how he often hides his hearing aid when going to interviews. In terms of diversity at Dolores Labs, he said that the large population of young people now working there broadens the perspective of the company.
“But as we grow, we’re going to be adding more people, and we have to stay away from that trash of that culture of noninclusiveness and not having an open mind,” Tate said.
As the dinner continued, the panel was asked to share one challenge of diversity in the workplace. Civil engineering alumni and 2004 Cal Poly graduate Tania Schram spoke about some of her experiences working at Summit Engineering.
“As a young woman in the engineering industry, working with contractors and clients who often try to decide who should be an engineer and who shouldn’t, also provides a challenge,” Schram said.
When the subject of prejudice was touched on, general engineering alumnus and 1999 Cal Poly graduate Antenett Abraham spoke about how his skin color can often lead to different treatment from clients at Eaton Corporation.
“When you mention where you are from or the country you were born in, there is always a level of stereotype that goes with it,” he said.
Abraham then shared an incident from when he first told a now-close client that he was Ethiopian.
“His first thought was what he saw that was covered by the media, what was the immediate suffering and challenges of a country and not the individual who was in front of him,” Abraham said.
He then shared a statistic: that black males with college degrees are more likely to be unemployed than white males with bachelor’s degrees and black males without a degree.
Moore concluded the dinner by talking about diversity in education, before allowing attendees a chance to ask questions.
Christina Diaz, an aerospace engineering sophomore and member of the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers, said the panel represented a wide variety of diversity.
“They each were able to share different experiences but worked together to relate them and build on the same topic to make them more relatable,” Diaz said.