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Q&A: Lauren Turner, on representation and belonging
Turner joined WPI as senior vice president of talent & inclusion and chief diversity officer in January 2022.
What excites you about this role at WPI?
When I came to campus for my interview, I was excited by all the people I met. I love that WPI is a STEM school that cares deeply about making a positive difference in the world. WPI prepares graduates to be better civic contributors and better employees because they learn human skills, like how to work with people, how to communicate, and how to collaborate. It’s a values-based way of teaching STEM. I was also excited because I learned early on about WPI’s strategic plan and how it is bookended by two pillars based in equity: access and inclusiveness.
The fact that talent, inclusion, people, and culture are included in this position excited me as well. When we’re talking about DEI, we’re talking about representation, which should be reflective of the available labor force and available pool of prospective students from which we are drawing. When you bring people together, they need to have experiences where they can engage fully, build respectful relationships, truly feel a sense of belonging, and be successful.
Shortly after you started at WPI, President Laurie Leshin told you she was leaving. How are you supporting the presidential search process?
Laurie told me on my third day that she would be leaving WPI. But organizations change and leaders change—it’s what happens at every institution. I pretty quickly pivoted to, “What’s the plan for transition?” She asked me to work closely with Trustee David LaPré ’74, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, and it’s been a great experience so far. We’re working to facilitate a process that’s inclusive, and I’m confident we will attract a great pool of candidates from which to select WPI’s next leader. As we were creating a specifications document, we held dozens of listening sessions that included many WPI stakeholders—faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, and trustees. I learned so much about WPI through these sessions, things that normally could have taken me years to learn. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s given me a great perspective.
Your PhD dissertation focused on diversity management practices. Why is this subject so important to you?
I earned my PhD late in my career, in 2018, and that work has informed my practice. But in a lot of respects, my practice informed my PhD work and dissertation. What I found in my research was that chief human resources officers who have higher levels of cultural intelligence are more likely to support the establishment of diversity and inclusion practices at their institutions. They also are more likely to engage in transformational leadership behaviors that influence other institutional decision makers around DEI. That’s really the essence of why I got into this business 40 years ago.
What might people be surprised to learn about you?
Sometimes people are surprised when I talk about how strongly I feel that every level matters when it comes to DEI, and that we need to be thinking about DEI every single time we make a decision so we can create a better, stronger, more inclusive, and more engaged community.
On the personal side, I am the fifth of seven children and my family often struggled financially. My parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college—in fact my dad didn’t finish high school—but they understood the value of education, so much so that when I married my husband at age 18, I made a commitment to them that I would go to college.
I began working at Mount Holyoke College in the 1980s as a receptionist in the Office of Personnel Services; I earned my undergraduate and master’s degrees as I moved up the career ladder of the human resources business. I moved to UMass Lowell in 2011 and pursued my doctoral degree while serving as senior associate vice chancellor for HR. I received my PhD in 2018, just six months before my dad passed away, but he was there to witness what for me (and him) was an important life accomplishment. My husband and I have been married for 42 years; we have two daughters, ages 35 and 33, one grandson, age 4, and another one on the way.