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Institutionalizing Diversity in Higher Education

During the 2016 (May) convening of the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity (NCORE) in Higher Education, I presented on the session titled "The Mechanics of Institutionalizing Diversity: Organizing and Building a Diversity Infrastructure." During this session, I provided operational, strategic, and programmatic fundamentals of building a diversity office, unit, or operation.

This session was for individuals who could be new to their diversity role and/or have responsibilities for bolstering and advancing diversity and inclusion at their institutions. During this presentation, I discussed components of a diversity operation and provided a beginning framework for building a diversity infrastructure. Examining diversity infrastructures and operations is timely given the increasingly changing demographics of college campuses, the demand for diversity offices to be responsive to intersecting identities, new and emerging policies, mandates, legislation, and the level of scrutiny applied to diversity efforts and state and institutional budgets.

As institutions and organizations (including corporate entitles), it is critical to consider how one designs and builds a diversity infrastructure as opposed to moving swiftly and creating short-term solutions or fixes that may not be fully conceptualized and designed with a long-term strategy.

During this discussion, I addressed key areas to consider when formulating your organization's diversity strategy. Some of these strategies included:

  • Do your research and consider a framework: there are different frameworks and models for thinking about diversity. Be sure to explore and understand these frameworks before you begin to engage your organization on building a diversity and inclusion infrastructure

  • Define diversity and publicizing the definition: this ensures that members of your organization are operating from the same framework

  • Identify the big areas of your organization: diversity and inclusion are heavy topics and you should have a sense of how the key areas of your business or organization can infuse diversity and inclusion. These areas may include:

  • Communications and Marketing

  • Workforce Talent: Recruitment and Retention (including employee resource groups)

  • Programs, Celebrations, and Awards

  • Operations and Policies (may include supplier diversity, flex time for service, domestic benefits, etc.)

  • Surveying: Assessment and Evaluation

  • External Relations

  • Allow for brainstorming and development of ideas: It is important to allow members of your organization to be part of the solution. Identify ways to garner feedback and allow for input. Be sure to have a timeline and well articulated process that states how you arrive at solutions. Additionally, be thoughtful about connecting with individuals across your organization and not only from departments where D&I conversations may occur the most

Depending on the type and size of the organization, your strategy will differ. However, the strategy should be outlined, researched, vetted, communicated, and once put into action, assessed. While there is tremendous value in having individuals within your organizaiton lead this process, it is critical that this person is steeped in the field of diversity and inclusion. Otherwise, it would be wise to lean toward an expert who can work with your organization in identifying and leveraging its strengths to achieve the best outcomes.

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