What happens when you widen your reach to capitalize on the different backgrounds and talents of your entire workforce? Institution leaders explain ways to take advantage of your diverse universe.
By Apryl Motley
Is diversity in your institution's DNA? According to higher education champions of diversity and inclusion, these values must be formalized and integrated throughout your institution's culture and business processes—from recruiting faculty and staff to training employees to hiring vendors. They also argue that demonstrated commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce is not only beneficial, but essential, to the future of higher education.
"Commitment to diversity is imperative to our success as managers and leaders," says Andy Brantley, president and CEO of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. "The workforce in general is becoming increasingly diverse, and the culture and needs of our institutions are changing," adds Lauren Turner, associate vice chancellor for human resources and equal opportunity and outreach at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and immediate past chair of the CUPA-HR board of directors. "If we think our existing business model will work five years from now, that's very shortsighted."
Increasingly leaders are thinking more strategically about how to leverage diversity as a competitive workforce advantage. "We have been successful in increasing the number of minority students on campus, which has changed the landscape of our student body," observes Noor Azizan-Gardner, interim chief diversity officer at the University of Missouri, Columbia. "Now we also see how critical it is to have a more diverse faculty and staff on campus to serve a more diverse student body."
That need to better reflect among higher education faculties and staffs the demographic shifts taking place within the postsecondary student population is evident when considering the anticipated changes in enrollment for American colleges and universities. According to the latest Projections of Education Statistics to 2020 from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, total enrollment in postsecondary degree-granting institutions through 2020 is expected to increase 13 percent—to 23 million students—between fall 2009 and fall 2020. Enrollment is projected to increase twice as fast among women (16 percent) as among men (8 percent). And with regard to race/ethnicity, between fall 2009 and fall 2020, enrollment is expected to increase by only 1 percent for students who are white, versus substantial increases among students who are Hispanic (46 percent), black (25 percent), and Asian/Pacific Islander (25 percent). Enrollment among students who are American Indian/Alaska Native are projected to decrease by 1 percent.
From a business standpoint, effective management of a diverse workforce can enhance the institution's organizational productivity and improve relationships with the surrounding community, asserts Joyce Ingram, an assistant vice president in finance and administration and chief human resources and diversity officer at Florida State University, Tallahassee. "We believe that when employees on our campus identify with and see diversity among their colleagues, they are less likely to see participation in problem solving and decisions that affect their work as being exclusive to others. This in turn reduces perceived barriers to participation and encourages engagement," explains Ingram. "As an employer, the university should be able to embrace all that its employees have to offer."
There really is no better lab than a college or university campus in which students can learn about themselves and learn from others who may think, look, or act differently.
This raises some fundamental questions: What does diversity mean? How should it be reflected within an organization? And what sensitivities are required of all employees to respect and value each other's unique attributes and contributions? While race/ethnicity and gender are among the most obvious characteristics that may be named in describing diversity, these alone do not define what it means to have a diverse workforce. Nor do age or physical ability—although given the growing number of employees postponing retirement and returning military veterans seeking employment, employers must anticipate the need for greater accommodation of employees managing a disability related to injury or aging.
Change and diversity management consultant Marilyn Loden's concepts of primary and secondary components of diversity and her "dimensions of diversity" wheel have been widely interpreted and adapted as a tool to better understand the complex web of differentiators that shape individual and group identity. (See sidebar, "Diversity in Motion," for details on ways Monroe Community College uses the tool.) Race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, physical abilities and characteristics, income, class, and spiritual beliefs are the dimensions Loden suggests are primary shapers of an individual's values and perceptions of others. Yet, secondary dimensions must also be recognized and understood in the context of the group. If these are ignored or devalued, such dynamics can lead to conflict and a sense of culture clash. According to Loden, these secondary dimensions include education, work experience, work style, communication style, organization role and level, military experience, geographic location, first language, family status, and political beliefs.
Engagement Equals Excellence and Efficiency
Understanding what it means to value and respect individual members of the group within the context of all these various dimensions of diversity is a challenge for every organization leader. Within higher education, building and promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce is imperative for bolstering an institution's objectives with regard to attracting students, faculty, and staff; retaining top talent; achieving optimum productivity and efficiency of operations; and ensuring strong relations with host communities and business partners.
