Women's Network hosts diversity speaker

Thursday, January 16, 2014 | 7:31 p.m. CST; updated 7:42 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 16, 2014

COLUMBIA — Joan Gabel, dean of the Trulaske School of Business at MU, thinks the way women are treated in the workplace is different today than it was for women of previous generations.

Gabel spoke Thursday as a guest speaker at the monthly luncheon of the Women's Network, a group of about 500 Columbia businesswomen that seeks to promote the personal and professional growth of businesspeople in the Columbia area.

She told the story of a role model of hers who faced resistance to her as a woman in the workplace. Co-workers belittled her or put up obstacles that made it difficult for her to advance her career.

Things have improved, Gabel said, using her own experience as an example.

"I didn't have to bulldoze," Gabel said.

Still, Gabel said, despite progress in workplace equality for women, society might be inadvertently failing to give adequate respect to other kinds of differences in perspective, background or values.

In her talk, Gabel sought to address the question of why it's so hard to make progress on issues surrounding diversity.

"Diversity and inclusiveness is hard because it is a moving target," Gabel said. Demographics are constantly changing, and so are our perspectives on diversity, she said.

Gabel described her approach to increasing diversity within the School of Business as "purposeful and organic." The school is trying to recruit students, faculty and staff that broaden the spectrum of perspectives represented at the school.

Rather than trying to recruit any specific groups, the school would like to be more inclusive of under-represented minorities who have different life experiences and possibly come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, Gabel said.

The primary reason that minority students decide against coming to MU is the lack of scholarships, Gabel said. The business school is working to improve scholarship support for these students.

"This is not something you can make a quick fix to, that you can check a box," Gabel said.

Women's Network President Heather Hargrove appreciated Gabel's talk about diversity.

"It's not something we all think about every day," Hargrove said. Talks like Gabel's bring the issue back into focus and help those who don't face challenges of inclusiveness to keep an open mind, Hargrove said.

"I think we learn the most about being inclusive ... by being inclusive," Gabel said. She asked questions of the audience at the end of the talk, prompting audience members to share their stories of cultural change and improvements they had experienced.

Gabel said small groups are the best way to discuss these often uncomfortable issues because they allow for more open conversation.

The problems of diversity are so daunting, Gabel said, "All you can do is start."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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