I was shocked when I read that 84% of college and university presidents believe that race relations on their campuses are good or excellent, as published in this month’s release of Inside Higher Ed‘s 2016 Survey of College and University Presidents. That number actually went up from 2015.
Compare that to the fact that only 24% of presidents described race relations on other campuses as good, and none described them as excellent.
These numbers suggest that leaders are struggling to recognize the need to take action on diversity and inclusion since everything is already good or excellent “on my campus.”
Do you agree? Do you think faculty, staff and students on your campus would agree?
A take-away for me from these numbers is that leaders need to make sure they are getting the unvarnished truth from their own people. However, most people are justifiably hesitant to share bad news with their leaders. In fact it is recognized that leaders are often shielded from bad news by those closest to them.
To truly ensure that race relations are good where we work, we need to make it safe for our people to share bad news – the unvarnished truth – with us on tough topics like diversity and inclusion.
Some tips on how to do this:
- Explicitly and regularly ask for bad news. Ask directly about what people are hesitant to share.
- Don’t assume that people are sharing bad news – actively look for it.
- Examine and change how we respond to hearing bad news.
- Prepare in advance and minimize negative reactions like “Oh no!” or “I can’t believe it.”
- Purposely thank people for sharing bad news with you.
- Recognize and even celebrate when bad news has been addressed and an improvement has occurred.
This is easier said than done. I know that when I am facilitating and participants share what “our system” isn’t doing to address racism my first reaction is to defend the leaders I work with, or to share all the good work I know is happening. I have to work hard to listen and thank them for sharing their truths.
Think back to the last time someone on your team pointed out an issue or shared some bad news. Was it welcomed?