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Five ways university leaders can foster diversity

It's about more than having a representative mix of students and staff
University Business, February 2018

It’s fair to say that university leaders across the country are thinking about how they can promote diversity in their student bodies, faculties and staff.  We believe a fully inclusive work environment helps us deliver on our mission, and research has shown teams that are more diverse and inclusive make better decisions and perform better.

One of the most exciting aspects of my job is that several times a year I have the chance to visit with undergraduate and graduate students on campus. I value hearing from the future leaders of our country, and university students are of course a great source of talent for our organization.

In fact, this year we launched an intern and associate development program with more than 70 of the higher education institutions we serve, including several Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as Hispanic Serving Institutions, with the goal of creating a diverse talent pipeline. One of the results of that program is an increase in hiring new graduates.  This year we hired over 100 interns from this program, with 40 percent from diverse backgrounds.

We’re also focused on making sure all our employees, including those new graduates, understand our deep and long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and have the tools to help them incorporate those values into their roles.  A primary avenue for this is a comprehensive, immersive learning program called Journey to Inclusion that all of my employees are required to complete.

When I visit campuses across the country, I also have the opportunity to meet with university leaders.  In speaking with them about how they promote a culture of belonging, five key insights have risen to the top which are worth considering if your goal is to improve the diversity of your own campus.

  1. Make diversity and inclusion a strategic pillar of your presidential agenda – Commit to including diversity as a key part of your mission statement.  Change is difficult, takes time and requires a clear commitment from the top of the organization.
  2. Start a dialogue and give everyone a voice – Create a climate in which it’s safe for everyone to share their views. Set up venues for students, faculty and administration to speak out.  We have found that employee resource groups give employees a sense of belonging, connectedness and help us drive better business outcomes.
  3. Develop networks to advance diverse points of view – Work with the broader community to find ways to embrace the benefits of diversity. Consider cluster hires, the process of hiring faculty around interdisciplinary themes, to support a long-term commitment to diversity.
  4. Show commitment by taking action and communicating change – Students want to see results while they are still enrolled at your institution.  How you address diversity on campus may also affect alumni advocacy and financial support.
  5. Establish metrics and measure progress – Evaluate diversity and inclusion across your entire institution, including faculty, administration and the student body. Set goals specific to your institution, and consider conducting surveys or focus groups annually to understand and measure changes to the campus climate with regard to inclusiveness.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that diversity is more than having a representative mix of students and staff.  It’s about people being true to themselves, having a sense of belonging and knowing they can make a difference.  Leaders who embrace this can benefit from creating a vibrant community of individuals who are ready to take action and have a positive impact.

Ron Pressman is CEO of TIAA Institutional Financial Services