Home > Prepping the Future Workforce: Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education By Margey OBrien

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Prepping the Future Workforce: Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

By Margey OBrien

The next generation of employees will be more diverse than ever before, and that’s a great thing for business. According to a McKinsey & Co. study, companies with greater ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have better financial returns than their peers, and companies with more gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to outperform their competitors. In Pittsburgh, where colleges and universities are an integral part of the community, institutions of higher learning should also consider the multicultural workforce of the future when planning for recruitment and programming. Doing so will encourage a creative learning environment, pushing the student body to experience different viewpoints and prepare for life after graduation. 

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, student body diversity in higher education is important not only for improving economic and educational opportunities for students of color, but also for the social, academic and societal benefits it presents for all students and communities. Students report less discrimination and bias at institutions where they perceive a higher commitment to diversity and relay a desire to “see themselves reflected in the faculty and curriculum to which they are exposed to create a sense of belonging and inclusiveness,” the report noted. Also, it reported higher education improves social mobility for minorities; on average, blacks and Hispanics who completed four-year college degrees earn double compared to those who only earned a high school diploma.

In order to ensure a variety of voices are heard, some colleges and universities are now using the term “inclusion” in addition to “diversity.” While “diversity” translates to minority representation, “inclusion” means striving for minority involvement post-enrollment by providing equal access to opportunities and encouraging representation across majors. Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and other regional educational institutions have launched initiatives for diversity and inclusion in their student bodies, contributing to a more diverse Pittsburgh. Here are some other ways institutions can promote dialogue and commitment to diversity and inclusion:

Strong advising – Many minority students will need help planning for academic success. For example, in 2016 more than 57 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients from California State University, Fullerton, were the first in their families to graduate. Lacking a family member who can show them how to successfully navigate college, students like these need strong guidance on course selection, study habits and managing their finances. Enlisting well-versed counselors is a must, and advisory programs should continue past freshman year.

Recruit diverse employees – To have a diverse faculty and staff on campus, higher education institutions should use gender-neutral job descriptions, promote on social media and offer interviews by video conference for those who live far from campus. Organizations should also train talent acquisition teams to recognize the need for hires of varying backgrounds, as doing so will better equip the university to serve all students.

Education and training – Many schools are offering training at freshman orientation regarding cross-cultural sensitivity, unconscious bias and LGBTQ respect. Eric Love, director of Staff Diversity and Inclusion at Notre Dame University, hosts a series of events entitled “Diversity Discussions,” where participants are encouraged to discuss difficult topics. Love held a recent event entitled, “Black Lives, Blue Lives, All Lives: Do I Have to Choose Just One,” where the police chief of Notre Dame appeared alongside the founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter from South Bend, IN. In response to workshops and training sessions such as these, employees have told Love they feel more comfortable on campus than they expected.

Assess frequently – Through survey feedback and established forums for expressing concerns, organizations can gather and evaluate diversity and inclusion initiatives while giving employees and students the opportunity to voice constructive criticism and tips for improvement. For example, Indiana University Bloomington distributes a survey asking students about cultural comfort and the opportunities to meet friends of similar background. Previous surveys have resulted in tangible changes such as increased research opportunities for undergraduates, improved career and academic advising and changes to first-year student orientation.

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in higher education provides advancement opportunity for underrepresented communities. Also, research shows exposure to diverse backgrounds and perspectives improves academic achievement, including students’ critical thinking skills and academic self-confidence. To remain a competitive institution, universities must integrate diversity and inclusion into campus life for staff and students.

(Margey OBrien is a Senior Vice President at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. She oversees BAML’s commercial banking operation in Western Pennsylvania)




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