"Our role as a university is to offer our students the best possible preparation to enter the workforce of our global economy," says Marty Meehan, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. "Because our institution prides itself on producing graduates who are work-ready, life-ready, and world-ready, fostering an inclusive campus community that reflects diversity among our faculty, staff, and students is important in helping all our graduates achieve those goals."
To provide higher education human resources professionals with a framework for building a culture of equity and inclusion at their institutions, CUPA-HR introduced a position statement for diversity at its 2011 annual meeting, after thorough vetting at all levels of the organization and with input from its full membership. Through the actions outlined in its statement, CUPA-HR leadership hopes to engage its members in establishing a mind-set within higher education that "welcomes, learns from, and celebrates differences among people" and a commitment to develop the talent and full capabilities of the higher education workforce. Specific goals the association has set for itself include:
- Becoming a national repository of information that documents the influence of diversity on improving workplace environments and strengthening the viability of higher education.
- Fostering a culture within the CUPA-HR community that models inclusive membership and leadership development practices.
- Sustaining CUPA-HR's commitment to partner and collaborate with other higher education organizations, such as the Council of Higher Education Management Associations (CHEMA) and its corporate partners, to expand national leadership in higher education focused on achieving excellence in this arena.
Among specific actions taken by the association are the creation of a scorecard to measure success in key areas and development of formal recognition for institutional initiatives and programs that have made a significant impact with respect to inclusive and equitable workplace practices. The latter has been incorporated into the CUPA-HR annual awards program, and the first "Inclusion Cultivates Excellence" award was presented at the association's annual conference last month.
Ultimately, employees themselves must come to appreciate intrinsic value of one another—not simply so that everyone can get along, but so that the full group can thrive together.
With so much transformative change occurring on all fronts within higher education and within society itself, a central question is this, notes Turner: "How can you be excellent if you don't have the skills to navigate a diverse society? We're institutions of learning. If we're not promoting diversity and making a commitment to it, who will?"
CUPA-HR's position statement is the foundation to a larger call to action, says Brantley. "Actions speak louder than words. Many institutions have done a good job of talking about diversity, but it too often doesn't go beyond that." Rather, says Brantley, diversity has to be embraced as part of the core culture of an organization. "It involves our willingness to invite different perspectives and surround ourselves with people different from us to make us better and more responsive to change."
Instead of thinking about diversity as an extra agenda item that will require additional time and resources to implement, Brantley suggests instilling the value of diversity into everyday activities and initiatives and communicating that it is the responsibility of every employee to promote a workplace that fosters inclusion of all its people and their ideas and encourages everyone to perform at their highest level. From a practical standpoint, how is this best accomplished? While the approach will no doubt vary from one institution to another, the key is to get started today along the journey of determining what diversity and inclusion mean for your institution, says Brantley.
Building Ownership and Partnership
Florida State University incorporated the term diversity into its vision and mission statements when updating the university's strategic plan for 2008-14. At that time, the institution's board of trustees also gave approval to move forward with the development of a diversity action plan.
Ingram served on the steering committee of the board's strategic planning committee and helped move these efforts forward. "We're already a diverse and inclusive organization, but we needed to highlight that and bring everything together under one umbrella," she says. "We want to maintain and enhance our brand as an engaged organization that involves all constituents in achieving its vision and mission."
Take stock of what you've got. To build the business case for placing strategic focus on diversity and inclusion, Ingram oversaw the process of benchmarking Florida State's efforts against other public universities in Florida as well as members of the Association of American Universities. Factors compared included diversity and inclusion initiatives, infrastructure, program development, and measurement.
Next, she and her team solicited information from the campus community about what programs departments already had in place that addressed one or more of seven key focus areas identified for the university's initiative: 1) leadership, faculty, staff, and student involvement; 2) education, training, and development; 3) recruitment and retention; 4) community relations; 5) communication; 6) policy and program development; and 7) measurement and reporting.
Among the existing initiatives under way:
- The College of Social Work formed a diversity committee composed of faculty, staff, and students to review and assess diversity within the college.
- University housing was already at work with a plan to intentionally recruit, hire, and retain a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as professional staff members, in residence life positions.
- Florida State's Center for Global Engagement developed a special academic program bringing more than 180 inter-national students from seven partner institutions to participate in an intensive six-month program at the university and through internships at Walt Disney World.
