Whitney Meyer is relatively new to her role as Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at the University of North Florida (UNF) — and she’s far from alone.
“I’m sure if I asked, ‘Raise your hand if you stepped into this role less than a year ago,’” she said to attendees at the 2021 College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) Virtual Spring Conference, “Many of you would raise your hands; or maybe you appointed a new chief diversity officer; or maybe you’re seeking one right now.”
Diversity and inclusion experts have been in high demand since early 2020 — particularly at the leadership level. According to one analysis of over 100,000 C-suite hires in the U.S. from January to October 2020, the appointments of chief diversity officers grew 51%, and the position is expanding faster than any other C-Suite role.
The reason for this demand is simple: After last year’s social justice movements and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted racial inequities and imbalances to leadership teams, organizations are looking to drive change.
In higher education in particular, while many institutions recognize the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), racial disparities persist not only in terms of student enrollment and degree attainment but also in the workforce, with underrepresentation of BIPOC in both faculty and administration.
As a moderator during CUPA-HR, I joined in the discussion about how to drive real change in higher ed. One feature of this new conversation is the addition of “belonging” to the standard DEI acronym. But while the addition of this word might be new to some in this space, the sentiment is not.
Regardless of which acronym an institution uses, we’re all driving to the same outcome of increasing the sense of belonging across all institutional stakeholders. Adding it to the conversation helps give us something to track and measure to make sure everyone in an institution — current and prospective students, faculty and staff — all feel like they can bring their full selves to your institution, and thrive in doing so.
Meyer’s fellow presenter at the conference, Catherine Spear, is also new to her role: She started her position at the University of Southern California (USC) as Vice President for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX in August 2020.
In our session titled “The New Conversation Around DEIB,” Meyer and Spear shared their strategies to improve DEIB in higher ed.
1) Promote unity around DEIB efforts
One of Meyer’s first decisions to improve the effectiveness of UNF’s DEIB initiatives focused on bringing together all of its disparate, on-campus efforts.
“We had all these departments reporting to different areas,” she recalls, from the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion to the Department of Diversity Initiatives, to the LGBTQ Center and more.
Meyer and her team created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to encompass and organize these different departments. The Statement of Unity helped to articulate UNF’s DEIB policy and goals and to connect every department to one, central mission.
“It was important that everyone knew we worked together,” said Meyer. “We used to be siloed and fighting over the same resources and board memberships, but now we’re functioning as one cohesive unit. Each organization deals with its unique issues, but there’s a common good we’re all working towards.”
2) Drive real outcomes beyond rhetoric
USC’s DEIB strategy began with a similar unifying framework. In 2019, the newly appointed university president gathered feedback from over 24,000 individuals across faculty, staff, students and alumni through surveys and 130+ town halls.
From this process, USC defined six “unifying values” that represent its renewed commitment to DEI&B: integrity, excellence, wellbeing, open communication and accountability. The university also made it clear that this “Culture Journey” would be something the entire university community would go on together.
USC developed a list of changes based on those unifying values, such as renaming a building that had been named for a eugenicist. (See https://culturejourney.usc.edu/ for more information on USC’s ongoing Culture Journey and shared commitment to DEIB.)
“The work in this area has to be ongoing, it’s not a one-and-done,” she said. “You have to fund these efforts and keep them front of mind,” added Spear.
3) Offer continuous learning to inform DEIB initiatives
In developing their respective approaches to DEI&B, both UNF and USC made sure to offer ongoing education opportunities to their campus communities. From online learning materials around the institution’s history to regular speaker series, these resources provide context for DEIB at each school.
“You can’t say, ‘oh don’t talk about the past, let’s only look at now,’” said Meyer. “People need to understand where we come from in order to avoid making the same mistakes.” Online learning resources are available that cover the university’s history and show how it connects to the school’s policies across hiring, recruitment, housing and classroom experiences.
“We don’t exist in a vacuum,” Spear added. “How are we being affected regionally, by the state, nationally, globally?”
USC regularly invites outside voices to campus to answer these questions. The school’s AMPLIFIED speaker series, for example, is aimed at highlighting diverse perspectives on pressing societal issues. Its annual DEI Week is also focused on facilitating timely discussions; this year’s event featured powerful learning sessions led by Professor Ibram X. Kendi and Dr. Benjamin Reese about broader issues across the higher ed landscape.
4) Transparent, regular data helps keep DEIB efforts on track
Moving forward, Meyer and Spear are committed to continuing to evolve their programs to meet the needs of students, faculty and staff — and they use data to help hold themselves accountable. Regular campus climate surveys that help assess the impact of existing initiatives while also detecting new, unmet needs. They also tap into USC data, like hiring and retention metrics for faculty and staff, as well as student acceptance and success rates, to measure progress.
“It all ties back to strategic planning and having measurable goals,” said Spear. “Many of us are familiar with SMART goals for individual performance evaluations, and I think it’s about taking similar steps for DEIB initiatives.”
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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development
There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.
Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today
When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.
Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated
Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock