Initiatives launched to further employee commitment to DEI


Malcolm Taylor

Secretary Elaine Robison works at her desk in the high school office.

Peter Pu, Editor-In-Chief

Since spring break, Laboratory Schools employees have embarked on initiatives to further their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

In a March 11 email to employees, Laboratory Schools Director Tori Jueds outlined specific programs applying to employees, including members of the Faculty Association, office and clerical staff in Teamsters union Local 743 and other employees not part of a union. 

Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, all nonunion Lab employees will be required to set an annual goal pertinent to DEI in Workday, the University of Chicago’s human resources and employee data system. Nonunion employees include most administrators such as principals, assistant principals, deans of students, and employees in the offices of alumni relations and development and communications and marketing. 

On April 22, nonunion employees participated in the first of a series of professional development sessions designed to help attendees devise the appropriate goals. Future sessions are scheduled during the summer, planning week and next school year. Whether experienced in DEI work or not, individuals will set goals tailored to their own needs, according to Ms. Jueds. 

“We all have to recognize and be comfortable with the fact that all of the members of our community are approaching this work from a different perspective,” Ms. Jueds said.

For Local 743 employees the focus will be ensuring their equitable treatment and inclusion in the Lab community. Local 743 Steward Kim Banister, department assistant for fine arts, music and world languages, said that Local 743 employees sometimes feel that they do not belong at Lab. 

“Of course they’re working in the department, but they don’t feel a part of it,” Ms. Banister said. “Sometimes, when you are in your particular position, you feel like there’s nowhere else to go.”

During the week of April 18, Local 743 employees negotiated a contract, pending approval, that includes a 3.5% raise, better job security and other benefits such as parental adoption leave. But Ms. Banister said another part of the reason for Local 743 employees feeling not part of the Lab community is their educational background. While employees have opportunities to obtain training in skills such as communication, Ms. Banister hopes that they are allowed to attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference in the future. 

We want to get to do a lot of things faculty get to do, like the People of Color Conference, which is very important, and just want to maybe get acknowledged for what we do, because we do a lot.”

— Ms. Banister

“We just do want to feel included,” Ms. Banister said. “We want to get to do a lot of things faculty get to do, like the People of Color Conference, which is very important, and just want to maybe get acknowledged for what we do, because we do a lot.”

Conversations addressing DEI initiatives applying to members of the Faculty Association have been brought up in the March and April labor management meetings. These conversations remain in “very early” stages, according to Faculty Association President Jim Catlett, a U-High science teacher. 

In addition, Ms. Jueds said that another initiative has been requesting data from the university that characterizes the journey of employees and students through Lab. The initiative falls under the point outlined in Lab’s Diversity Action Plan to create a “data dashboard that helps Lab assess progress and identify areas of focus.” 

The Diversity Action Plan, published in June 2020, was intended to apply for three years after which the Diversity Advisory Committee would revisit its statements and implement corrections if necessary. However, Nicole Williams, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said she will propose the plan remain as it is. The fate of the plan will be finalized by the end of the school year. 

In planning for the future, Ms. Williams expects to support members of different divisions throughout Lab to fulfill their own unique goals. 

“I don’t want to just stay in the realm of whole-school support,” Ms. Williams said, “so I think I’ll be reflecting with some of the admin teams this summer about that, and how we can work together to offer some very school-specific supports next year.”