February 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA1

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Staffing Strategies For A More Diverse Workforce: Case Examples In Cornell Cooperative Extension

Strategies for recruiting a diverse workforce are illustrated by case examples from the three stages in Cornell Cooperative Extension's staffing process. Organizational change to address diversity and pluralism requires a change in organizational culture. In the process of recruiting staff from diverse backgrounds, Cornell Cooperative Extension is creating new rules to become more inclusive. Implications indicate that retaining staff from diverse backgrounds needs to be as high a priority as recruiting them. Preparing the workplace to support staff from diverse backgrounds requires greater attention. Changing organizational behavior is the first step in creating a workplace that supports diversity and pluralism. Strategies for helping organizations become more inclusive are reviewed.

Soneeta Grogan
Program Leader, Nutrition, Health and Safety
Internet address: sgrogan@cce.cornell.edu

Barbara Eshelman
Staffing Specialist
Internet address: beshelma@cce.cornell.edu

Cornell Cooperative Extension
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

Workplace diversity means new opportunities for both employees and employers. As organizations such as Cooperative Extension move into the 21st century, it is imperative to capitalize on the talents of employees from diverse backgrounds because it is their "differences that enrich us, expand us, [and] provide us the competitive edge" (Makower, 1995, p. 51). They enable organizations to tap new markets while increasing effectiveness and productivity (Makower, 1995; Schuler, 1992; Thomas, 1990). In this article, the authors provide case examples to illustrate how the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) system involves a variety of people and utilizes specific strategies throughout its recruitment, selection, and orientation process to support and promote diversity and pluralism.

Ewert, Rice and Lauderdale (1995) indicate cultural diversity affects organizations in several ways including the recruitment/retention of staff, management styles and decision- making processes, and relationships within organizations. Organizations become more inclusive by altering aspects of their culture within each of these categories.

For example, culturally diverse staff often are isolated in otherwise homogeneous organizations. Limited informal interaction with co-workers can lead to exclusion from key committees and decision-making groups potentially resulting in reduced productivity and effectiveness. Such isolation can lead to employee dissatisfaction and higher turnover among staff from under-represented groups. Staff from varied cultures reflect different learning styles and bring different preferred working styles to their jobs. Sometimes managers consider such differences wrong or problematic--it seems the person exhibiting them just doesn't fit in. But, recognizing, valuing and supporting these and other differences can maximize the productivity of everyone in the workplace.


The concepts of "diversity" and "pluralism" as defined in Pathway to Diversity: Strategic Plan for the Cooperative Extension System's Emphasis on Diversity (1991) are: Diversity is differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and other human attributes. Pluralism is an organizational culture that incorporates mutual respect, acceptance, teamwork, and productivity among people who are diverse in the dimensions of human differences listed above as diversity. These definitions establish a foundation for Extension's commitment to an emphasis on diversity in all programs and activities. While valuing differences and developing awareness are important, they are insufficient for creating the organizational changes that will truly support diversity and establish an organizational culture of pluralism.

We must develop skills for enhancing and working within an increasingly pluralistic organization. But how do we do it? Peggy Riehl (Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, Illinois) says, "If organizational change to address diversity and pluralism issues requires a change in organizational culture, then we need to be about the business of creating culture. This might mean creating new rituals, creating rules, creating language" (personal communication, July 3, 1995). In the process of recruiting, selecting and supporting a more diverse staff, Cornell Cooperative Extension like other organizations (Kilborn, 1992; Solomon, 1990; Thomas, 1990), is trying to create a new culture to become more inclusive. As an organization we need to increase the diversity of our staff in order to reach new and varied audiences and enrich our educational programming.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Staffing Process

The staffing process utilized in CCE includes three stages: (a) position development, (b) recruitment, and (c) selection and support. Each stage offers opportunities to change organizational culture. During position development, staff and volunteers review the position vacancy considering current and future program priorities, identify essential job functions, and examine alternative staffing options. The second stage--recruitment-- includes developing and implementing an inclusive recruitment strategy. Faculty, staff, and volunteers develop a recruitment plan that includes targeted mailing lists, personal contacts, electronic postings, national publications, professional conferences, and a call for nominations. Cornell Cooperative Extension emphasizes recruiting individuals who bring a diverse perspective and are supportive of diversity. The final stage-- selection and support--involves reviewing applications for the position, conducting interviews, making the offer, and designing an individualized orientation and development plan for the new employee.

