Yale’s human resources department is working to dispel charges that its employment practices ignore racial and gender diversity, top University officials said this weekend.

In recent weeks, members of Locals 34 and 35 and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization have criticized University administrators for promoting fewer female and minority employees to upper-level managerial positions. Union and GESO leaders said Yale should employ at least the same amount of tenured women and minority faculty members as the national and Ivy League averages. In response, Yale administrators have said they are committed to increasing staff diversity, and that recruiting or promoting women and minorities to fill the roughly 300 open University positions is a “top priority” for the human resources department, HR Staffing Director Cathy Vellucci said Sunday.

“My particular challenge is meeting the needs of our internal community, because I’d like to promote more from within and still meet the needs of the larger New Haven community,” said Vellucci, who was appointed in November to oversee staff training and departmental assignments.

Vellucci said she has not yet finalized the details of any new diversity initiatives, but she is meeting with a steering committee to discuss ways of increasing diversity at Yale through appointments to the open positions. These positions include jobs in the clerical and technical fields represented by Local 34, engineering and custodial jobs that comprise part of Local 35, and other managerial and professional positions.

One of the goals for the campaign spearheaded by Vellucci is the appointment of upper-management officials who are already Yale employees, Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper said.

Pepper said his office is concentrating on internal promotion with “talent development reviews,” a new aspect of performance development analyses at Yale. In addition to an annual performance review, Pepper said he and other administrators will meet to discuss their top employees and assess how their careers can be advanced.

“The bottom line is we are committed to doing a better job of identifying individuals who can grow and want to grow in their responsibilities,” Pepper said. “We have no more important mission in our work than helping those who work for us to fulfill their potential.”

Yale union leaders said they are optimistic the administration’s new focus on minority employment will better Yale’s staff diversity, but said they will wait to see results before passing judgment on the University’s success.

“It’s a long-overdue step in the right direction,” Local 35 and Greater New Haven Labor Council President Bob Proto said. “Diversity, equal rights and access are really all the same, and it’s a broad problem. John Pepper has a very good history and an extremely impressive record of dealing with diversity while he was at Proctor and Gamble, and I’m glad that he’s taken point on this.”

Proto said union leaders still want to discuss their concerns for diversity and the nature of Vellucci’s program in an open forum with administrators and “a cross-section” of the University community.

While Vellucci is part of a concerted effort by administrators to increase Yale’s staff diversity, this effort is nothing new, Chief Human Resources Officer Rob Schwartz said.

“Dealing with diversity is part of the culture of Yale University, and it always should be,” Schwartz said.

Still, Schwartz said no potential employee will be selected over more qualified applicants on the basis of gender or race. Vellucci warned that with only about 300 positions available, not all qualified applicants may be offered a place at Yale.

When searching for additional University faculty, Provost Andrew Hamilton said administrators are exploring all available options.

“We continue to pursue ways of improving the processes by which we search for candidates, ensuring that the applicant pools are as strong as possible and as diverse as possible,” Hamilton said. “We are encouraging departments to search broadly, to contact institutions and mentors who have a history of training female and minority scholars to make sure that the candidates represent the best that the field has to offer.”