Monthly Archives: May 2015

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




Can I make a difference?

Oct25-Dalai-LamaI grew up going to a small cabin in northern Minnesota. To this day, over 50 years later, I can still remember the horrible whining buzz of even just one mosquito at night after we went to bed. It made it impossible to sleep and not a place I wanted to stay! Each night my grandpa would get out his flashlight and flyswatter and track down every mosquito. He made a huge difference and because of him I felt welcomed at the cabin.

Leaders also have the opportunity, and the accountability, to create a workplace where everyone on their team feels welcomed. That is my simple definition of diversity and inclusion. It doesn’t have to involve a large complicated program but it does require looking in all possible areas of the employee life cycle for those “pesky mosquitoes” that are problematic for your people. We can make a difference by shining a flashlight on how we:

  1. Recruit and make selection decisions
  2. Orient and onboard our new people
  3. Develop and train everyone on our team
  4. Provide coaching and feedback
  5. Review and evaluate each person
  6. Plan and support individual career development
  7. Reward and recognize contributions and engagement

One small change in how we lead and support our people can make a huge difference. Where have you built inclusiveness into any of these employee life cycle events?

Todd Thorsgaard


Each one, reach one

mentor 2“Mentoring brings us together – across generation, class, and often race – in a manner that forces us to acknowledge our interdependence, to appreciate, in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, that ‘we are caught in an inescapable  network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.’ In this way, mentoring enables us to participate in the essential but unfinished drama of reinventing community, while reaffirming that there is an important role for each of us in it.” – Marc Freedman

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been involved in several conversations about the value of mentoring in helping underrepresented faculty, staff, and students feel included and welcome in our campus communities. Not surprisingly, good mentoring helps ALL employees feel supported and valued and promotes their success. I was reminded of this very fact when I met with my mentor last week to discuss recent challenges I’ve faced in my work and strategies for moving forward. Not only did I walk away from that meeting with better perspective and some concrete next steps I could take, but I left feeling more supported and valued.

In talking with colleagues, I’ve been able to identify some successful mentoring efforts happening at a few of our colleges, like a faculty mentoring program or teaching circles that help new faculty build relationships while learning from each other. Or a buddy program that pairs new employees with experienced employees to help introduce them to the campus, its culture, and people they should know.

Most colleagues, however, talked about the challenges of starting and maintaining mentoring programs.  Colleagues who have started formal matched mentoring programs, experience about a 50% or lower success rate, in terms of mentors-mentee pairs who continue to meet and find value from the relationship over time. Probably more troubling, was a colleague who mentioned that with his campus mentoring program there are far more people who want to be mentored, than there are those who are willing to be mentors.

It made me think about what would happen if we began fostering a mentoring culture on our campuses. Much like the “each one, teach one” literacy campaigns around the nation to help k-12 students, why couldn’t we begin an “each one, reach one” campaign, where every employee reaches out to mentor someone else?

Perhaps this is a pie in the sky idea. But given the benefits that could result from mentoring, like making all faculty, staff, and students feel included and welcomed, and supporting their success, wouldn’t it be worth a try?

Anita Rios

Leading and educating a highly diverse population

conference logoWhat does it mean to recruit, retain, and grow our own?  This is the HR vision for MnSCU and one key goal is to create a diverse workforce that reflects the student population. As you can see in this recent Board presentation, we have made progress in some areas, and have work to do in others.  For example:

  • Two-year colleges serve about 27% students of color and American Indian students,  with 7% diversity in all faculty.
  • Universities include 15% students of color and American Indian students, with 14% diversity in all faculty.
  • Women comprise more than 50% of all employees, and represent an increasing number of faculty
  • Nearly 20% of employees in key roles are age 61 and over and can be expected to retire within the next 10 years

There are many reasons why it’s important to  attract, retain, and develop a diverse workforce.

  • Meeting the educational needs of all students
  • Creating a welcoming community for all students, employees, and campus visitors
  • Fostering respect for cultural differences and what each of us brings to the table
  • Providing diverse role models

This issue was reflected in the results of our leadership survey. Participants said that one of their greatest leadership challenges was leading and educating a highly diverse population.  This month we’ll focus on opportunities and strategies to meet this challenge.

–Dee Anne Bonebright