For the Educational Testing Service, a diverse workforce is not just a bullet point on a corporate to-do list in the service of political correctness. Fairness, equality, and access to people worldwide define the ETS mission, but the company’s diversity also reflects a pragmatic business decision on the value of multiple perspectives. Lew Shumaker, senior diversity consultant at ETS, describes his company’s approach as a desire to “more fully reflect the world we serve. Through diversity, our products and services are enhanced — a diversity of perspectives, different points of views, different opinions.”
ETS is, first of all, concerned about maintaining a balance that includes underrepresented groups — African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Yet diversity, in Shumaker’s view, embodies more than just cultural and racial differences and also includes different types of life experience and educational training — all of which he believes contribute to a better educational product. “The more types of thinking and perspective,” he says “the better the solution.”
Shumaker will be part of a panel on “Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace” at the Mercer Chamber’s Diversity in the Workplace Roundtable and American Conference on Diversity dinner Tuesday, May 12, at 4 p.m., at the Trenton Country Club. Other speakers include Linda Baxavaneous, organization development officer at Capital Health, and Lauren Cohen, human resources director at Allies Inc.
Following the roundtable the American Conference on Diversity will honor winners of its annual humanitarian awards. Cost: $25, roundtable; $125, dinner; or $140 for both. For dinner tickets, contact Linda Tondow at 732-745-9330, ext. 23.
ETS uses a number of policies, programs, and procedures to ensure that diverse perspectives are part of its corporate consciousness:
Hiring goals that embrace diverse groups. ETS looks to hire people from a mix of backgrounds as test item writers, and it pays particular attention to ethnicity and gender in its “influencers group,” the subset of its 2,500 employees who have the biggest impact on products and services.
Fairness guidelines. “These have been developed internally but reviewed externally,” says Shumaker, and they are used for development of all ETS assessments. “They spell out the kinds of things you should and should not say and do.”
To ensure that every ETS communication fairly represents ETS’s diverse global demographic, using inclusive language and images that will not offend any group, every publication and brochure goes through a sensitivity review.
ETS also has a process to analyze test items for fairness, using certain “equating questions” to determine if different groups or genders perform in a way that is significantly different from others. “We look at questions and why people answer differently,” says Shumaker. Through this analysis ETS learns, for example, what kinds of phrases are best to avoid.
Sometimes what reviewers learn is far from obvious. Consider a math question in which a person has $20 in his pocket. Certain people simply could not imagine having that much money on hand. “They get so hung up that they can’t work on the problem,” says Shumaker.
Even a single word may have different connotations to different peoples. “Words that are used have to be carefully chosen,” says Shumaker. Otherwise, they may create a distraction that prevents individuals from answering a question
The achievement gap. As part of ETS’s policy evaluation and research on the achievement gap, it convenes regular symposiums to address performance issues that exist between different demographics. Over the last three years, ETS has invited hundreds of people from different constituencies — school districts, state boards of education, universities, community colleges, high schools, and foundations — to several of these symposiums. “They sort out why and how people learn differently, and why there are gaps,” says Shumaker. He notes that how people react and learn varies not only across cultures but according to subject matter, with differences between math and English.
Visiting faculty program. Each June ETS hosts visiting scholars and faculty from universities across the United States — all from underrepresented groups. The visitors learn about writing test items, then review some of the company’s assessments from the perspectives of their own cultural backgrounds. They help ETS to evaluate questions and whether answers might vary, for example, between males and females or Hispanics and African Americans.
Outreach programs to diverse populations. Although ETS makes its hiring decisions based on who is most qualified, its outreach helps to generate an applicant pool with the range of people it wants who also have the necessary skill levels. “There are very few psychometricians (one who practices the science of measurement), particularly from underrepresented groups,” says Shumaker, “and we have to keep in touch.”
ETS has an extensive program, for example, with Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, where ETS is helping to develop a program in psychometrics. Three ETS staff members have taught courses there, and ETS is providing internships to masters and doctoral students in the program.
ETS is also active in the GEM consortium, a group of 65 universities and 45 corporations whose mission is to promote the participation of underrepresented groups in post-graduate science and engineering education and the technical workforce. ETS’s president and CEO Kurt Landgraf is a former president of the GEM consortium.
Shumaker earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1965 from Ohio State University, where his dorm actually was inside the football stadium, with his back door on the 40 yard line. Shumaker’s father was a carpenter, and he was the first in his family to graduate from college.
Shumaker worked for 36 years at DuPont, where he was active in its diversity outreach in science and engineering. He spent 18 years in Dupont’s international business area, including five years in Sydney, Australia, and worked in university and college relations, professional staffing, finance, and training and development.
Landgraf, also a former DuPont employee, knew Shumaker by reputation as having a strong commitment to diversity, and invited him to come to ETS for what was to have been only a two-year stint. Shumaker has now been at ETS for eight years, he says, because he has a passion for what he does.
Shumaker loves developing the networks, relationships, and close ties essential to cultivating a diverse workplace. “In diversity, you’re looking not only at ethnicity but at the life experiences people bring to the table — what they have done; who they have met, formally or informally; what experiences they’ve had,” he says.