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Staff Snapshot: Jo Mackness, staff advisor designate to the Regents

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Jo Mackness, staff advisor designate to the Regents

Though the roles Jo Mackness has held are diverse — consultant, lecturer, corporate responsibility lead and chief human resources officer, to name a few — her professional accomplishments reveal a clear theme: a passion for leading change that makes people’s lives better.

Today, she is assistant vice chancellor and chief operating officer of UC Berkeley’s Division of Student Affairs and a leader of several UC Berkeley and systemwide committees. She’s also the incoming staff advisor to the University of California Regents, a role in which she will harness her deep knowledge of employee experience to help make UC a better place to work.

“I believe we have an opportunity to leverage the University of California as a people social mobility engine, not just for students, but also for staff,” Jo says.

Building a UC career

Jo is passionate about helping employees build their dream careers at UC, as she has done exactly that. Thanks to advice from an early mentor, she has advanced her career by regularly seeking opportunities to build relationships and gain experience — taking time to meet people outside her department and volunteering for special projects, committees, advisory councils and boards.  

“It takes time and can be challenging to step out of your day job and do additional work; it can be awkward putting yourself out there with people you don’t know. But pushing yourself to do these things can lead to terrific learning opportunities and meaningful connections.”

“I’m always discouraged when staff report that they can’t achieve their career objectives within UC,” she says. “UC has thousands of available jobs. “Every role isn’t a fit for every person and many require special skillsets. But I think we can better inform staff about available opportunities and the pathways they can take to gain experience and grow. The staff advisors are well-positioned to make headway in this area.”

Here to serve all UC staff

During her time at UC, Jo has had the opportunity to interact and build relationships with staff members whose roles range from grounds, custodial and food service to research, financial aid advising and fundraising. She’s tuned in to the retiree community through her recent role as chair of the UC Retirement System Advisory Board. And, as her undergraduate research focused on how peoples’ identities — in particular, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation — intersect with public health issues, she’s keenly aware of how individual experiences are impacted by identity.

“I’ve heard numerous staff members’ perspectives about working at UC, and what strikes me most is that their experiences vary dramatically, particularly based on their roles and different identities. The UC Systemwide Engagement Survey also reflects this; for example, if you look at the responses of people of color and/or those who identify as LGBTQIA+, they tend to be less satisfied with their experience being employed by the university. This really shouldn’t be the case,” Jo says. “One of the things I’m most committed to, now and in my past roles, is trying to identify the processes, systems and practices that touch all employees but disproportionately negatively impact some. We need to work on changing these systems and processes to cultivate a more equitable experience.”

“My belief has always been that an organization will perform better and have a greater positive contribution to society by treating its people well. That’s what has drawn me to various human-resources-oriented roles in the past. And, it has drawn me to this opportunity to influence staff well-being throughout the UC system.” 

Meet Jo

Name: Jo Mackness

Title: Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer

Department/Unit: Student Affairs

Location: UC Berkeley 

When did you start working for UC? September 2008

Describe what you do at UC in five words or less: Helping students & staff thrive in their living/working environment 

Why do you love working for UC? I see the University of California as the people mobility engine for the state. And, let me define “people.” We often refer to this concept of social mobility within the context of students, but I think it applies to staff as well. That’s really what I’m committed to — helping create mobility and opportunity beyond our students.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I cannot wink. There are other people in my family, my dad and one of my sons, who struggle with winking too. I’m calling it genetics, but I really don’t know. At times I’ve found it to be a really good icebreaker. It puts people into hysterics when I try!

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? May I have two? I’d like to have dinner with two of this country’s “founding fathers” — James Madison and Alexander Hamilton — to learn more about Madison’s intention behind the Bill of Rights and Hamilton’s opposition to it. I’d ask them both how they might propose updating those rights for where our country is today and needs to be in the future. 

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? What we discussed earlier — that it can be so impactful to take yourself out of your current day job, even for a very small percentage of your time. Interacting with people outside your immediate work circle is a huge learning opportunity. You gift your perspective to others and get the same in return. And, I would say that almost 100% percent of the time I have done this it’s yielded a new opportunity of some kind.



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