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Human Resources

Colleges apply unique diversity strategies

Universities recognize the value of diversity, ranging from expanding staff competencies to improving community relations
University Business, January 2015
Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.
Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.

Anthony Frank, president of Colorado State University, issued a campuswide challenge in 2012: Make CSU a model school where everyone can work and learn.

An important first step was making the school more accommodating to the needs of women. One strategy was opening a child care center last fall and adding comfortable seating in lactation rooms. Since then, the school has received a $50,000 donation toward the initiative, says Amy Parsons, vice president of operations.

Any of CSU’s 7,000 employees could submit proposals on how to spend the money. A five-member committee that includes Parsons reviewed all proposals and will soon decide on how to deploy the funds.

“We know there are great ideas that we haven’t thought of, maybe from different corners of campus,” she says.

Different schools, different practices

Universities recognize the value of diversity, ranging from expanding staff competencies to improving community relations. Although not every school actively promotes diversity, some are proactive, using multiple tactics to build an inclusive environment that goes far beyond recruitment.

School efforts to promote diversity are just as diverse as the people hired. Consider adopting some of the following practices at your school:

  • University of California, Davis, uses its best weapon—education—to promote diversity. The university offers workshops for its 23,000 employees on understanding sexual orientation and gender identity; unconscious bias in the workplace; and stereotypes that affect the behavior of women and other groups. It also recently embedded a diversity and inclusion component in its administrative leaders of the future program.
  • California State University, Fullerton, is creating a 10-minute online video where employees tell what makes them diverse, and how it relates to work experiences, says Lori Gentles, vice president of HR, diversity and inclusion at the school, which supports 4,000 faculty and staff. Gentles’ office also recently began sponsoring mixers for staff hired over the previous six months. During the two-hour activity that takes place during the workday, employees play trivia games, network and are asked key questions about whether they feel welcome or if they’ve experienced problems.
  • California State University, Fresno introduced diversity forums last year, says Cynthia Teniente-Matson, VP of administration and chief financial officer. Each daylong event is hosted by the school’s president and includes sessions with both a student and a faculty panel.

Nearly 400 of the school’s 2,100 employees attended the last session. The speaker presented national data about the status of the nation’s Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander (AANAPI) populations. Because more than a quarter of CSU, Fresno’s students qualify, the federal government designated the university as an AANAPI-serving institution.

“Some students are first generation Americans who say that their family doesn’t understand what it means to be a student,” says Teniente-Matson. As a result, they may be expected to do things for their family or community that conflict with their desire to study.

Pay attention

Successful diversity initiatives share at least one common element: support from organizational leaders who understand diversity is closely tied to engagement and infuse it into the school’s talent practices, says Keith Caver, who leads the inclusivity practice at Towers Watson, a human resources firm.

He believes schools must examine their workforce from different angles by gathering information from various employee groups. Focus groups and employee surveys can help HR better understand each group’s needs.

Above all, listen to the employees, Caver advises. Your diversity efforts could flop if you promote benefits or perks no one wants.

“Illuminate those areas where there may be gaps that actually hinder inclusivity,” he says. “If you don’t really embrace inclusivity, you may end up having a drop-off in enrollment or levels of engagement.”

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.

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