"We did not want to present this effort as a new program. We wanted to build upon what was already in place," says Ingram. "Our initial efforts gave members of the campus community opportunity to take pride in what they were already doing."
Formalize leadership buy-in. To gain momentum, however, commitment from senior leadership was essential. Ingram made presentations to members of the board of trustees as well as to the university's executive council. When Florida State University President Eric Barron took the helm in February 2010, he expressed firm commitment to diversity efforts early in his tenure, notes Ingram. She and Barron coauthored an open letter to university deans, directors, and department heads about the university's initiative. He also agreed to serve as the first chairman of the university's newly created 36-member diversity and inclusion council-composed of faculty, students, and staff-which met for the first time in February 2012.
Expand your supplier horizon. Another key aspect of the initiative was examining the institution's business relationships with small and minority-, women-, and service-disabled veteran-owned enterprises in the local community. "We wanted to ensure equal access to small businesses that wanted to do business with the university," Ingram says. She worked with an outside consultant to complete a comprehensive small-business participation program study. Based on the study, key focus areas were identified that shaped the framework for developing Florida State's supplier diversity program and hiring the university's first supplier diversity director, Edward Acoff.
"The biggest benefit of the program has been assisting small companies in taking advantage of business opportunities with the university," Acoff says. "Before the implementation of the program, there was the perception that our doors weren't open to these businesses. Now the climate is different," he continues, "and that perception has changed because of the various opportunities that we've made available to small businesses."
Key accomplishments during the first five years of the program's implementation include educating small businesses on how to do business with Florida State, launching an online vendor directory on the university's purchasing and facilities department Web sites, holding an inaugural supplier diversity vendor conference and trade fair, and creating a Florida State small-business participation council. Currently chaired by the university's associate vice president for facilities, this 18-member council, which supports Acoff in his role, includes the university's housing and purchasing directors as well as representatives from local businesses. "They provide insight on whom I need to work with on campus at the various colleges and departments to facilitate supplier diversity," says Acoff.
One metric used for measuring the success of the program is monitoring and reporting on the university's level of spending with small and minority-, women-, and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. "When you look at the dollars an institution has coming in and where those dollars are coming from, you also have to look at the makeup of the businesses you're spending those dollars with," Acoff explains.
Ingram sums up the guiding philosophy for this and other aspects of Florida State's diversity and inclusion initiative like this: "When you receive from a diverse group, you give back to a diverse group."
Internalizing and Exporting Diversity
Giving back to communities on a global scale through research and innovation is a driving force behind the University of Missouri's Chancellor's Diversity Initiative. Established six years ago, the initiative includes four areas: 1) leadership, 2) cultural competency education and consultation, 3) equity and compliance, and 4) promotions and program support. The overall goal of the initiative is "to expand opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to engage and thrive in an increasingly diverse environment." To accomplish this, the university's primary objective is to create a welcoming and inclusive campus for all, Azizan-Gardner says. "The chancellor wants MU to be a global destination university, which means being diverse and inclusive and really reflecting what it means to live in a multicultural and global society," notes Azizan-Gardner. "To do that, we have to take diversity very seriously."
Strengthen your base. MU's strategic plan makes diversity an integral part of the university's mission, and specific programs and resources reflect a concerted effort to engage all campus constituents in the conversation. From the "MizzouDiversity" portal Web site-a clearinghouse for diversity-related information-to MU's multicultural certificate program of study for students, to faculty hiring guidelines for recruiting and selecting diverse candidates, the university has been hard at work to infuse the values of diversity and inclusion throughout the campus and the curriculum.
From Azizan-Gardner's perspective, the work goes beyond meeting demographic goals. "We have to facilitate the cultural shift [from the idea] that diversity is nice to have, to recognition that it is a critical element of the university." This entails a keen focus on understanding each other well and being engaged in continuous dialogue, argues Azizan-Gardner. She believes that ongoing communication will be the source of the creativity and innovation needed to make MU's students, faculty, and staff-and ultimately, the institution itself-more competitive in the global marketplace.
One of the newest additions to MU's diversity efforts is a staff professional development program that includes monthly face-to-face workshops and online training modules (see sidebar, "MU Builds Community Through Diversity Discussion and Training"). "We really had no programs tailored specifically for staff," Azizan-Gardner acknowledges. Yet, front-line staff need the skills to deal with a diverse group of faculty and students, since they often will be the first point of contact. "It is imperative that we're able to provide services to these very different groups of individuals—and do it with efficiently and with sensitivity," asserts Azizan-Gardner.
