The Journey to an Inaugural Chief Diversity Officer: Preparation, Implementation and Beyond

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1 DOI /s The Journey to an Inaugural Chief Diversity Officer: Preparation, Implementation and Beyond Jeanne Arnold & Marlene Kowalski-Braun # Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011 Abstract In this article, we discuss the necessary components for successfully creating and implementing a chief diversity officer (CDO) position within a four-year public institution. We explore information about critical stages of the process such as the creation of the position, the recruitment process, and compatibility with the institution s mission. Our research emphasizes the need for modeling intercultural competence at all stages of the process. We underscore the significance of infusing institutional values into a position that is meaningful to all constituencies. We suggest ways of keeping the politics, structures, and culture of readers own institutions at the forefront of the planning and implementation process. Key words Diversity. Intercultural. Higher education. Community. Leadership As higher education confronts issues of the twenty-first century, one of the key concerns is how to create more diverse and inclusive environments both inside and outside the classroom. Some institutions have chosen to address this challenge by creating formal administrative positions called chief diversity officers (CDOs) to act as leaders for transformational change (Williams and Wade-Golden 2007). The emergence of the CDO position in higher education is a response both to demographic shifts affecting colleges and Jeanne J. Arnold is the inaugural Vice President for Inclusion and Equity at Grand Valley State University. She holds a bachelor s degree from the Pennsylvania State University and the M.S.W. and Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Special interests include diversity consulting for colleges and universities and nonprofit board service. Marlene Kowalski-Braun is Director of the Women s Center at Grand Valley State University and cochaired the CDO search committee. She holds a bachelor s degree from Central Michigan University and the M.E. from Ball State University and is currently a doctoral student at Western Michigan University. Special interests include community and campus social justice work and nonprofit board service. J. Arnold Inclusion and Equity, Grand Valley State University, 18 Zumberge, 1 Campus Drive, Allendale, MI 49401, USA M. Kowalski-Braun (*) Women s Center, Grand Valley State University, 1201 Kirkhof Center, 1 Campus Drive, Allendale, MI 49401, USA

2 universities and to the challenge of creating and sustaining a climate of intercultural learning and engagement within the academy. Simply hiring a CDO, however, is not sufficient. For a CDO to be successful, there must be a great deal of consideration, preparation, and buy-in at all levels before the position is created and filled. To date, the literature on CDOs has largely focused on the structures and functions of the position. As an important addition to the knowledge base, this article offers recommendations on how to prepare for the creation of this type of transformational leadership position. A case study approach is used to generalize from the steps taken by one institution. What follows is a discussion of the various actions to consider when preparing for and hiring a CDO as well as facilitating the transition for the CDO in the first year of the appointment. Preparing for the Position Recognizing the Importance of Diversity Research has established that teaching students about diversity is critical as institutions prepare them for their professional roles and civic responsibilities after graduation. Numerous scholars have cited the need for increased diversity at institutions of higher education in order to enhance the academic learning environment for students from all racial backgrounds (e.g., Duderstadt 2000; Terenzini et al. 2001; Tierney 1997). Colleges and universities defined by a history and philosophy of teaching in the liberal tradition have been challenged to create environments in which diversity is valued and affirmed. By its nature, liberal education is global and pluralistic. It embraces the diversity of ideas and experiences that characterize the social, natural and intellectual world. To acknowledge such diversity in all its forms is both an intellectual commitment and a social responsibility, for nothing less will equip us to understand our world and to pursue fruitful lives. (Association of American Colleges & Universities 1998b, p.1) This goal is also highly valued by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC/NCA), a regional accrediting association, and other accrediting associations. HLC/NCA, the accrediting body for Grand Valley State University (GVSU), has articulated diversity as a standard requirement and expects accredited institutions to address and embrace diversity in all its many forms. The Higher Learning Commission s 2003 Statement on Diversity acknowledged that diversity in the United States enriches higher education, contributes to the development of students and other college and university constituents as global citizens, and is an essential element of a pluralistic society (Association of American Colleges & Universities 1998a). In addition, the Commission has incorporated its commitment to the value of diversity into the criteria institutions must meet in order to achieve reaccreditation. Although the Commission s criteria do not prescribe specific actions to promote or sustain diversity, they do require responses that demonstrate how diversity is woven into the integrity of institutional mission, goals, values, objectives, and other operational aspects. Recognition of the critical importance of diversity is the first step in preparing for the position of CDO. Examining the Position The last five years have shown a trend in the creation of the CDO as a position. The American Council on Education dedicated one of its occasional papers to this topic, The

