Universities struggle with diversity just as much as the corporate world, admitted Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, speaking Tuesday at the 2011 SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference in Washington, D.C. However, the two universes have a common link — education — and that link can help both worlds overcome diversity obstacles.

"As you work with CEOs and mangers, part of what you do is education," Hrabowski said.

He tied racial and educational disparities into the workplace and said the only way to strengthen the workforce is to work on those aspects to create skilled workers.

"You as people who are hiring have to understand the skills challenge," Hrabowski said, though this does not necessarily mean that hiring managers should not get the most skilled people for a job. It does mean creating a culture of inclusion so that all people from differing backgrounds can come together.

"The question is: How do you get people in positions of power to want change?’" he said. "Either we learn how to treat people or they move in other directions."

Among the challenges to diverse workforce development: 17% of African Americans today have college degrees and with that, the understanding within the workforce that people will come from all sorts of backgrounds.

"Whether it’s about customers and employees, you focus on identity, whether it is about a GBLT person, women, Hispanics, blacks or Native Americans, every person has some identity and every person wants to feel respected as a person," he said. With that, he says it's important not to assume anything about anyone's background. "We tend to lump people into categories, but we don't really know them."

Hrabowski spoke on the importance of diversity to the nation's future of innovation, institutional culture change and a global mindset that embraces diversity, which includes getting to know people at an individual level.

"If you want to know another human being, know the person’s story and you'll have a greater sense of the person. The challenge is to build a sense of trust so they'll tell you what it is." He says this is the key trait to working in human resources, which he's adopted at his university, where in 2009 he was voted by Time magazine as one of America's 10 Best College Presidents.

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