The following case examples for each stage of the staffing process emphasize how CCE is trying to enhance diversity and develop a more pluralistic organizational culture. While each case example highlights one stage, the three-part staffing process was followed in each of the cases below.

Case Examples

Stage 1: Position Development

A county executive director and personnel committee needed to fill a temporary staff vacancy for which the essential responsibilities were already well-defined. During the position development stage the executive director and personnel committee decided to explore the idea of creating an internship.

The executive director proposed sharing the cost of employing an entry-level nutrition educator with CCE administration and targeting recruitment at groups that were under-represented among the CCE staff yet present in the population that CCE needed to reach. Extension leadership in this county, like some other organizations, had begun to recognize that "your workplace should reflect your customer base" (Wilson, 1995, p. 23).

After the internship proposal was accepted, faculty and staff developed a recruitment plan emphasizing personal contacts with new professionals, faculty advisors, and targeted professional groups. One staff member contacted faculty and Extension specialists in other states for help in identifying applicants. An Extension specialist shared the position announcement with a member of the research/teaching faculty who gave it to one of his advisees, a woman from an under-represented group who had recently completed her masters degree and was seeking employment. After learning more about Extension work, she contacted CCE to discuss the internship.

The candidate's interview for the internship included: (a) a telephone interview with the county executive director, the staffing specialist, a statewide program leader, and a faculty member; (b) a county visit and interview with the Extension board and staff including introductions to volunteers involved with the Extension program; and (c) a Cornell University campus visit to meet with faculty and CCE administration staff. She was offered the internship; however, she had financial concerns associated with moving almost a thousand miles. Although not always provided, CCE included moving expenses in the compensation package. She successfully completed the internship and is currently employed as an Extension educator after having been hired through a competitive national search.

Opportunities During Position Development

An examination of staffing alternatives influenced the county Extension director and personnel committee to consider staffing a temporary position. They believed that an entry level professional might be interested in an internship for a first experience with Extension.

Internships have been used as a recruitment strategy by other state Extension services and other organizations (Kilborn, 1992). The director also creatively considered how the internship might be funded. Believing that CCE administration would be supportive of the internship alternative, she approached them for sharing the funding. CCE administration believed the internship would be an opportunity to develop a new professional with Extension experience and prepare the individual for a permanent position with Extension following the internship. County Extension staff were committed to providing the level of supervision an intern would need to carry out the essential job functions identified.

Other options and opportunities to consider at the position development stage include:

  • Sharing the job in a community where there is potential to attract a more diverse applicant pool if the job is shared *Spliting the job into two half-time positions *Designing the position with flexibility for the employee to negotiate a designated percent of time to conduct a desired program that meets community needs and targets a particular audience

Stage 2: Recruitment

When an Extension program leader position became available in an urban area, the staff and volunteers wanted to employ an individual who would help them reach new audiences and meet the needs of a suburban/urban population. A county executive director believed he had met a well-qualified individual for the job during a summer professional development experience for educators from across the U.S. He immediately called to inform the individual of the opening and attempted to interest her in the position.

Although she was not looking for a new position, after several conversations with Cornell Cooperative Extension staff, she decided to apply. After a national search, she was selected from a competitive pool of applicants and participated with several other candidates in the interview process. Subsequently, she was offered and accepted the position.

Opportunities During Recruitment

Based on our experience, personal contact has been the most productive recruitment strategy for attracting a diverse and well -qualified applicant pool to CCE positions. Effective recruitment utilizes a variety of strategies to inform potential applicants of positions. Encouraging all CCE staff to recruit applicants with diverse backgrounds for positions and communicating that staff recruitment is everyone's responsibility has been a successful strategy.

Other opportunities organizations can consider at the recruitment stage are:

  • Including specific colleges/universities that have a pool of diverse students as "key recruiting campuses" with which to develop strong relationships for recruiting interns (undergraduates or graduates) or for full-time, regular positions (Kilborn, 1992).

  • Involving staff and volunteer board members in actively recruiting and nominating individuals through their network of contacts. Work with them to develop a plan so that as many people as possible commit to making a minimum number of personal (face- to-face or telephone) contacts within their network to attract a diverse and well-qualified pool of applicants.

  • Contacting staff from diverse backgrounds already employed in the system, asking them to recruit for the position and provide incentives for them to do it.

Stage 3: Selection And Support

An individual who learned about a CCE job opening through a personal contact rather than through the usual announcement outlets applied for a nutrition educator position. The interview team was impressed with the applicant's volunteer experience and class projects that demonstrated her initiative and commitment to educating diverse populations. Although the program leader believed more time would be needed initially to supervise this applicant, she and the selection committee believed the additional time would be worthwhile considering potential contributions to the county program.