3 Chief Diversity Officer: A primer for college and university presidents (Williams and Wade- Golden 2007), which offered a thorough analysis of a variety of aspects regarding the CDO position and concluded that institutional leadership cannot underestimate the significance of positional power when creating this new role. Williams and Wade-Golden (2007) identified eight key areas in which a CDO can be instrumental in assisting colleges and universities to achieve their diversity goals. These areas cover a broad range of tasks including elevating the visibility and credibility of diversity functions and promoting new diversity courses and initiatives. In addition, their work highlighted the importance of organizational design in determining how to maximize the capabilities of the CDO. The authors suggested that the CDO should report to either the president or the provost. Further, they offered an array of options for how the CDO position can be configured, ranging from single-person units to divisional arrangements with numerous direct reporting units and substantial budgets. Williams and Wade-Golden (2007) also identified three possible organizational models: the collaborative officer model, the unit-based model, and the portfolio divisional model. The institution featured in this article, GVSU, chose to develop its inaugural CDO position utilizing the portfolio divisional model, which is described as the most comprehensive and integrated design for implementing diversity goals. It requires the appointment of a highranking CDO, usually at the vice or associate vice president level, reporting to a provost or chancellor, with responsibility for multiple reporting units. This structure enables the CDO to integrate strategic diversity plans and to provide leadership consistent with the functioning of other high-ranking officials (Williams and Wade-Golden 2007). Molding and Shaping Campus Cultures To begin a process leading to institutional change, an analysis of organizational culture must include both a review of structures and individual interpretations of the entire context. Once leaders have a comprehensive understanding of the organization s culture, they are able to craft decisions that will resonate with multiple constituencies and garner their support. It will also permit leaders to manage change efforts more effectively (Tierney 1988). Higher education in the United States, much like general society, often operates from a melting pot perspective; that is, persons of different racial/ethnic backgrounds are permitted to enter but are expected to assimilate to the majority culture. The underlying belief is that issues of diversity and inclusion will eventually be resolved as more persons from underrepresented groups gain access to higher education. As a result, the need for possible structural changes in the system may go unrecognized (Tierney 1993). Whether it is race and ethnicity or other areas of diversity (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, disability, or religion), higher education is challenged not only with creating space for diverse faculty members, staff, and students; it is also responsible for helping them thrive. Another key component of the change process involves assessing the environment from multiple perspectives. Bolman and Deal (2003) argued for four conceptual frames, which they identified as human resource, symbolic, political, and structural. These frames identify problem areas and potential strategies for improvement. The human resource frame, with its focus on democracy and investment in people, has the potential to provide particular insights into building and sustaining diversity initiatives. The symbolic frame may be considered whenever motivation and commitment are essential to the change effort. Based on the premise that by understanding symbols leaders are better able to influence their organizations, it examines organizations as cultures. The political frame is essential for assessing the complex interests of various groups and individuals as they compete for

