Berkeley Lab

National Labs’ HR Directors Convene First-Ever Diversity Forum

The Chief Human Resources Officers of 16 Department of Energy national labs convened their first-ever forum on diversity and inclusion earlier this month. Led by Vera Potapenko, Berkeley Lab’s Chief Human Resources and Diversity Officer, the two-day meeting in Washington, D.C. set several goals for the coming year, including improving the recruitment process and targeting select minority STEM organizations for outreach.

“People came out of this meeting very energized, very excited about working together,” said Potapenko. “There was a lot of learning and exchange that occurred. But there’s also a lot of hard work that has to go into this.”

Lady Idos, Vera Potapenko, and Wade Crosson (left to right)

Lady Idos, Vera Potapenko, and Wade Crosson (left to right)

The forum also marked the first time that the diversity managers for the national labs have met face-to-face. Berkeley Lab was represented by Lady Idos of the Diversity & Inclusion Office and Wade Crosson, manager of HR Shared Services.

One of the decisions to come out of the meeting was to target five organizations for underrepresented minorities in science and engineering and establish relationships. Underrepresented minorities include African Americans, Latinos, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives. The conferences or groups selected are the Black Engineer of the Year STEM Awards (BEYA STEM) Conference, Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in STEM, Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc. (GEM).

“We selected underrepresented minorities rather than women because there’s a lot of attention on recruiting women at all the labs, but attracting underrepresented minorities is probably even more difficult for all of us,” Potapenko said. “As the DOE national lab community, we’ll connect with their leadership and a team will go to their conference, have a table for recruitment, and sponsor speakers for their conference. This is a pilot for us. We have confidence that when we engage these organizations as a DOE Lab community, they will be impressed and responsive.”

Other diversity and inclusion initiatives the group will pursue include:

  • Create a video on the business case for unconscious bias training in the recruitment process for use by all DOE national labs in their orientation/training of hiring managers and search committees
  • Organize a webinar for all DOE lab recruiters on the designed orientation/training (train-the-trainer)
  • Deploy recruitment orientation/training for hiring managers and search committees at all interested DOE national labs

Improving diversity is a high priority for the DOE, which was represented by Andre Sayles, deputy of DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, a featured speaker at the forum. Diversity managers from the DOE Office of Science (which oversees 10 national labs), the National Nuclear Security Administration (which oversees three national labs), and the DOE offices in Chicago and Oak Ridge also attended.

Potapenko noted that change will take time. “What I’m starting to understand is that even with really focused effort and the support of senior leaders, it will take us five to 10 years to really make any noticeable change from a representation perspective. However, from an inclusion perspective, we can make an impact now!” she said.

– by Julie Chao