“Ruthlessly realistic”

“Stop pretending.”
“How did they treat you?”
“No such thing as color blind.”
“Being comfortable being uncomfortable”

These are strong words that capture the essence of a TED talk I want to share with you. Mellody Hobson says that mentioning race is the conversational equivalent of “touching the third rail.”  It can feel risky and people don’t know how to respond.

As leaders, Hobson says it is important for us to step bravely into the conversation about racism and discrimination at work. Acknowledging the realities of discrimination and overcoming our fear of talking about it is the first step to creating inclusive workplaces.

Join over 2 million people and take a few minutes to watch and listen to her 2014 TED talk.

It’s hard, but we need to be “color brave, not color blind.”

Todd Thorsgaard


John Lennon or Harry Potter?




When you see wire-rimmed glasses, do you think of John Lennon or Harry Potter? Or maybe John Denver? It might depend on your age.

The Mindset List is an intriguing way to think about the diversity of our student body. Each year Beloit College puts out a list of facts about the incoming freshman class. For 2018, it included:

  • During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
  • In their lifetime, a dozen different actors have portrayed Nelson Mandela on the big and small screen.
  • FOX News and MSNBC have always been duking it out for the hearts and minds of American viewers.
  • Female referees have always officiated NBA games.
  • Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.
  • One route to pregnancy has always been through frozen eggs.
  • Their collection of U.S. quarters has always celebrated the individual states.
  • When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think of Harry Potter.

As interesting as it is, the list makes some assumptions about our freshman students that may nor may not be the case. For example, that they have always lived in the U.S., or that they  have always had access to mainstream U.S. media.

As our higher education workforce ages, it can be harder to understand the mindset of the students we are serving. Activities that worked well may not work anymore, or new options might exist. For example, Beloit suggested that students who are used to binge-watching TV programs might also want to binge-watch video portions of their coursework. Whether or not that’s desirable, what might it mean for course development?

What can you do to include a reality check in your planning?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Recruiting for diversity

Last week I met with two leaders in our colleges and universities to explore how we can do a better job to support diverse hiring in our system. Increasing our diverse hires not only helps us mirror our student population better, but increases the potential for greater innovation in our colleges and universities. That said, it’s often a struggle to make sure that your applicant pool is truly diverse, especially if hiring managers are crunched for time or are relying on the traditional “post and pray” method of recruiting.

So what can leaders do to actively recruit for diversity? Here are a few ideas and resources gathered from the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC):

  • Post positions in diversity publications in your region. See HERC for a good list of publications and membership discounts
  • Search directories of minority doctoral students, such as the Southern Regional Education Board’s State Doctoral Scholars program or Faculty for the Future. Links to various directories can be found at: WISELI
  • Work with your HR representative to search CV or resume databases. Minnesota State has access to 60,000 resumes through its HERC membership.
  • Connect with job seekers on social media; Minnesota State leaders can tweet hard-to-fill positions on the HERC website.
  • Meet potential candidates at regional or national conferences
  • Participate in job fairs to promote your open positions

Last fall, chief diversity officers and human resource officers in Minnesota State had the opportunity to participate in a virtual job fair. It was a new concept for many of us. Still, I’m amazed at what came out of the virtual job fair for those leaders who took the time to spend a few hours meeting potential applicants in online chat rooms. One chief diversity officer garnered 26 contacts, which he then distributed to leaders in his university, so they could follow up with people individually. While I’m not sure how many eventual hires resulted from those contacts, it was well worth the time and effort to actively reach out, promote Minnesota State as a good place to work, and develop a potential pool of diverse candidates for future searches.

What methods have you tried to actively recruit for diversity?

Anita Rios



Diversity as a problem-solving strategy

In 2007, social scientist Scott E. Page generated what seemed like counter-intuitive findings about problem solving. When modeling outcomes for various kinds of groups, he found that random groups almost always did better than groups of the best individual performers.

What was going on?  In his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, he explained that a group with a diverse range of viewpoints is typically able to generate the best solutions. These groups include:

  • Diverse perspectives
  • Diverse interpretations
  • Diverse ways of generating solutions
  • Diverse ways of understanding cause and effect

Within higher education, we can seek diverse viewpoints through a number of strategies. Admissions, hiring, and appointment policies need to promote a diverse environment for learning and working. Reaching outside of traditional disciplinary silos is essential for solving complex issues.

Page says that leadership in higher education needs to have a fundamental belief in the value of diversity. That belief needs to be acted out in the way we form committees, who we consult with about decisions, and who is at the table when we’re deciding what to do and how to do it.

