Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



August/September 2013

Diversity/Careers August/September 2013

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Diversity In Action

AIR conducts social science research with a noble goal

This nonprofit organization is a good match for pros who want to invest their IT skills in the greater good: its mission is to use research to improve lives

The nonpartisan and nonprofit American Institutes for Research (AIR, Washington, DC) is one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research organizations. Its mission is to use its research to improve people’s lives, with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged.

“This is a great organization to work for,” says Monica L. Villalta, director of diversity and inclusion. “We’re creating a positive work environment where everyone can thrive. The leadership of this organization is crafting a sound diversity and inclusion strategy, dedicating the same kind of effort to the project that we do for our quality research.”

Among the company’s values, she says, are intellectual rigor, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, integrity, collegiality, and a commitment to quality work and diversity.

Hiring technology talent to focus on the future
AIR currently has open positions for candidates ranging from entry-level to more seasoned professionals, says Nikki Sharan, director of IT service management. “We’re looking for motivated, enthusiastic and dedicated people to provide support at our service desk, work with our service management team, engineer new solutions in our operations team, and lead projects on our project management team,” she says. “The IT department is focusing on the future to provide innovative solutions to our staff and clients.” Other positions at AIR include systems/network engineer, .Net software engineer, SharePoint project manager, senior database architect, software development project manager and data analyst.

AIR looks for expertise in areas ranging from project management and psychometrics to website development, data management and software engineering, according to Sharan. “AIR is supporting a number of new technologies and looking for systems, network and security professionals to ensure the availability, reliability and resilience of our infrastructure.”

Sharan notes that the IT department works closely with the recruiting team to source from various pools: posting on major job sites, establishing a presence on LinkedIn and other social media sites, and reaching out to local colleges. “We attend recruiting fairs and post our positions on the Women in Technology job board,” she says. “In addition, our diverse staff is an excellent source of referral candidates.”

Bob Holstein, vice president for information technology, adds, “We’re also seeking project management leaders who can help us engineer new solutions in our operations team, and lead projects on our project management team. We aim to hire the best technology talent that will be committed to achieving our mission and will continue building AIR into the preeminent research and services organization we are.”

According to Villalta, “Our mission drives what we do, including our diversity and inclusion strategy. We use all of our people and technology resources to improve people’s lives, in particular for the disadvantaged.”

A powerhouse diversity team
AIR created a diversity advisory committee five years ago, Villalta reports. Villalta herself joined the organization in 2012 to spearhead diversity efforts. “We are turning our diversity advisory committee into a formal diversity council,” she reports. “We’re identifying leadership for employee resource groups to launch by the end of the year.”

David Myers, president and CEO, and Mark Fanning, VP for human resources, are working with Villalta and AIR’s board of directors to fine-tune a comprehensive diversity and inclusion action plan.

The board of directors is a diverse group in its own right, Villalta points out. “And our leadership team is highly supportive and enthusiastic. It is phenomenal to work with a leadership team that’s as knowledgeable and passionate as ours,” Villalta says.

Improving demographic representation
“This organization is aware that we can and should diversify our workforce further, and we are looking at numbers and trying to identify our trends. But for some roles, it has to be looked at in the context of the availability of PhDs,” Villalta says. According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, the percentage of African Americans among people with PhDs has increased from 6 percent twenty years ago to 8 percent today. For Latinos, the numbers have doubled from 3 percent to 6 percent in that same period of time, but both percentages are still very low. “During the last two decades, there has been only a slight improvement,” Villalta notes. “This shows that we need to work on developing the pipeline of researchers.”

AIR has established partnerships with several universities. “For example, we have a successful relationship with Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA). Several AIR employees who are Morehouse alumni visit the school each year, with the idea of introducing our organization to students,” Villalta says. “We’ve done something similar with high school students in our surrounding community through the College Bound program. AIR employees mentor students face to face and we provide summer internships and donations that support scholarships. This summer we have ten College Bound interns working at AIR but we want to do more targeted recruiting with populations that are underrepresented in academia and research.

“We’re aware of the changing demographics of our nation and the changing demographics in our school systems. We would like to mirror those demographics at AIR,” says Villalta. “We want to make sure that as we diversify our workforce, we are a role model for other research institutions like ours. I think we’re on that path.”



Headquarters: Washington, DC
Employees: 1,600
Revenues: $300+ million
Business: Behavioral and social science research and technical assistance in health, education and workforce productivity

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