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W&M unifies diversity and inclusion initiatives

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    Diversity & Inclusion:  Research has proven that diversity and inclusion are vital to the success of organizations.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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University-wide approach follows reviews by each school

William & Mary is taking a university-wide approach to diversity and inclusion following task force reports by each of its five schools: Arts & Sciences, the W&M School of Education, W&M Law School, the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The collaborative effort will support a culture of belonging at the university and prepare students to bridge differences in their professional lives, which research has shown leads to increased innovation and productivity, campus leaders said.

The plans were completed earlier this summer, and work is already underway on some of the recommended actions.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamental to William & Mary’s mission and institutional excellence,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “These plans represent an important step forward in William & Mary’s commitment to make the entire university a more representative and equitable place for all students, faculty and staff.”

“The approach we are taking ensures that each school can address their particular areas of greatest opportunity — and that we can collaborate together over the short- and long-term, accelerating positive change,” she added. “We will learn a great deal as we cross-pollinate terrific ideas from across our different disciplines.”

A university-wide approach

In December 2018, Rowe and then-Provost Michael R. Halleran charged each dean with creating task forces and reporting out on the best practices within their schools and disciplines around diversity and inclusion. Each task force approached the charge differently: conducting focus groups, issuing surveys, hosting individual or group feedback sessions, gathering data, synthesizing prior work and using external reviewers.

The final reports were presented to Rowe, Halleran and Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover at the end of June. W&M’s new provost, Peggy Agouris, joined the effort when she arrived in July. Rowe, Glover and Agouris asked each school to create executive summaries detailing the process and identifying three or four actions to take this year. Earlier this semester, the schools shared the reports and action items with their communities.

“Each team in our five schools engaged in thoughtful and generative ways within their communities during the six-month period,” said Glover. “We are seeking to share the results of this substantial work in an accessible way and outline the action that results — next steps this fall and beyond. Transparency is critical in this work.”

Immediate actions

Three of the reports called for someone at each school to serve as a director of diversity and inclusion to oversee efforts, including creating or revising diversity action plans for individual departments; assisting with the recruitment of faculty, staff and students; and keeping the schools accountable for their efforts.

Glover used a position vacated by a departing colleague in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion to respond to that request. She split the salary capacity and offered it to the schools seeking directors to create shared appointments. Arts & Sciences immediately embraced that shared model and is currently advertising for a new director of diversity and inclusion to work on initiatives in Arts & Sciences, integrating with the Office of Diversity & Inclusion’s work, including the IGNITE: Future Faculty Development Program. A similar position for another school is under consideration.

Each of the schools has announced actions based on their own reports. These include offering training programs for search committees, adding supplemental questions or diversity statements to job listings of all levels, expanding communication about Title IX resources and working with the other schools to identify educational opportunities.

“Uniting the different units at William & Mary will be critical to making progress in our diversity and inclusion efforts,” said Agouris. “The plans the schools have created are specific, actionable, community-oriented and represent a wide range of options that we are ready to undertake to help the university become more welcoming and innovative.”

A goal of ‘inclusive excellence’

The university-wide approach builds on several years of successful work at W&M, including efforts identified by the President’s Task Force on Race and Race Relations. Established in 2015, the task force prioritized areas for improvement: campus climate, education, recruitment of diverse faculty and administration and bias reporting and incident protocol. Direct actions resulting from that work included the commitment of $1 million toward the recruitment of new underrepresented faculty, the renaming of residence halls for notable African Americans in the university’s history and the creation of unit-level diversity action plans.

A $1 million gift from Ernst & Young LLP to the Raymond A. Mason School of Business has supported expanded course offerings, faculty workshops, new curriculum development and an annual, campus-wide diversity and inclusiveness symposium, which brings the best ideas from diverse sectors — business, military and higher education — to campus. Semiannual IDEA grants support innovative initiatives. This year, the university opened a new Office of Student Veteran Engagement.

In April, the university announced the design concept for a future memorial on campus to honor individuals who were enslaved at William & Mary. That effort is part of the ongoing work of the Lemon Project, established in 2009 by the W&M Board of Visitors to study the university’s history of slavery and racial discrimination. In 2018, the board adopted a resolution to extend the Lemon Project and to apologize for the university’s history related to slavery and racial discrimination. Last year, the project submitted a comprehensive report on its work and recommendations for the next decade.

Becoming a national leader

Research has proven that diversity and inclusion are vital to the success of businesses, Rowe said. A report from Deloitte found that high-performing teams are both cognitively and demographically diverse — and businesses are recognizing that, she added. Research by Deloitte also supports that increasing feelings of inclusion significantly increases perceived team performance, decision-making quality and collaboration.

Similarly, a 2017 study by McKinsey & Company found that companies that had the most gender-diverse executive teams were 21% more likely to see above-average profits. Additionally, executive teams that were the most ethnically and culturally diverse were 33% more likely to outperform less-diverse teams.

“Every sector of the economy in the commonwealth recognizes the value to their communities when all members are able to participate fully in their missions,” Rowe said. “The last decade has seen meaningful gains in the military, in corporate America, in governance. Higher education must also lead.”

W&M has been striving to be among those leaders, and although that work is still underway, the university’s efforts have been recognized nationally.

In both 2018 and 2019, INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine selected W&M as a recipient of its annual Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. And in the latest Princeton Review rankings, W&M was second among colleges in terms of race and class interaction and 15th among LGBTQ-friendly schools. U.S. News just ranked W&M 18th among national universities for best colleges for veterans.

Even with the strides the university has made, more work remains, said Glover.

With strategic planning beginning at William & Mary this semester, a new Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council — convening the D&I leads at each school — will begin working on a three-year plan looking specifically at diversity issues.

“I’m excited to create this new team of leaders to advance diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Glover. “We will align our work in the five schools toward a whole-institution strategy. Research shows that in diversity and inclusion work, we make the most gains in collaboration. This is always challenging work to pursue in isolation. This new structure will allow us to move closer to the full institutionalization of an inclusive excellence framework.”