4 scarce institutional resources. The structural frame helps to illuminate policy and practice deficiencies impeding the achievement of diversity goals (Bolman and Deal 2003). Kezar (2001) identified four research-based change principles with particular applicability for creating systemic change in higher education settings: 1) combining cultural and political strategies with more traditional change models such as visioning and planning, 2) aligning the change process with institutional and individual identity, 3) becoming comfortable with a disorderly process, and 4) understanding that a single change model will not be effective at all levels of the organization. Trice and Beyer (1993) noted that, as the change process moves forward, colleges and universities must take precautions not to regress back to earlier stages, though some stages may overlap. Ultimately, the successful implementation of assessment tools heavily influences the institutionalization of a change (Trice and Beyer 1993). Several scholars have argued that respecting and appreciating our differences is what unites us. Tierney (1993), in particular, asserted the need to reconceptualize our view of the academy so that it includes an understanding that excellence means incorporating those minorities historically on the margins of U.S. society. All are entitled to cultural citizenship in academe. Seeking commonality does not preclude encouraging difference. Cultural learning requires members of the community to risk questioning their own views of the world. Tierney (1993) emphasized the importance of systemic mechanisms to ensure that voices are heard and that all members of the community have the opportunity to engage in an ongoing assessment of the environment. According to Turner et al. (1999), if everyone in the culture is valued, then all members will have a vested interest in maintaining the culture. Finally, sustainability is a target towards which institutions are increasingly working; it also has relevance for diversity. In this context, sustainability, broadly defined, requires communities to increase their understanding that certain practices may have disparate impact on individuals from different groups. The goal of this enhanced awareness must not be limited to tolerance of diverse groups. Our institutions must learn to welcome individuals who are able to retain their authentic identities (Wagner 2008). The Decisions of Grand Valley State University Each institution has a unique journey that leads it down the path toward creating a CDO. In the case of GVSU, a number of significant factors that had emerged over the past decade helped make the case for doing so. Not only did the institution consider the importance of diversity to accrediting bodies, it also listened to its own constituents. It conducted a climate study that gathered quantitative and qualitative information; it supported the growth of numerous grassroots efforts (e.g., the People of Color Network, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender [LGBT] Faculty/Staff Association, and the Intercultural Awareness Committee); and it listened to student concerns that had arisen as a result of bias incidents on campus. In summary, these strengths and challenges painted a picture of an institution ready to grow, but one that was unable to make a notable and sustained difference without formal leadership to lend authority and coordination to diversity efforts. What follows are the specifics of GVSU s commitment to inclusion and diversity. Creation of the New Division and Position In 2008, the University created not only a CDO position, but also a Division of Inclusion and Equity. This divisional structure and language were important in that they dispelled concerns that diversity work was going to be relegated to one person. Instead, a Vice

5 President for Inclusion and Equity (also known as the CDO), an Assistant Vice President for Affirmative Action, and a Director for Intercultural Training were created as part of the division. A Director of Disability Services, a position that had previously been housed in Academic Affairs, was moved into the newly created division. These professionals were charged with acting in partnership with the faculty, staff, and students in order to guarantee that the responsibility of promoting diversity would be shared and broadly integrated. The CDO position and division allowed GVSU to move away from an ineffective tendency to react to individual problems as they arose and towards a more deliberate and proactive approach to issues of diversity. It provided the space and resources needed for several diversity initiatives that had previously had no formal home. Most important, the Division of Inclusion and Equity and the position of Vice President for Inclusion and Equity (i.e., the CDO) made real an institutional belief that diversity is directly tied to academic excellence and, therefore, needed to play a larger role in university life. The University was full of rich islands of innovation created by faculty members, staff, and student groups that voluntarily worked on these issues; but their work lacked structural legitimacy and support. Positioning the CDO and the New Division Laying a solid foundation upon which a CDO position can be built is vital to the success of the position and begins with making a compelling case of need. The design should be constructed making use of relevant coalitions and may include such components as institutional mission, vision, and values; data regarding demographics of the faculty, staff, and students; critical incidents of significance; and anecdotal stories that reflect the community s needs on issues of diversity. The significance of the CDO position should be viewed from all levels and should have demonstrable benefits to individuals (students, the faculty, and staff), the institution, and the external community. At GVSU, this vision was set by the President of the University and affirmed by the Board of Trustees. The President linked the enhancement of diversity and inclusion initiatives directly to the institution s strategic plan and its ability to fulfill its mission of providing students with a liberal education. Support needs to be communicated and shown, beginning with the institution s president and further reflected through the senior management level/executive team. A potential pitfall to a successful CDO may be a lack of infrastructure. Consideration must be given to the delicate nature of potentially moving existing offices and personnel to make room for the new CDO. In preparing the campus, communication must clarify that this person will not do diversity, but will instead establish a vision through which all members of the community can further infuse the principles of inclusion and equity into all aspects of the institution s work. Therefore, it is important that the CDO be allocated sufficient resources to carry out necessary functions and serve all constituencies. Estimates for staffing, general fund dollars, and start-up costs should be based on a vision of a mature, fully staffed office or division. In addition, it is important for the division to employ a diverse staff to reflect the composition (or desired composition) of the faculty, staff, and students on the campus to ensure readily available role models and to enrich the campus community. When looking at an institution from a macro perspective, the CDO has the ability to link areas that had not previously been connected because of discipline or function. At GVSU there existed several formal offices and services such as the Women s Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the missions of which clearly showed close connections with the planned new structure. Their reporting lines did not change, because, in actuality, their

