Monthly Archives: May 2015

Leading in a diverse world

diversity signOne way and another, our team has spent a lot of time recently thinking about leadership challenges related to leading and educating a highly diverse population. We’ve shared some of our ideas and resources over the past month. Here are some of my key take-aways.

  1. Patterns and generalizations are the way our brains help us function in the world. This is necessary but I know that it also results in unconscious bais that can impact my perceptions of others around me.
  2. Knowing point #1 is important, but not enough. While I can’t change what happens unconsciously, I can work to change systems and processes in order to mitigate resulting bias.
  3. Doing #2 is critically important, but also not enough. I also need to build and support systems that allow people to bring all of their diverse ideas, viewpoints, and experiences to the table.
  4. Our changing higher ed environment requires these supportive systems. New tools for diversity and inclusion are needed to address the needs of our diverse students and to promote better decision making and collaboration.

Yesterday afternoon Todd and I facilitated a session for Academic and Student Affairs leaders where we discussed tools and strategies for promoting inclusive workplaces. While we face many challenges in reaching our goals, people were also excited about the possibilities for our system.

As Todd challenged in a recent post, we all have the ability to make small changes that can lead to a big difference. What steps would you like to take during the next fiscal year to lead and educate our highly diverse population?

Dee Anne Bonebright


If you have a brain, you’re biased

biased brainA very provocative statement. Don’t you think?

And if it is true that our brains are naturally biased, how can leaders create an inclusive and diverse workforce? David Rock, Director and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, challenges leaders with the above proclamation based on current work in neuroscience. In addition, he questions the value of current diversity and bias training programs that focus on education and awareness, because most of our biases are unconscious and automatic. Our brains create cognitive shortcuts. These shortcuts help us quickly take in all the information bombarding us and help us make decisions without overloading our brains. The problem is these unconscious shortcuts lead to biased behaviors that we are not even aware of.

Leaders who are striving to build an inclusive and diverse workforce run straight into the unconscious human bias that all people instantly sort each other into their “in-group” or their “out-group.” We automatically perceive those who are similar to us, our in-group, more positively. Rock and other researchers in neuroscience propose that these unconscious biases are resistant to education and awareness training and need to be tackled with mitigating strategies such as:

  • creating shared goals between people
  • encouraging teams to develop shared identity
  • facilitating low risk conversations and group interactions across race, gender, age, expertise, education and other factors
  • taking time for group interactions that focus on sharing stories and discovering unknown similarities

These mitigating strategies can slow down and derail our automatic shortcuts and help to decrease unconscious bias.

Todd Thorsgaard


Hire a veteran

memorial day 1Happy Memorial Day! Like me, today most people will be spending time with friends and family. Many people will also attend Memorial Day ceremonies or parades or visit a local cemetery to pay respects to those who have served our country.

While it is important to honor those who have paid the ultimate price serving our country, we can also honor the living who have served our country by hiring a veteran. There are many resources that are available to employers who would like to recruit veterans in their efforts to diversify their workforce. One helpful resource is called Hire a Hero, Hire a Vet. It outlines the many benefits of hiring veterans and contains links to useful tools for employers. If you are hiring in Minnesota, here is a web site with a video showing you how to hire a veteran in three easy steps.

As the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) points out, there are many reasons to hire veterans.  Veterans bring education, training, values, leadership and teamwork to the workplace. They also have learned to work side by side with many different people, regardless of race, gender, geographic origin, ethnic background, religion, economic status and capabilities.

Hiring a veteran can represent diversity and inclusion in action.

Anita Rios



What does diversity and inclusion mean?

Diversity and inclusion mean different things to different generations, according to a recent study by Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI).

deloitte1Source: Deloitte University (2015).

The study found that Millennials think of diversity as the blending of different ideas, backgrounds, and experiences within a team. This is called “cognitive diversity.” Inclusion is about leadership support for a collaborative environment that is transparent, communicative, and that welcomes different perspectives.

Compare this to the traditional Boomer and Gen-X definition of diversity that focuses on fairness and protection for all, regardless of protected class status. Inclusion is about morality and legality; providing access for everyone because it is the right thing to do.

As millennials enter the workplace in greater numbers, what does it mean for organizations to support inclusion and cognitive diversity? What will happen if leaders continue to focus on traditional definitions?

We will soon be leading organizations with many members who want to bring all of their differences to the table, and to openly discuss differing viewpoints and the experiences that shaped them. According to the study, 86% of millennials feel that differences of opinion allow teams to excel, but only 59% believe their leaders share this point of view. And when they don’t believe an organization’s culture is inclusive, millennials are likely to be dis-engaged.