However, before the applicant was invited to participate in the county interview, she was offered and had accepted a dietetic internship with another organization. CCE administration kept in touch with her during the internship and about four months before it ended, another position opened for which she was qualified. After a nationwide search, she and two other applicants interviewed for the position.

Subsequently, this applicant was hired. Although she was unable to begin employment for two months in order to complete the internship, the county staff were willing to wait because she was considered to be a good fit for the position. Since the applicant had been a student and then an unpaid intern, she needed financial assistance both to travel to the state for the county interview and to relocate for the position. CCE staff worked with her to help meet those needs.

Opportunities During Selection and Support

Employers highly committed to diversity will be flexible, consider alternatives, and, to the extent feasible, invest additional resources (time, money, etc.) to secure and retain staff from under-represented groups. Such behavior begins the process of creating new rules and new rituals--that is, a new organizational culture related to staffing. The program leader in this case example was willing to invest the additional supervisory time needed for the employee to be successful. The county executive director and CCE administration also were willing to help meet some of the new employee's financial needs.

Other opportunities at the selection and support stage are:

  • Informing candidates of the organization's commitment to diversity.

  • Informing candidates if a support group or cultural network exists within the organization or county to help diverse staff have a successful work experience.

  • Encouraging all staff to attend diversity workshops. Organizations such as Avon and Digital have utilized diversity education programs and support groups or cultural networks to develop and maintain a diverse workforce (Elmuti, 1993; Schuler, 1992). The Cooperative Extension System also offers training and workshops through the CES National Center for Diversity at Kentucky State University.

Implications For Extension

Cornell Cooperative Extension has had some success in recruiting and employing a more diverse group of Extension educators. But recruiting a more diverse staff will not ensure their retention. While these recruitment efforts need to continue and expand, creating hospitable working environments and developing the talents of all employees requires greater attention (Kilborn, 1992; Schuler, 1992; Solomon, 1990; Thomas, 1990; Wilson, 1995).

Organizations must ask themselves, "What happens once staff from diverse backgrounds begin employment? Does the organizational culture and workplace contribute to retaining or to repelling them? Organizational leaders need to ensure that all staff are welcomed into a workplace that supports and values differences because "it accomplishes next to nothing to employ those who are different from us if the condition of their employment is that they become the same as us" (Makower, 1995, p. 51).

Organizations can become more inclusive by: (a) providing learning opportunities to improve an organization's intercultural effectiveness; (b) providing learning opportunities that are planned, systematic, and address personal and organizational issues; (c) building staff understanding of the values, beliefs, customs, and preferences of other groups; (d) targeting unconscious discrimination to help people rethink their assumptions and restructure their organizations; (e) promoting intercultural skills to help people improve their skills in listening, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and negotiation; and (f) studying non-western world views to explore new paradigms and extend the range of options through which organizations can solve their own problems (Ewert, Rice, & Lauderdale, 1995).

Organizational change to address diversity and pluralism issues in Cooperative Extension requires action and authentic leadership. We cannot change organizational culture without changing behavior. Sharing case examples and successes experienced during the position development, recruitment, and selection and support stages in Cooperative Extension is one strategy to encourage organizational change. If specific efforts are made to address diversity and pluralism issues during the staffing process, Extension will increase its potential for effectiveness and productivity.


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Ewert, D. M., Rice, J.K., & Lauderdale, E. (1995). Training for diversity: How organizations become more inclusive. Adult Learning, 6 (5), 27-28.

Kilborn, P. T. (1992, October 4). A company recasts itself to erase years of bias. The New York Times, p. A1.

Makower, J. (1995). Managing diversity in the workplace. Business and Society Review, (92), 48-54.

Schuler, R. S. (1992). Repositioning the human resource function: Transformation or demise? In Frost, P.J., Mitchell, V.F. & Nord, W.R. eds., HRM Reality: Putting Competence In Context. Cincinnati: Southwestern Publishing Company.

Solomon, J. (1990, September 12). As cultural diversity of workers grows, experts urge appreciation of differences. The Wall Street Journal, p. B1.

Strategic Planning Task Force on Diversity. (1991). Pathway to diversity: Strategic plan for the Cooperative Extension System's emphasis on diversity. Washington, D.C.: Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, USDA.

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Thomas, R. R. (1990). From affirmative action to affirming diversity. Harvard Business Review, 68, (2), 107-117.