Google wouldn’t want only freshly minted graduates from MIT and Caltech. People with different training and experiences often add more than people who score better on measuring sticks. . . . All else being equal, we should expect someone different – be their differences in training, experiences, or identity – to be more likely to have the unique experience that leads to the breakthrough.
Scott E. Page, The Difference

What have you done to generate diversity on your teams and work groups?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Can you hear me?

Are you reacting differently to these quotes? Would it be different if they weren’t attached to the photos or attributed to a specific person?

This isn’t a new phenomenon but it seems to be getting worse. We are not very good at listening to people we perceive as different from ourselves. That makes it hard to build inclusive work teams, share diverse points of view, and leverage the strengths of everyone on your team.

The founders of Living Room Conversations want to help people actually listen to each other rather than debate and talk at each other. Recently a number of leaders at several of our campuses have used the Living Room conversation agreements and topic-specific conversation guides to tackle the tough topics of status, privilege and race with diverse groups of faculty and staff.

Conversation Agreements

  1. Be curious and open to learning
  2. Show respect and suspend judgement
  3. Look for common ground and appreciate differences
  4. Be authentic and welcome that from others
  5. Be purposeful and to the point
  6. Own and guide the conversation

The actual conversations become structured “deep listening sessions” that include an orientation to the process, intentional time-keeping and facilitation and a closing period. An example of the status and privilege guide can be found here – Conversation Guide.

I can attest to the almost magical listening and sharing that occurs during a living room conversation. People stop interrupting each other, they smile as they hear the stories others share, and they are surprised by how easy it is to share their own story with people who are actually listening to them.

When we asked participants after the conversations the majority responded that they had not changed their personal points of view but they now could see more common ground with their colleagues, despite their differences. Further, there was universal support for more dialogue.

Using a structure to help people actually listen to each other can provide a starting point for greater inclusion, in the workplace and beyond.

Todd Thorsgaard

Fueling innovation through diversity

In his 2016 book, Driven by Difference, David Livermore makes the case that high-functioning, diverse teams outperform homogenous teams. However, he says diversity by itself doesn’t contribute to organizational success unless it supports your organization’s mission. And, he adds that unless leaders leverage diversity’s potential, it can actually erode performance and productivity.

So how can a leader leverage the potential of diverse teams? The secret is to minimize conflict while maximizing the informational diversity found in varied values and experiences. To overcome inherent frictions among diverse team members, Livermore says a leader needs to develop their workforce’s cultural intelligence or CQ.

Drawing on success stories from Google, Alibaba, Novartis, and other groundbreaking companies, Livermore identifies key leadership practices and elements of cultural intelligence that fuel innovation:

CQ drive: Build a desire to learn about other cultures and a willingness to adapt.

CQ knowledge: Cultivate appreciation and understanding of cultural differences.

CQ strategy: Be aware of the perspectives and ideas of different people and how their viewpoints affect the work of teams.

CQ action: Adjust to cultural differences and leverage diversity into results.

Leaders can increase their teams CQ by encouraging curiosity,  listening, respect and “perspective-taking” among diverse team members. Drawn from real-life examples, Livermore demonstrates that innovation is fueled by cultural intelligence and the ability to see things from others’ perspectives. Encouraging employees to consider their co-workers’ points of view and to mix their colleagues’ perspectives with their own can pave the way to developing innovative solutions that borrow from many ideas and work for everyone.

What advice do you have for increasing your team’s or your own cultural intelligence?

Anita Rios

Who’s making the coffee?

We know that leaders play an important role in ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to perform at their best and achieve their career goals. A recent blog post from Harvard Business Review highlighted one key aspect of this responsibility.

The authors described two types of work: “office housework” and “glamour work.”  As you’d expect, the first consists of the backstage tasks necessary to keep things flowing – everything from making coffee and taking notes to sitting on routine administrative committees. It needs to get done, but it rarely happens in the spotlight. Glamour work, on the other hand, consists of chairing key committees or task forces, serving on innovative teams, and high-profile or stretch assignments.

The research found that minorities and women spend significantly more time on office housework than their white male counterparts. In some cases, certain people are perceived to be better at organizational or care-taking roles. Others may feel pressured to volunteer for these tasks or face negative consequences for not being a “team player.”

What can managers do?  The first step is to identify the main office housework tasks for your team, and then assess whether anyone is doing more than their fair share. Create a system for rotating the tasks and hold everyone accountable for completing them.

When glamour work is assigned, be intentional and strategic to be sure everyone is considered. If some team members are more prepared than others, use strategies such as job shadowing and development plans to ensure that everyone is able to showcase their strengths.

Creating a team where everyone pulls their weight on the routine tasks and has opportunities to grow professionally not only demonstrates inclusivity. It also builds high-performing teams and creates an environment where everyone can succeed.

Dee Anne Bonebright