Grow and share your expertise. As Azizan-Gardner sees it, MU has two primary "products." One is the university's students, who arguably will be more competitive because they have had a rich and diverse experience learning from one another, notes Azizan-Gardner. "Our other product is research, which we hope will impact the world because we have fostered collaboration and innovation." A diverse university will tend to create and produce more innovative, competitive students and research, asserts Azizan-Garner. In fact, one key area the initiative measures as part of evaluating MU's progress is the level of department research that contributes to understanding the diverse world in which we all live, she adds.
A broader qualitative measure of MU's progress is the university's campus climate survey. In a 2009 survey focused solely on students, 86 percent of respondents (representing 12 percent of the MU student population) indicated that it was important for diversity to be embraced by campus administration, faculty, staff, student leaders, and students in general. Future phases of the survey will solicit feedback from faculty and staff.
Overall, says Azizan-Gardner, it's difficult to measure the benefit of diversity and inclusion efforts in terms of dollars and cents: "We don't have enough research about whether such environments produce cost savings." Still, Azizan-Gardner feels confident that diversity brings unique and value-added benefits to the entire higher education enterprise. "We have a huge responsibility to really change the tenor and culture of our institutions. If we don't do this, we won't be preparing our students for a diverse world of global competition." And, she adds, there really is no better lab than a college or university campus in which students can learn about themselves and learn from others who may think, look, or act differently.
Expediting the Long View
"A primary driver for us to become a more diverse and welcoming workplace is our understanding of our inherent mission as a community college and of the need for our workforce to represent the community of students we serve," says Alberta Lee, assistant to the president, human resources and organizational development at Monroe Community College (MCC), Rochester, New York. "Like many higher education institutions, we recognize our need to increase our diversity. While the demographic profile of our student population is not fully reflected in our workforce, our expectation is that we will continue to narrow that gap."
One big difference Lee notes since coming to MCC more than a decade ago is the definite shift in comfort level in talking about diversity and what it means for the institution. "Our teaching faculty have understood and supported for a long time the belief that it is in the best interest of our students to have a diverse faculty body," she says. To that end, HR has intentionally partnered with faculty and administrative leadership to understand what they need in candidates with regard to qualifications, competencies, and skill sets and to consider these in light of the particular diversity needs of their departments and the overall diversity mission of the institution, says Lee.
Develop diversity. One strategy has been to develop a strong feeder pool of faculty through the college's adjunct hiring process. "Over the years, we have filled our adjunct ranks with a broad mix of candidates, providing an opportunity to develop and mentor individuals so we have a strong pool of candidates to consider when full-time positions emerge," says Lee.
This strategy has been further bolstered by MCC's Dr. Alice Holloway Young teaching internship program. The internship gives underrepresented graduate students or graduate-degree holders an opportunity to gain experience teaching in a community college through on-the-job training experiences, including teaching, course planning, student testing and evaluating, student advisement, and related academic responsibilities. Each intern is assigned to a senior MCC faculty member, who serves as a mentor. Interns may teach one or two courses per semester, earning an adjunct instructor's base salary, plus a small stipend. Internships may be renewed for a second semester. If their work is assessed favorably, interns are often added to the adjunct pool as a next step, and in some instances, there has been a seamless transition from internship to full employment, notes Lee.
The program is named for a founding trustee of MCC. As an African-American educator in the Rochester City Schools for four decades, and among the system's first African-American teachers, Alice Young was a pioneer, notes Lee. "Dr. Young had a clear vision early on that if you give people an opportunity to experience teaching in a way that doesn't commit them to it, it allows them to test the waters to see if this is something they may want to do," says Lee. "We are fortunate to have such a respected visionary connected to our college. This program is something unique to MCC that we are very proud of, and that we've been able to use in an intentional way to look for and reach out to individuals who otherwise might not consider MCC as an employer," adds Lee. This past year MCC President Anne Kress hosted a reception to provide current interns an opportunity to connect with alumni of the program.
The program has likewise allowed MCC to think outside the normal parameters used to recruit potential candidates who might typically apply based on employment history or training background. "We've had interns from industry, for example, who may have never thought about teaching but have ended up being a great fit in an academic role," says Lee.
