More Higher Ed DEI Effectiveness Questions Answered

I recently took a deep dive into my inbox for questions about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the higher education industry. The challenge is that there is so much ground still left to be covered until we get to the place of not needing DEI efforts at all. I would like to answer a few more questions about how our effectiveness in this space can be strengthened.

FAQ 1: How do I ensure that DEI work is happening in the best way?

In higher education, everyone has a strategic plan. The question to ask your leadership and team is simple and direct. Are you serious about doing this type of work? If there has not been an update to the strategic plans to include diversity, inclusiveness and equitable solutions, it is not a priority. DEI should be a priority that is included within your strategic plan.

When I mention equitable solutions, I am not just talking about access to equitable treatment. I am speaking of equitable pay and compensation to talent. The days are gone when we can ask people to come to work with just their passion and expect them to be satisfied with being in the room. The lack of equity in pay shows us we have work to do.

A second evaluation method is to look at your on campus funding. As you look at building funding opportunities to serve the populations at your institution, are the underserved funded as good as the majority are?

FAQ 2: How do we address DEI effectiveness regarding our faculty and staff?

When evaluating the effectiveness of your DEI efforts you should also take a look at the hiring systems. We are still operating on antiquated hiring systems which leave room for biased decision making and hiring practices. For example, imagine how diversity challenges would be eliminated by redacting names and locations from resumes for hiring managers. Immediate assumptions about race, gender or culture would be eliminated. Follow this by setting the salary and benefit package in advance of meeting the individual. We would begin to evaluate individuals truly on the quantifiable skills on their resume. This would be the beginning of true progress towards equity! Yes there are jobs where backgrounds are important. But for the general work in higher education, we have to be willing to make the pivot.

A second level to this approach is examining the tenure process for faculty. Is the group that makes the final recommendation for tenure diverse? If not, it is beyond time to change that roster. Evaluate the qualifications and decision makers creating barriers to having a more diverse and inclusive group of tenured professionals on your campus. The same goes for advisory boards. Make sure that the advisory boards are reflective of the populations being served. People tend to invest and advise better where they have stake. For instance, I cannot have an all white advisory board talking about “how can I build pathways for young black boys and girls college?”. They are going to be like,”yeah, throw some money at it” but have never lived that struggle. Money may not be the appropriate solution to the challenge being faced. We need faculty, staff and boards that are reflective of who they serve.

FAQ 3: What is the best way to discuss DEI in the workplace and keep everyone comfortable?

I am not going to use the word impossible, but I will say having a DEI conversation in which everyone is comfortable is highly unlikely. If everyone is comfortable during DEI conversations, one of two things is happening: 1) someone is lying or 2) your workplace lacks diversity. At any given point within DEI work the lens will be focused on the privileged or the marginalized. The key is to work towards having balanced conversations where everyone has an opportunity to be heard. This may mean changing the way your DEI focused meetings are scheduled and held.

FAQ 4: How can I be a better ally when it comes to DEI?

Start by being empathetic to listen. Listen to underserved and marginalized individuals. Sometimes that is all that is needed, someone willing to listen with the intention of understanding. Secondly, do not speculate. Ask! Ask individuals how to best serve and support them. Ask them what equitable treatment really means and looks like in practice to them. In this same vein, this is not permission to make them responsible for educating you on everything. Be willing to do the work and research yourself. Lastly, find a therapist, because even though there are articles, framework guidelines, and conversations, you are going to need support. You will need support in identifying and examining your own biases. There will also be times when you get more resistance than support of your desire for change. This makes it easy to become frustrated when trying to self process. So find somebody who you can talk honestly with through your journey. The only way you are going to continue to go back to the plate and swing your bat when the ball strikes you out is to have someone to process with. And I recommend a professional.

DEI is hard work that takes all of us working together for change. I’m encouraged by the questions that I receive. It reminds me that there are good people out there hoping and working for change the same as I am. We just have to be willing to look at ways to use our privilege for the benefit of others. But we must also be cautious not to allow our privilege to allow us to continue doing things the same ineffective ways.

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Keynote Speaker and Higher Education Consultant offering a nontraditional, compassionate approach to leadership

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Jarrod D. Benjamin

Jarrod D. Benjamin

Keynote Speaker and Higher Education Consultant offering a nontraditional, compassionate approach to leadership

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