Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion have never been more critical in all spheres of our lives. I am sure all of our institutions and organizations are involved and committed to these principles in some manner and more. It requires leadership at all levels to ensure we are steadfast to the principles of diversity and inclusion, in terms of people and their ideas. As a member of a task force on this particular aspect at our University, I have made a few observations that I thought might be worth sharing. Recently, the International CHRIE Board discussed the importance of diversity and inclusion and have charged the President to appoint a committee that oversees this aspect. I think this committee could play an important role not just at International CHRIE but also to think of ways we can take leadership in this discussion for our discipline and industry.
Undoubtedly, there needs to be a vision of what diversity and inclusion means to us. As we have realized here at the University, this is an important conversation. There are several known ‘markers’ of what diversity and inclusion might mean to each of us, and then to a group. The challenge is to push beyond those boundaries and ask who might not have been included in the mix. While such conversations are engaging, they can also be tedious. It is fascinating how I have observed my own biases of even what the idea of diversity and inclusion might mean to others. Furthermore, there were times I felt like the discussion needs to be over and action needed to follow. However, as I realized later, even that was my own bias kicking in with a possibly predetermined expectation of outcomes.
The vision needs to be implemented in meaningful and inclusive ways. This is critical. While there might be several ways for us to implement the vision, only a handful of them are truly inclusive. Another aspect of the implementation I have observed is that diversity and inclusion activities need to be truly meaningful. Some just sound great, while others also effectively communicate the vision. There are others that sound uncomfortable but are necessary. For instance, at one of our recent College events, small groups engaged in semi-directed conversations to appreciate each other’s’ point of view. It is true that ultimately actions are what we observe to understand one’s behavior. But it is also fascinating to get a peek into the motivations behind those actions and behaviors. Granted we are not always revealing of our thoughts, still if well managed, such conversations can provide us interesting perspectives from each other.
A third aspect I have observed is that unless we change our governance and policy, the most well intended diversity and inclusion initiatives can eventually disappear. Policy change requires us all to be convinced that change is needed. It also requires us to be engaged. Furthermore, policy change also needs to happen in context of facts, figures, and data. We need to understand how the (unintended but real) absence of diversity means to our institutions. In fact, we need to also appreciate not just the superficial but the underlying core reasons for the lack of diversity. Only then can we begin to think of ways to address the gaps.
Another critical observation is that we need sustained commitment of resources for changes to take place. There is only as much that we can do without expending resources. This commitment has to be there from the highest levels, and for a period of time. Another aspect of resource commitment is that the usual metrics of assessment of success may not be always be justifiable when implementing diversity and inclusion activities. We may not in fact see observable changes for a while. And we may have to expend resources beyond the point of immediate impact, often to build the supply chain infrastructure, so to speak.
Of course this is not by any account an exhaustive list of dos and donts for a diversity and inclusion ‘thought to implementation’ process. The reason I share these observations with you is to suggest that International CHRIE can lead discussions in each of those (and many more) areas for our members. While there is much that our discipline can showcase in terms of diversity and inclusion, we could also continue to enhance our diversity and inclusion activities whether that relates to hiring faculty and staff, recruiting and retaining undergraduate and graduate students, and employees, and expanding our academic and industry product offerings to go beyond the shorter-term metrics of success.
If you are interested in issues related to diversity and inclusion, whether from a scholarly perspective or from the thought of engaging in the visioning and implementation of activities, please do contact me. With your help we can continue this discussion in a more systematic manner, and in one that is inclusive.
Have a productive end of the academic year. Enjoy the Asia-Pacific CHRIE Conference at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou China. And see you real soon at the International CHRIE Summer Conference in Palm Springs, California.