Katherine Szarkowski-Boder: Work Abroad Developed Sensitivity to Diversity and Inclusion

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 14, 2016
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Katherine Szarkowski-Boder Working in Japan for eight years gave Katherine Szarkowski-Boder, SHRM-CP, a keen understanding of what it feels like to be in the minority in the workforce. The experience has informed her HR work in diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.

“I experienced what it was like to not blend in or be accepted in a nation because of my obvious differences to their norm,” including not being allowed to enter businesses and being overlooked for promotions. “The gap was wide, obvious and accepted,” she wrote in her application for one of the seven 2016 SHRM Foundation Annual Conference & Exposition Scholarships.

As a scholarship recipient, this HR professional with 18 years of experience is looking forward to gaining a richer understanding of the direction of diversity-related legislation, enhancing her understanding of reasonable accommodation, and learning how she can lead change in D&I programs. 

The Foundation launched the Annual Conference scholarship initiative in 2015. The nearly $2,500 scholarships give HR professionals who might otherwise be unable to attend because of a lack of financial support the opportunity to experience Annual Conference. Each scholarship comes with full-conference registration, four nights’ housing at a conference hotel and a $500 travel stipend. This year’s conference will be held June 19-22 in Washington, D.C. 

Szarkowski-Boder’s work with diverse cultures includes living in Japan from 1983-92. Initially, she traveled there for missionary work with the Catholic organization Good Shepard Movement. She was then recruited as a branch manager for a Japanese company to train professionals in how to conduct business internationally. During this time, she continued volunteering, which included working with refugees.

When Szarkowski-Boder returned to the U.S., her focus became learning about and understanding the challenges of workers with different cultural backgrounds. As HR director at Mary T. Inc., a national organization based in Coon Rapids, Minn., that provides homes for people with mental and physical disabilities, she worked with Native American Pueblos in New Mexico; people of African, Eastern European and Southwest Asian descent working in Minnesota; and business owners from nearly every continent. 

“I took the time to listen to their cultural needs and translated [those needs] into core HR business strategies,” she said in her application. She also led life skills workshops to address the basic needs of newcomers to the U.S. as a way to help them feel more secure in their home and work lives. 

However, diversity is not just about race and the color of skin, she noted. It includes medical and socioeconomic factors, age, veteran status, and other characteristics. 
“My goal is to spearhead programs to educate business communities and have them partner in integrating programs that ‘look for the genius in the crowd,’ ” she wrote. “As HR leaders we need to drive home the untapped valuable contributions and resources of all people, not just the ones that fit the stereotype. If a candidate with a disability or diverse background presents themselves for a position and truly is the most qualified, then why should the odds be against them?” 

Szarkowski-Boder has been a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Advocacy Team since 2010. Although her job was eliminated recently during an organizational restructuring, she is studying for the SHRM-SCP exam, a fiduciary certificate and Six Sigma Black Belt certification for Human Resources.

The Foundation awards five Annual Conference scholarships to SHRM members from each of five regions of the U.S. Szarkowski-Boder is the recipient from the North Central region. Additionally, one scholarship is awarded to a SHRM student member and one to a veteran who is a SHRM member.

She and the other six recipients will be introduced during one of the general sessions at Annual Conference.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.
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