Translate your strategy. Nearly a decade ago, MCC's diversity committee evolved into a diversity council that formed a partnership among administration, faculty, and staff. One responsibility of the 20-member council, appointed by the president, is to develop programs and activities throughout the year that continue to educate the campus community about the meaning and value of diversity and inclusion. One such program is an annual "Power of Diversity" series of speakers and events. The council also provides support to the college's affinity groups—informal employee resource groups that gather to share their experiences and to plan campus events. Currently MCC affinity groups have been formed for African-Americans and Latinos.
The council is also active in bringing big-picture awareness to the day-to-day importance of diversity and how that is translated into the life of the college. "While all our employees are aware that the institution has a strategic plan, less evident is how diversity has anything to do with it," notes Lee. "Something really smart that the council has done is to create subgroups based on key goals of the college's strategic plan to bring to life the way diversity plays a part in each goal."
For instance, says Lee, one goal relates to maintaining campus facilities and infrastructure. The council subgroup for this goal invited employees representing maintenance and facilities to discuss how diversity could be infused into that goal. Their conversations revealed the need to update campus signage to assist those who may be visually impaired and to consider how and where to change campus artwork that is no longer reflective of the community, explains Lee. "What everyone involved came to realize through this process is that infrastructure is important to our diversity message. In fact, every activity of a campus-whether it is infrastructure, or sustainability, or transportation, or whatever-brings an opportunity to reflect a message of inclusion."
Recognize the business imperative. "Our students not only learn from but hopefully want to model the kinds of people we hire, so who we represent as a workforce is important for developing our nation's future leaders," argues Lee. "We have made some great hires in recent years, but an ongoing challenge for us—as for every employer—is to retain the great talent we've acquired."
MCC is fortunate to have had a succession of presidents who have openly valued diversity, says Lee. "Our current president constantly speaks about what is changing in the world and how we need to be prepared to embrace change." That change goes beyond demographics, notes Lee. "Consider the whole shift we are seeing in how technology is transforming the ways in which people work." Another key change is how younger employees in particular view work. "When we talk about what keeps us poised to be competitive, we have to understand that employees are coming to us with skills in technology and communication and with expectations about how work should get done that are quite different from a generation ago."
Expanding institutional views about diversity has to include not only demographic characteristics, but also attitudes about work, argues Lee. "Some of our newer hires would suggest that working smarter doesn't necessarily mean working longer and harder, and so expectations that we provide telecommuting and job-sharing opportunities are only going to increase." While higher education has long been viewed as traditional and methodical in how it addresses worker expectations such as these, as an industry, higher education has to entertain solutions that may be outside its typical comfort zone, believes Lee. "Bottom line, to be a premiere employer in the eyes of our employees, we have to be a place where all our people want to work."
Making the Mind-set Stick
Ultimately, employees themselves must come to appreciate the intrinsic value of one another-not simply so that everyone can get along, but so that the full group can thrive together. Proponents of a more integrated approach to diversity and inclusion see an opportunity for improving organizational efficiency by increasing overall employee engagement. In this context, diversity becomes everyone's job and everyone's priority. And so it should be, according to UMass Lowell's Turner. "It doesn't matter if you're a custodian or the chancellor. Every single minute, you have the ability to influence the environment on your campus," she says.
For instance, while many may not see a direct connection between accountants working in the business office and an institution's diversity goals, part of the job of every employee on campus involves interacting with other people, notes Turner. Coaching employees on how to appreciate and manage the wide variety of differences reflected by those with whom they work could result in a more efficient process for working on everyday business concerns such as the annual budget. "Because up to 75 percent of any higher education institution's operating budget is personnel related, any improvement in employee engagement and communication can increase productivity," notes Turner.
As chief business officers consider the business case for diversity and inclusion, the bottom line at stake is not only organizational productivity today, but the sustainability of institutional expertise for the long term, says CUPA-HR's Brantley. "We have to be responsive not only to the current changes in the student body, but to the talent-development needs of our current and future workforce."
In that context, nurturing a culture that invites everyone to participate to their full extent and that provides an environment in which all feel welcome to contribute is fundamental to building a high-performing organization—one that can serve the needs of its core customers and continue to compete in an increasingly global education marketplace.
APRYL MOTLEY, Columbia, Maryland, writes on higher education issues for Business Officer.