University officials briefed staff leadership this week on a new initiative to diversify the school’s 8,100 non-faculty staff.

An administrative focus on staff diversity will pick up steam this month as five new committees meet to discuss increasing opportunities for employees of different races, sexes and cultural backgrounds. Activists and staff members said there is a serious need for the diversity effort, as management positions are largely inaccessible to minorities.

The staff undertaking, together with a nearly-completed faculty diversity proposal, composes a widespread University effort to diversify its ranks, Provost Andrew Hamilton said.

“It is part of a broader initiative to ensure that Yale functions at the best of its ability, and that requires a staff and faculty that properly reflect the makeup of society,” Hamilton said.

The new plan — announced to about 150 administrators at a leadership retreat Monday — lays the groundwork for expanding staff opportunities. Two committees conceived over the summer will eventually make policy recommendations to increase diversity, Chief Human Resources Officer Robert Schwartz said. The first is a “working group” composed of 17 staff members from various backgrounds and levels of the University. The group’s immediate focus will be to finalize a statement of goals by winter recess, Schwartz said, but the committee is already discussing plans for recruitment programs, mentoring for minority members and training to increase employee awareness of diversity issues.

The second group, the University Council Committee on Workplace Diversity, consists of 10 external experts who will advise the administration on diversifying its managerial and professional staff. While some members are alumni, none are currently affiliated with the University. The committee includes representatives from large companies such as Texaco, General Mills and TIAA-CREF.

“These are experts from outside organizations with a passion in this area to help guide us,” Schwartz said.

The Committee will meet for the first time next week, but Associate University Secretary Patricia Zandy said such groups typically assemble two or three times during a two-year period before issuing final recommendations. Unlike the working group, it will focus exclusively on diversity among managerial and professional staff.

Some students and staff said there are not enough promotions of minorities to middle-management positions, and argued that present promotions do not effect genuine change.

“People in the dining halls can be made ‘head’ of something, like ‘head of pantry,’ but there’s no promotion beyond that,” said Jonathan Edwards College dining hall worker Rory Jones. “They’re just trying to make you feel important by putting ‘head’ in front of it.”

But Johnese Webb in Calhoun College said the situation is improving.

“It would be nice to see more female cooks and cooks from other ethnic groups,” she said, “but you see that more and more every day.”

Staff diversity has been on the University’s radar for at least two years, Schwartz said, but a recent emphasis on training and internal promotion provides a good opportunity to take action.

“It’s not like we all of a sudden flipped on a light switch and said, ‘Hey, diversity is something we should start working on,'” he said. “The timing is right to put an even greater emphasis on it.”

Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper said the initiative will include three “affinity groups” to provide support for members of particular minorities. An African-American group is already active, and Asian-American and Hispanic groups will be formed this month, he said.

“The idea is to form a community that can be helpful to individuals in developing their own career, getting advice, and getting support from someone who’s faced the same challenges,” Pepper said.

Apart from the staff initiative, Yale’s Minority Advisory Council met with Yale President Richard Levin last week to discuss more general issues facing the Yale community.

The MAC — a group of 18 staff, faculty and students that Levin reinstated last year — will focus this year on the University’s grievance process for addressing discrimination and the development of programs, academic offerings, and fellowships related to minority issues, MAC Chairman and Law School professor Drew Days said.