6 strength on campus was derived from the fact that they grew out of specific need at the University in the Student Affairs Division. Structural change, in this case, meant creating a forum for supporting and coordinating their efforts without moving them. Once the new division has been in place for three years, this decision may need to be revisited. There may be questions about how the CDO can gain credibility when working with offices or units outside of his or her authority. Williams and Wade-Golden (2007) noted that, concerning the issue of diversity, there is no authority for the CDO to demand a formal commitment from faculty members, staff, or students; to penalize an individual for ineffectiveness; or to reward an individual s effort. Instead, the CDO relies upon the power granted through the position and the ability to educate, persuade, and provide resources for diversity initiatives. Authority and legitimacy are given to the CDO as diversity efforts are successfully guided and where there is the potential to influence diversity initiatives indirectly, such as athletics, space allocations, and marketing and communication efforts. The significance of engaging various entities throughout the institution cannot be overstated. From student services, to international affairs, to the faculty senate, a CDO can be an effective conduit for facilitating inclusive practices. For example, the CDO may collaborate with academic departments and Student Affairs on ways to connect the curriculum and cocurriculum; collaborate with the faculty curriculum committee to recognize, define, and strengthen the academic requirement related to diversity and world perspectives; or work with the professional colleges to define intercultural competence. Thus, the CDO s endeavors will move beyond the traditional responsibilities of affirmative action and multicultural education. At GVSU, the Division of Inclusion and Equity and the CDO position were charged with infusing diversity into all aspects of the University s operations. Recruiting and Retaining the CDO When determining the qualifications of the CDO, GVSU gave serious consideration to the significance of the interactions with various constituents, programs, and services at the institution and the qualifications necessary to be effective. Ultimately, GVSU determined that a terminal degree and extensive higher education experience in areas directly related to diversity were key elements to the potential for success of the position. In addition, the impact of the position title, the search timeline, the role of the search firm, communication techniques, and practices that reveal the culture of the institution must be critically examined. In GVSU s case, a search firm was contracted to provide the institution with broad national exposure to qualified candidates. With the support of GVSU s provost, a coalition group of committed faculty and staff members provided the leadership for writing the proposal for this position. In August 2007, the President appointed co-chairs to oversee the search and informed them that a CDO must be in place by January The co-chairs assembled a broad, university-wide search committee and worked with the search firm to market the position. Communication regarding the progress of the search was transparent throughout the process and included the creation of a CDO web site and internal campus publications. At any time, campus constituents could send feedback about the process through the web site. In addition, all interested constituents had the opportunity to interact with each finalist during a full day of interviews spanning two of the institution s main campuses. The credibility and centrality of the search process for the CDO position are critical. Without an inclusive and transparent selection process, the office and position could be met with distrust. Those involved in the search process need to acknowledge that the stakeholders critical to the success of this position are not necessarily the traditional

