Janet Hill grew up in segregated New Orleans, an only child of professional
parents. When she left for all-white, all-female Wellesley College in
1965, it was a sea change.
Three days after arriving in Massachusetts, she called home, hoping to persuade her doting father that he should bring her home, arrange a transfer to Tulane University - and maybe even buy her a car, since she was so miserable.
Instead, her mother, Vivian McDonald, answered the phone - and the rest of her life began, Hill recalls: "She said, 'You're not running away. You will buckle down and study ... and you will extend the benefit of the doubt to these young women. You're not going to assume these women won't welcome you. You have something to offer them as well."
words have framed Hill's work and worldview for the past 40 years.
She earned a B.A. in mathematics from Wellesley in 1969 and went on
to receive a master's degree in math education from the University of
Today she is a vice president at Alexander & Associates, a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm that advises clients like Major League Baseball, IBM and the Ford Foundation on what she calls "inclusiveness."
In my work, we have found that the use of the word 'diversity' is divisive - it causes people to focus on their differences," Hill explains. She founded the firm in 1981 with Clifford Alexander, whom she worked with as special assistant and White House liaison when he was secretary of the Army from 1978 to 1981.
Hill, who is in her first year on Duke's Board of Trustees, also
serves on three corporate boards: Sprint Nextel, Wendy's International
and Dean Foods.
And she's one-half of a true power couple: Her husband, Yale graduate and retired NFL running back Calvin Hill, is a consultant for the Dallas Cowboys.
Their only son, Grant Hill, graduated from Duke in 1994 and now plays in the NBA for the Phoenix Suns.
Duke provided her son with a broad curriculum and a "rich experience" that had lasting benefits, Hill says: For example, an art course at Duke inspired Grant's interest in collecting African-American art. A selection of 46 works from his substantial collection were featured in a nationwide touring exhibition from 2003 to 2006. The exhibition was last shown at the Nasher Museum of Art.
Success, Hill says, comes from striving to broaden one's reach:
"I have a saying: 'Strive for excellence in everything you do, all your endeavors. Compromises discredit you - and prejudice is a compromise. But pursuit of excellence differentiates you," she says. "I say this to Grant all this time."
While barriers persist, both corporations and universities need to
understand that recruiting women and minorities will help them succeed,
Hill says - whether they're contributing to a stronger bottom line
or welcoming debate among a community of scholars.
"There is a common goal that we're all working toward, so that our differences should be of no moment," she says. "You want to have a spirit of inclusiveness - extending the benefit of the doubt to everybody."