Tag Archives: equity

“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


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

Transforming what we do

How do we transform what we do in light of both how today’s students learn, but also WHO they are?”  That was the provocative question asked by Interim  Chancellor Devinder Malhotra last month when he spoke at a Luoma Leadership event.  As we know, our classrooms are becoming more diverse, with new learners accessing higher education from communities that have traditionally had low participation rates in higher education.

To ensure student success, Chancellor Malhotra said we must align ourselves to new student demographics and the new workforce needed for our knowledge-based economy. He challenged all leaders to engage with underrepresented groups and embed themselves in their communities in order to accomplish our mission of serving all Minnesotans.

To do that, he advised that leaders not only learn about these communities, but that we learn with them and from them.  Doing so will ensure that Minnesota’s businesses and industries will have the talented workforce they need so communities across the state can thrive.

During the month of March, we will explore the leadership competency: valuing diversity. As you can see from Chancellor Malhotra’s remarks, valuing diversity is not just a good thing to do, but it is a strategic imperative. We must transform what we do in light how students learn and WHO students they are. In Minnesota State, here are the key behaviors that leaders are expected to demonstrate in valuing diversity:

  • Demonstrates inclusivity in work processes and work teams.
  • Encourages and promote the diversification of our faculty, staff and student body.
  • Actively seeks out and invites alternative viewpoints in planning, discussions, and decision making.

I invite you to join us in the conversation about our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion this month.

Anita Rios


Stewardship and tragedy

scsu-rallyOne leadership competency that is always important is the ability to respond in the moment. I am going to take a quick detour from stewardship and share a powerful set of stories and images from the past week. This photo by @NickLenz captures what it means to be a leader in higher education. Students, faculty, staff, administrators and interim president Ashish Vaiyda all joined together for a rally this week in response to the stabbing incident in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I have been proud to read the stories of how one of our schools has demonstrated true compassion in response to a tragedy and unwavering support of students and community members who are threatened because of their ethnic background. They all stepped up in a public arena and led a rally for unity. Afterwards they also hosted small group discussions.

I will let their words and pictures speak for themselves.

#StCloudUnited twitter feed

MPR News story

Bring Me the News story

St. Cloud Times story

Stillwater Patch story

KNSI radio story

Have a peaceful weekend.

Todd Thorsgaard

A problem? Not on my campus!

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:

  1. Explicitly and regularly ask for bad news. Ask directly about what people are hesitant to share.
  2. Don’t assume that people are sharing bad news – actively look for it.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Todd Thorsgaard




Where do I start?

growing_sales_spiral_250wI guess the simple answer is to start with ourselves and our team. As leaders our opportunity to make a difference starts with the culture of respect we create within our own team.

But how? I found a number of practical ideas on the Critical MultiCultural Pavillion created by EdChange.org. It is a website created by a team of educators dedicated to equity, diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice. They provide resources for workshops, staff meetings and projects that support progressive change in our educational systems. I want to share an activity that I recently experienced and encourage you to give it a try with your team! It is called the “Circles of My MultiCultural Self” and the full instructions can be found by clicking on the link.

Briefly, each of us created our own set of circles identifying cultural and personal elements of ourselves that we defined as important for making us who we are. Next we spent a few minutes with a partner, each sharing a story about a time we were most proud of one of our defining elements and a story when it was a painful moment. Finally we were asked to identify a stereotype about one of our unique elements, or circles, that was incomplete, incorrect or failed to fully capture who we are.

As we shared our stories and the stereotypes we have heard I was struck by how different my experiences have been as a member of the majority culture from my colleagues from a minority culture. What I defined as important, or had experienced as painful moments, were mostly internal or personal elements that I got to choose to share or not share. I was in control of sharing that I am a cancer survivor or a divorced co-parent of a teen-age girl. My colleagues from a diverse or minority culture mostly described painful moments and identifying characteristics that others attributed to them or imposed on them! They were labeled as “black” or “from another country” or “as having a confusing and hard to understand accent.” They were not allowed to define themselves.

This was a small but powerful growth experience for me and for the team as a whole and a step in creating an inclusive work environment.

Their website offers a number of resources for leaders looking for ways to support equitable opportunities for all people to be successful at work.

Todd Thorsgaard


Demanding equity and inclusion

mizz“Will having more chief diversity officers, as student protestors have asked, resolve tensions behind the wave of protests at campuses around the nation?” This is an insightful question, asked by Jackie Jones, in her article: “Demanding Inclusion” published in the Chronicle’s Diverse: Issues in Higher Education for March 18, 2016.

My simple answer to Jone’s question is: it depends!

According to Mary Frances Berry, former chair and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, student protestors on campuses across the country “…are looking for more black people, a reduction in overt racism, and micro- and macro-aggressive behavior.” Following a series of high-profile racial incidents at the University of Missouri, students demanded that the institution compose a 10-year strategic plan by May 1, 2016 to:

  • increase retention for marginalized students
  • sustain diversity curriculum and training
  • promote a more safe and inclusive campus

This is only one example of what is happening at U.S. colleges and universities. And the tensions only seem to be building across the country. Solving these dilemmas seems a very tall order for Chief Diversity Officers alone. And their ability to solve them depends on the authority afforded to their role and the influence they have in affecting many areas of an institution, such as:

  • Recruitment and Retention
  • Campus Climate
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Strategic Planning
  • Research
  • Institutional Advancement
  • Student Success
  • Staff/Faculty Performance Management
  • Intergroup Relations and Discourse
  • Procurement/Supplier Diversity

So what can we as leaders do about it? According to William B. Harvey, founding president emeritus of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, we need to support Chief Diversity Officers. He says, “The only way these positions can be successful is if they have the support of the university leadership and the staffing needed.” Harvey also says that we need to get senior faculty on board to address student concerns.

I agree with Harvey, but I’ll also push the issue further. It’s not just CDOs and senior faculty that can make a difference in fostering equity and inclusion. Each one of us has a responsibility to create inclusive campus climates, where diversity is valued.

Every time we hire new staff or faculty, we can pay closer attention to affirmative hiring efforts. As we welcome new staff and faculty to our campuses, we can make sure that everyone has an excellent orientation and onboarding experience. We can promote ways to create an inclusive curriculum and provide incentives to do that.

We can support diversity training and make sure that our leadership development programs have strong diversity components. We can model inclusivity in our decision making. We can build equity and inclusion efforts into our strategic planning. And we can hold ourselves accountable to the diversity goals we set.

For my part, I am working collaboratively with staff in Talent Management, Equity and Diversity,  Chief Human Resources officers, Affirmative Action Officers, and other leaders to produce training resources that help faculty and staff at our institutions hire affirmatively. It is one thing I can do to promote equity and inclusion.

What can you do?

Anita Rios