7 stakeholders. Indeed, those whose voices have been traditionally marginalized need to move to the front and center of this process. Institutional leadership at GVSU established a diverse search committee and consulted with multiple constituents both within the institution and in the external community. GVSU clearly understood the significance of the personal touch when interacting with candidates. Handwritten notes and gifts (tokens from the campus and local area) were standard after both first and second interviews. Frequent follow-up telephone calls and s from the search firm and search committee members were timely. These gestures helped to solidify the process of beginning meaningful relationships between the candidate who was selected and future colleagues. Members of the President s senior management team addressed post-hire considerations (e.g., assistance with relocation logistics) and scheduling a series of welcome receptions to help to ensure a successful transition. Central to all of these efforts was the two-person transition team assigned to the appointee by the President. One was responsible for logistics whereas the other assisted with orientation and introductions. This assistance included a comprehensive briefing book of written summaries from each existing diversity group, highlighting its purpose, goals and challenges, and the most pressing institutional issues from the group s perspectives. This book served as a ready reference and a guide for establishing the first set of meetings with leaders committed to diversity issues. Early and appropriate introductions to the broader external community were also essential for positioning the new CDO as a central figure in University business. One of several welcome receptions was open to the public and focused on central community members such as the mayor, chief executive officers from health care organizations, lawyers, entrepreneurs, local human service agencies, and leaders of small businesses. In addition, office location is an important factor from both a symbolic and practical perspective. The GVSU senior management team reconfigured the offices of some of its members to ensure an office for the new CDO would be strategically located near the president s office. The title for the CDO position as well as the portfolio divisional model chosen also served as clear symbols of GVSU understanding of and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Beginning the Work of the CDO Learning about the history of diversity work at a given institution is beneficial to the position of CDO. Validating and acknowledging the efforts that have already occurred is particularly meaningful to community members, and incorporating previously successful initiatives into future plans sets a tone of partnership between the new CDO and those who had been hard at work on diversity issues long before the appointee s arrival. Once the new CDO is on the job, building relationships, establishing credibility, delineating strengths and weaknesses, and developing a personal perspective on climate issues are critically important first steps for the new CDO. Identifying potential challenges to success and understanding that conflict is a natural part of the change process is helpful for both short- and long-term goal setting. Promoting guiding principles to assist with aligning institution-wide diversity efforts is essential. The concepts of shared responsibility, accountability, and evaluation should be central to inclusion plans (American Association of Colleges & Universities 1998a, b). Listening to faculty members, staff, and students at all levels allows for the comprehensive perspective necessary to work towards consensus on high-priority goals.

8 Understanding state and local politics, as well as the perspective of the institution s trustees, is important when attempting to infuse diversity and inclusion throughout business operations. Meeting in person with advocacy groups must also be a priority. The CDO s attention must be focused on multiple tasks while building relationships and becoming familiar with the new environment. Facilitating the resolution of individual concerns, hiring new staff, and beginning to set a vision for the new division must occur simultaneously. Functions formerly distributed among various individuals and departments across the organization may now reside within the purview of the new CDO s division. The CDO should exercise sensitivity and diplomacy when the need to modify processes and procedures arises. In addition, there may be what seems like an endless list of requests for welcome addresses, keynotes, and other public appearances as the community continues to test and evaluate the new CDO. Maintaining availability and approachability is essential to building trust, familiarity, and rapport with the partners, which is needed for the potentially difficult change agenda ahead. Beyond introductions, the new CDO will be obliged to make connections to the external community (e.g., alumni, community agencies, and businesses) to create powerful working relationships. Genuine interest and interactions on the part of the new CDO may lead to invitations to serve on external boards of directors, which is an excellent way to demonstrate both individual and institutional commitment to community building. The CDO ought to identify issues that can be resolved early to prevent them from becoming barriers to inclusion efforts and become an advocate for these issues. The institution must be held accountable to its stated values, plans, and goals. If the institution does not walk the talk, its entire commitment to diversity and inclusion will be questioned or completely undermined. For example, the LGBT community at GVSU expressed two significant concerns to CDO candidates during the final interviews. Faculty, staff, and students had waged an eight-year effort to obtain health benefits for partners. In addition, more recent initiatives were simultaneously focused on revising the institution s nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity and expression. The newly hired CDO at GVSU recognized that a significant portion of the first year would be focused on achieving these goals. After an exhaustive team effort over a sixmonth period, the institution s Board of Trustees voted in favor of a pilot program for employee household members regardless of sexual orientation and added gender identity/expression to the nondiscrimination policy. It was only then that the University could begin strategic inclusion planning in earnest. The content gleaned from conversations and meetings between the new CDO and the community began to form the content for action steps and initiatives towards developing a strategic plan to shape a more culturally inclusive organization. After eight months on the job, the new CDO issued a draft of a three-year Inclusion Implementation Plan (IIP) to the internal community for comment. This IIP was the natural next step in GVSU s journey toward creating the most inclusive campus possible. It had been part of the strategic vision since the University had come together to create the position of Vice President for Inclusion and Equity. After a designated comment period and meetings with multiple constituent groups, the CDO incorporated the majority of recommended changes and distributed the final IIP at the end of the first year of the position. By identifying strengths and intentionally linking all actions to the institution s mission, vision, and values, the new CDO had solidified credibility to lead the organization to the next level in its diversity work.

