Working Towards a Diverse and Inclusive Campus:  Words of Wisdom from Corporate America

Working Towards a Diverse and Inclusive Campus: Words of Wisdom from Corporate America

Damita Davis

Associate Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Office for Institutional Diversity, Boston College

When I initially embarked on this series of blogs about diversity and inclusion my goal was to have a forum for meaningful dialogue by offering practical advice for you the readers. The last piece in this series will be no different. However, I want to move away from my initial plan to talk about how to address various “isms” and instead, continue where my last post left off and wrestle with the following question

How do we make our campuses diverse and welcoming environments?

A couple of months ago, I attended a forum on racial diversity in today’s workplace, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. During the program, the president and CEO provided his lessons learned in moving diversity and inclusion forward. Taking a page from the business world, I’d like to share those lessons learned with you as I found his reflections very insightful and discuss how they are also applicable to higher education...so, here we go!

1. Top-down Commitment

First and foremost, there must be a commitment to diversity and inclusion, from the top down. This commitment must be consistent and those at the top must be honest about the efforts being made in this area. Without this commitment any efforts, will not be very effective or long lasting.

2. It Takes a Village

As the old saying goes, it takes a village, not just in raising children, it applies to institutions of higher learning as well. Everyone must be part of the process in creating a diverse and inclusive environment. This includes middle management, who are primarily responsible for ensuring the day to day business of colleges and universities gets done. I admit, when he said this I shook my head vigorously in agreement. Often times, especially in higher education, we look towards leadership to make the changes we want to see related to diversity, however, those in leadership aren’t the only ones responsible for creating the culture we want at our institutions. A good leader will recognize this and get buy in from their managers to assist in these efforts. After all, middle managers are the ones who translate the information coming from the top and disseminate it to their team.

3. Empower Your Employees

Members of your community must feel they have a voice in helping move an institution towards becoming more diverse and inclusive. They must be given the permission necessary to share the responsibility in doing so.

4. Hold Leaders Accountable

This is a very difficult one to do and is easier said than done, however it is imperative. Institutions must ensure mechanisms are in place, like a performance appraisal, where commitment to diversity and inclusion is major part of the job responsibilities for leaders. If there isn’t such a process in place, there needs to be. Leaders must know from the beginning that they will be held accountable for their successes and “failures” in this work.

5. Be Constantly Vigilant

You can’t stop or take a pause in the action because some concerns at your institutions have been addressed. Complacency has no place in this regard, we must keep moving.

6. Invest in your Human Resources & Recruiting Teams

This is much more corporate-focused, but still applicable. These professionals are trained assets to the institution, utilize their talents in a meaningful way to move diversity and inclusion efforts along. This goes beyond the hiring process. HR professionals are tasked with so much more than hiring and providing benefits to employees.

7. Find the Right Speed

This one really resonated with me! So, I’ll say it again. Find the right speed. Higher education is notoriously slow when it comes to change, no matter the topic. Each institution has its own unique culture and figuring out what works best and when, is an example of customization. One size doesn’t fit all. And, finding the right speed doesn’t mean consensus at the top must be met or that everyone has to be ready to act. Leaders must be comfortable with the discomfort of it all.

8. Acknowledge Sensitivity

Diversity and inclusion is a very sensitive topic. Racial tensions, homophobia, sexism are not the warm and fuzzy discussions people typically clamor to discuss. Know that this sensitivity is going to be at varying levels among the members of your community. And that’s OK!

9. Create Opportunities for Meaningful Dialogue

It’s been my experience that people want to have this difficult conversations but feel a “space” doesn't exist for them to do so. When the space is created, however, I’ve witnessed the great learning that takes place when members of our communities are given the opportunities to have these difficult conversations. I know it’s one of the highlights of the work that I do.

10. Make a Case for Diversity & Inclusion

Last, but certainly not least. You must make a business case for diversity and inclusion. We’re in a culture where the “proof is in the pudding.” We must show the return on investment, whatever that investment is for your college or university. We must show those responsible for making decisions on our campuses (including how resources are distributed) that this work is worthwhile, and the yield is value added to our institutions.

So there you have it. Lessons from the corporate world can certainly be translated to higher education, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. And, even though I didn't address the "isms" as was my initial plan, a case could be made that these considerations also provide a framework for institutions to use when addressing the “isms” in society as reflected on college campuses. These lessons learned provide the tools needed to address sexism, homophobia, and discrimination towards others. They show you what needs to put in place to enact meaningful change on your campus. The how, I’ll leave up to you.

All in all, what these lessons teach us is that we must be intentional in our efforts. Whether in our recruitment efforts aimed at increasing diversity to creating spaces for meaningful dialogue, we must always be purposeful. We must be purposeful in how we examine our own biases, and our plans to address them. We must be purposeful in how we communicate our expectations for the kind of community we want. And finally, we must be purposeful in how we act.

So, with that purpose in mind. I encourage you to ponder, how am I being purposeful in my personal and professional efforts to support a diverse and inclusive community?

Read all posts from the Diversity & Inclusion Series here.

About the Author: Damita Davis serves as the Associate Director, Diversity and Inclusion in the Office for Institutional Diversity at Boston College. In this role, she is responsible for developing and implementing diversity and inclusion educational programs for the University, with a focus on the recruitment, hiring and retention of BC's diverse workforce. Prior to joining the BC community, Damita was the Director of Multicultural Programs at Emmanuel College-MA. Highly skilled in program design and implementation, Damita coordinated Emmanuel College’s diversity lecture series, Through the Wire, has written and implemented the College’s Bias Incident and Hate Crime Policy becoming the convener of the Bias Response Team; and for over four years has coordinated the Southern Africa Service Learning Trip and Travel Course. A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Damita received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Rhode Island. In 1997, Damita received her Bachelors of Science in Human Development and Family Studies and in 2002 she received a Master of Science in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in College Student Personnel.

Damita Davis

Associate Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Office for Institutional Diversity, Boston College