What does this mean for your institution? How have you included cognitive diversity and open communication in your diversity plan?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Learn more:

Deloitte Infographic:

Fast Company summary:

Full Report:

Now what?

Flat tirePssssssssss – the dreaded sound of air leaking out of my tire. Nothing can ruin the best planned bike ride as a slow leak in my tire. I pump it up, it looks good but a few miles later I am slowing down. Stuck on the side of the road and the precious air that I work so hard to pump in is escaping.

Leaders face the same issue when building a diverse workforce. You work hard to expand your recruiting pool. Your organization weeds out selection practices that unfairly penalize diverse candidates. You hire an increasingly diverse team but you notice over time that you lose more of your diverse employees. All that work leaking away like air out of a tire! Now what?

Josh Bersin, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, encourages leaders to focus on providing training and support for all your people to make your organization irresistible ,  one that people won’t want to leave. Bersin cites research that reinforces the importance of development activities and opportunities for growth as a key determinant of retention, particularly for new hires. A starting point is formal training that leads to competence and success in their current role. Your willingness to provide the time and support of training demonstrates your commitment to your new employees. As important are the more informal development opportunities you provide through:

  • Developmental and stretch assignments
  • On-the-job training
  • Lateral assignments
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching

Focusing on professional development and formal and informal growth opportunities will patch the leaks in your organization and help you keep the people you have worked so hard to recruit and hire.

Todd Thorsgaard


Advancing diversity

diversity studentsThis spring I was fortunate to hear our chancellor Steven Rosenstone speak passionately about advancing diversity in our system at a conference for HR professionals and Chief Diversity Officers.  I found his talk inspiring and thought that you might too. He shared two reasons to care about diversity.

The first reason is all about social justice. Rosenstone said, “It’s the right thing to do, it’s who we are, it’s what we believe in,  it’s what we value as human beings, and it’s part of our core responsibilities as human beings who care about other human beings.”

The second reason, Rosenstone wryly describes as a purely financial reason. He shared some compelling demographics with the group saying that 2/3 of the population growth in the state over the next 25 years will be among people of color. And, he added that our colleges and universities will not have students or employees unless we make sure that our campuses are inviting and supportive of all people.

To create that supportive environment, he presented some challenge goals to his audience, saying that we must:

  • Increase the number of students of color and American Indian students on our campuses
  • Increase the number of employees of color and American Indian employees on our campuses
  • Increase diversity among women, disabled, veterans, and the GLBT community
  • Improve the completion rate for students of color, for American Indian students and Pell-eligible students
  • Improve the climate on our campuses so all Minnesotans feel welcomed and at home

Most importantly, Rosenstone challenged diversity and HR leaders to identify 4 or 5 things that will make a difference in outcomes and move the dial on how we advance diversity. He urged leaders to re-focus on results and take action.

This year, my talent management team will be looking at how we provide useful resources to our campuses to hire affirmatively, starting with e-learning training that will be available on demand. I am hopeful that this will help us as we work to increase the number of faculty and staff of color on our campuses.

Thinking about your areas of influence, what can you do that will help move the dial and advance diversity?

Anita Rios



Diversity and the “best qualified” candidate

job interviewWhy should we care about diversity in our search processes? Because diverse work teams can make better decisions, solve problems better and help us tackle the tough problems we face in higher education.

Last summer Todd wrote about a book by Scott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Page presented the idea that diversity can be equally important–or even more important–than ability in problem-solving teams.  Page calls this idea “wise crowds” – the idea that multiple perspectives on an issue can generate better solutions than one expert on their own. Of course, not all crowds are wise. But the book makes a compelling mathematical case for the benefit of diverse viewpoints when addressing large and complex issues.

As leaders in higher education, some of his conclusions are worth considering. For example, when building research teams he says that “hiring students who had high grade point averages from the top-ranked school may be a less effective strategy than hiring good students from a diverse set of schools”  (p. 173).

I was reminded of this book when I attended a recent workshop for search committee members. (Anita talked about the workshop in her last post). We discussed the idea of “best qualified” from a variety of viewpoints, especially in the context of creating diverse pools. If Page is right, then the strategy of seeking broader pools of candidates to include people who bring new viewpoints to the table is not only the right thing to do, but also makes the most business sense.

What definitions of “best qualified” have worked for you?