9 Conclusion In our experience, the value of time spent engaging the institution in developing the CDO position and the care taken in designing the recruitment process cannot be underestimated. An institution considering introducing the position of CDO must first be clear about its own commitment to diversity and inclusion before it can convince a potential inaugural CDO of its long-term intentions. Clarity of thought and talk alone are insufficient. The college or university s written documents must also reflect this perspective in the form of values, goals, and plans. In turn, as the representative of the highest level of the organization, the president of the institution must articulate these perspectives and then rally support from secondary representative positions, such as the members of the Board of Trustees and the provost. Appointing a CDO at the vice presidential level reporting directly to the president has symbolic and substantive importance. The decision to implement the portfolio divisional model sent the message that the institution was setting aside appropriate resources to support its commitment. At GVSU these pivotal investments, made during the conceptualization stage, proved to be valuable tools in attracting a candidate who shared the same values and passion for the work. A strong partnership between the CDO and the institution sets the tone for effective implementation of diversity initiatives. In reflecting on the roles that the authors of this article played in this important effort, there continues to be a shared sense of excitement. The creation of the position of CDO helped prior grassroots efforts focused on inclusion gain formality, legitimacy, and support. The CDO position and division are not only symbols of the University s commitment, but also tangible proof of its willingness to work for inclusion and equity. We hope that this explanation of our experiences, decisions, and actions will be helpful to others considering the implementation of the CDO position because it is vital to achieving institutional diversity and inclusion goals. Acknowledgement The authors would also like to acknowledge Catherine Frerichs and Kathleen Underwood for their thoughtful critiques of earlier versions of this article. References Association of American Colleges & Universities. (1998a). Diversity blueprint: A planning manual for colleges and universities. Washington, DC: Association of Colleges & Universities. Association of American Colleges & Universities. (1998b). Statement of liberal learning. Retrieved from Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2003). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Wiley. Duderstadt, J. (2000). A university for the 21st century. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Kezar, A. (2001). Understanding and facilitating organizational change in the 21 st century. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Terenzini, P., Cabrera, A., Colbeck, C., Bjorklund, S., & Parente, J. (2001). Racial and ethnic diversity in the classroom: Does it promote student learning? Journal of Higher Education, 72(5), Retrieved from Tierney, W. (1988). Organizational culture in higher education: Defining the essentials. Journal in Higher Education, 59(1), Retrieved from Tierney, W. (1993). Building communities of difference: Higher education in the twenty-first century. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

10 Tierney, W. (1997). The parameters of affirmative action: Equity and excellence in the academy. Review of Educational Research, 67(2), Retrieved from Trice, H., & Beyer, J. (1993). The cultures of work organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Turner, C., Myers, S., & Creswell, J. (1999). Exploring underrepresentation: The case of faculty of color in the Midwest. JournalofHigherEducation, 70(1), Retrieved from Wagner, J. (2008). The practice of community. Journal of College & Character, 4(4), 1 6. Retrieved from Williams, D. A., & Wade-Golden, K. C. (2007). The chief diversity officer: A primer for college and university presidents. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

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