Including Our People: Shirley O’Brien Diversity & Inclusion Award Recipient Betty Thompson

Sept. 6, 2019

Interview with Betty Thompson, winner of the 2018 Shirley O'Brien Diversity and Inclusion Award


“When you’re working in the community, when working with underserved people… people on food stamps, schools that have 100% [of students on] free and reduced lunches,” Betty Thompson, recipient of the 2018 Shirley O’Brien Diversity and Inclusion Award, shared about her role as a senior health educator, “diversity and treating people with respect is important.”

A veteran of the civil rights movement, Thompson remembers the time in our nation’s history when African Americans were made to sit at the back of the bus and had separate water fountains.  “Diversity is part of who I am,” she stated. 

Thompson has been passionate and active in the promotion of a diverse workplace since college and throughout her working career.  Highlights of her work include participating in the 1963 March on Washington, chairing various diversity and inclusion councils/ employee resource groups, serving as the diversity and inclusion manager for Honeywell, and leading management and diversity workshops. Betty also received the Honeywell Global Diversity and Inclusion Award.

In the division of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences and Cooperative Extension, our foundational intent is to be the most sought-after place to be part of, which means living up to our values of diversity and inclusion to ensure all employees, students, alumni and other stakeholders feel they belong in our division.  The annual Shirley O’Brien Diversity and Inclusion Award recognizes employees who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of diversity and inclusion.

Betty Thompson, the 2018 recipient, is a senior health educator from Maricopa County Cooperative Extension. She was nominated by her colleagues for her vast knowledge, passion, experience, and mentorship in making her own workplace a more diverse and inclusive environment.

One of her nominators shared a personal story about using the phrase “you people,” since it was common when addressing a group of like-minded folks where she grew up – and Thompson’s compassionate correction:

Betty went beyond pointing [out] my indiscretion. She explained the reasons behind that perception. Had she simply told me that my comment was inappropriate, I might have remained defensive. After all, I am someone who enjoys and respects diversity and would not purposely use offensive terms or phrases… However, when Betty explained the history behind that phrase and why it is received as derogatory by certain groups, I learned a lesson and no longer use that phrase. Betty educated me and changed my behavior without making me feel foolish or embarrassed.
“If I’m trying to get the people around me to treat others with dignity and respect, I have to do the same,” Thompson explained.  “Diversity and inclusion are about communication, words matter. How can you make a person’s day better? By treating them respectfully and showing that you respect what they have to say.”

“I try to practice the platinum rule – treat others how they want to be treated,” Thompson said. “In order to do that, I have to have a conversation with them, find out who they are, what they’re about.”

Reflecting about what she’s most proud of, Thompson shared: “I think if you could go back to different places I’ve worked – they would probably say ‘oh that’s the diversity lady.’”

When asked what being nominated by her peers and selected as the recipient of the Shirley O’Brien Diversity and Inclusion Award means to her, Thompson said: “I was very honored… overwhelmed to a certain extent, it really touched my heart.” 

“You get along with people, have a good relationship and all that, but [with the nomination] you get to see what they really think of you.”

One of her colleagues said it best: “Betty Thompson is a shining of model of how all UA employees should understand and promote diversity and inclusion within their work.”

We agree.


For more information about nominating a colleague for the Shirley O’Brien Diversity and Inclusion Award, visit the award page on Compass.  The nomination period is open for this year's award until October 7th, 2019.