As an academic administrator throughout my career as well as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have observed and been involved in a number of DEI efforts in higher education institutions. While many of these efforts have been well-intended, in general they have not achieved the goals necessary for today’s workplace. This is hardly news, but it is important to know why so that it can be remedied.
First, DEI is usually an effort led by leadership—those in power. Historically, this has tended to be the majority group, not those who are most in need of a strong DEI framework. Well-intentioned or not, an initiative that starts from the top down is likely to fail. Those in power are comfortable and it is often more comfortable to keep things the same than to create the change that would necessarily involve giving up some of the leader’s power.
Second, leaders who wish to add DEI are likely to hire or appointment a designated DEI leader—perhaps an SVP or Executive Director. However, one person cannot singlehandedly own this initiative and create the change necessary throughout the organization. More likely than not, this person will face both overt and covert challenges to creating change by those least interested in sharing power and leadership.
Third, institutions rarely have a framework for the work that needs to be done to take DEI seriously and to help all levels of the organization learn and change together. That’s why NACDI is so important—it is the framework that can help organizations come together around shared definitions, initiatives, and data. Not just a “nice to have,” DEI efforts are pegged to institutional success outcomes.
Although I have been deeply involved in DEI efforts in past organizations, a single person can only create change at the speed the organization allows. But a framework that educates everyone and is shared by all creates the conditions by which change can occur more quickly across an organization. That’s why when I was asked to join TheNACDI Advisory Council, I immediately accepted the opportunity. We have a lot of work to do, and the NACDI framework is an important tool to help us accomplish that work faster.