–Dee Anne Bonebright

To Learn More:

Scott E. Page presentation  (Part 1):

Scott E. Page presentation (Part 2):


Embracing the edge

Scariest momentI still can feel the butterflies I felt as I drove to compete in my first triathlon. I knew where the race was, I had ridden my bike before, ran in my shoes, knew how to swim but I had never actually done a tri. It was new to me and I didn’t feel comfortable – at all. I was on a learning edge! Yet if I wanted to grow as an athlete I needed to embrace the scary feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next.

Leaders who want to be successful in our diverse and changing workplace also need to embrace their cultural or diversity learning edges. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive,  calls it your place of “productive discomfort.” We all lead from our own experiences and backgrounds. This means that our learning edges are different but that we all have an opportunity, and an obligation, to step into a new situation or explore a new perspective and learn more about different cultures, different histories, different experiences and different ways of thinking.

When we are on a learning edge it is easy to feel defensive, awkward, uncertain or confused. Be prepared for that feeling and continue to push yourself. That is where the true growth happens. Not only will you be developing your cultural competence, you will also be role modeling inclusion.

Some examples of learning edges are:

  • participate in cultural or community events that are not your own
  • get together with colleagues or students who are different than you, and spend most of the time listening
  • involve people with different backgrounds and different experiences when you are solving problems or making decisions
  • actively include discussions of diversity and inclusion in your meetings and work events, even if they are not “diversity” events

Where have you embraced your learning edge of diversity and what did you learn?

Todd Thorsgaard



Searching for excellence and diversity

search diversityLast month I attended an excellent workshop focused on searching for excellence and diversity. It was presented by Eve Fine and Jennifer Sheridan from WISELI: Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. What struck me most was the numerous research studies that they shared demonstrating unconscious bias in the search and hire process. Gender and race/ethnicity bias cropped up over and over in studies focusing on reviewing resumes and candidate interviews. I found the research findings to be significant and alarming. It demonstrated that each of us are prone to bias whether we are aware of it or not.

So, given the fact that unconscious bias exists in the search process, what can we do to make sure that we are not unconsciously eliminating good candidates based upon their gender or race/ethnicity? One strategy that Drs. Fine and Sheridan suggested was to make search committee members aware that unconscious bias exists and give them time to discuss it prior to starting the search process. They have also created a guidebook for search committees, which provides excellent resources and templates.

I’d recommend purchasing the guide, but if you are pressed for time, here are their top 10 tips:

1. Build a diverse committee and ensure all members understand the committee’s role

2. Build rapport among committee members and create an environment of collegiality, respect, dedication, and open-mindedness

3. Establish expectations and ground rules for attendance, active involvement, decision-making, confidentiality, treatment of candidates, etc.

4. Air views about diversity, discuss ideas about excellence, and develop a shared understanding of what diversity and excellence mean for a particular search

5. Recruit a diverse applicant pool by searching broadly and inclusively

6. Recruit diligently by making personal contact with potential applicants, targeting publications to underrepresented groups and communicating with organizations and people who can refer you to potential applicants

7. Learn about research on unconscious or implicit biases and assumptions and their influence on evaluation of applicants

8. Question the objectivity of your own judgments and learn about other ways to mitigate bias

9. Ensure that every candidate interviewed-whether hired or not-is respected and treated well

10. Maintain communication with all final candidates until an offer is accepted

What has worked for you in searching for both excellence and diversity?

Anita Rios


Diversity resources for higher ed

As leaders, we all play a part in creating a welcoming climate and acting as role models for campus diversity. One of the best ways to do that is to stay informed about the issues.  Here are some resources that can help.

Insight into Diversity  – this organization provides free resources including a magazine, web site, and weekly newsletter with brief updates on diversity issues in higher ed.  Last week’s issue, for example, included these stories:

  • Introduction to Loretta Lynch, the first female African American to head the Justice Department.
  • Coverage of a student demonstration at Emerson College, where hundreds of students called for increased diversity training for faculty, students, and staff.
  • Profile of an organization that works to increase the number of low-income and minority students in AP high school courses.

Association of American Colleges and Universities: DiversityWeb – AA C & U provides a wide range of resources to promote diversity in higher education. Check out this site for links, including information about the LEAP research initiative (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) that promotes high-impact educational practices for all students.

WISELI (Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute) – research institute promotes the advancement of women in STEM fields. Their site provides resources for faculty, administrators, and search committees seeking to improve campus diversity.

What methods do you use to keep yourself informed about diversity issues?

Dee Anne Bonebright