These ideas for practical actions can enable frontline managers to foster justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in their teams, organizations, and institutions, modeling good practices and enacting positive change from the bottom up.
Leaders at most higher education institutions have expressed commitment to embracing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI). However, a lack of vision, limited resources, inadequate measures, vague plans, poor accountability, and institutional inertia make it difficult for these leaders to make sustainable change.Footnote1 And the headwinds have increased with the rise of political rhetoric, legislation, and policies that push back, discourage, or eliminate the ability of institutions to implement JEDI practices.
Creating a climate and culture where people are respected and appreciated requires leaders at all levels acting intentionally to create an environment in which all employees experience diversity and equity but also feel included and have a sense of belonging and organizational justice. The literature is full of recommendations and advice at the institutional level. However, institutional guidance on recommended JEDI development is often high-level, symbolic, and/or short-term in nature. The lack of clarity, resources, and guidance on JEDI can leave managers stranded and dependent on their own means, like settlers of the Outer Rim planets in the Star Wars galaxy.
For example, leaders at some institutions have established anti-racism task forces, hosted town halls, and recognized Juneteenth. While some administrators also identified longer-term initiatives, such as forming task forces on equity, developing anti-racism trainings, and advancing the recruitment of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), they have not provided timelines or metrics to measure success. Moreover, leaders at some institutions may give lip service to JEDI issues but fail to provide the real investment, guidance, and staffing needed to truly drive JEDI initiatives on campus.Footnote2
Relatedly, many institutional efforts around JEDI are led by those who have emerged from among marginalized groups to fill vacant leadership and oversight roles. However, marginalized groups are being overtasked with leading diversity work, which is causing burnout and is driving leaders from these groups away from their jobs. Moreover, JEDI leaders rarely have the resources, positional power, and influence to effect real change. Even if they do, it is time to engage more allies and advocates for positive change.Footnote3
Given that helping to move JEDI efforts forward is everyone's responsibility, executive teams including the CIO need to identify leaders and advocates with diverse perspectives and lived experiences from throughout our institutions. But creating broad advocacy and leadership is difficult when accompanied by a lack of institutional support and/or unclear vision. Policies and the dominant culture may further constrain these efforts. Research and popular literature also provide only limited advice on actions that managers can take to further JEDI. Managers need pragmatic ideas and actionable suggestions that are specific and simple and based on easily recognizable leadership behaviors that managers can apply to their everyday practice. Managers are responsible for implementing institutional strategies, operational imperatives, support services, and new capabilities in an environment of limited resources, high expectations, high turnover, and ambiguity. Nevertheless, managers have the ability to shape culture from within the organization, create high-performing teams, and influence institutional leaders.
Studies have shown that teams in robust JEDI environments are more effective at addressing today's complex business problems by incorporating diverse points of view, lived experiences, and lenses of emotional intelligence. Managers who can embrace, build, and leverage their team's diversity stand a much better chance of providing outstanding services and value to their institutions.Footnote4
Complicating the role of managers, the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to additional challenges in creating JEDI environments. New ways of working that include flexible work agreements, a multigenerational mix, and ongoing sociopolitical issues hinder a manager's JEDI development tactics and efforts. Over the last year, diversity and inclusion may have receded as a strategic priority for many organizations in the face of new issues and emerging threats to recovery, resilience, and growth in higher education.Footnote5
Workforces are more dispersed as some employees work remotely while others continue in or return to campus offices. A dispersed workforce distances employees and teams from one another, potentially undermining inclusivity and belonging, diluting the benefits of diversity, and amplifying equity issues. Higher education leaders and managers must rethink their approaches to JEDI and initiative-impact strategies to create real and lasting change within their organization and institution.
Where to Start
If you are new to management or leadership in higher education, or at least new to the idea of fostering JEDI practices, you may be wondering how to get started. Take some time to understand if there are any JEDI activities being undertaken by your human resources (HR) department or your diversity office, if you have one. Peers and colleagues may also have some insights into what is already being done or planned.
Engage Allies in Leading Diversity Work
Start by reaching out to others for discussion, and grow your understanding of what JEDI activities may be planned or underway. Find ways to engage leaders, in both marginalized and majority groups, about JEDI activities and practices on your campus. When folks in the majority group hear stories about the adversity of diversity, they are more likely to join the conversation and see it as a real problem, even if they themselves have not experienced it. This includes your supervisors at any level. Let them know what you are hearing and what you intend to do.
Do not be surprised, however, if what you find is that your institution has slim-to-no meaningful and tangible support for JEDI practices. As previously noted, leaders at some institutions have merely adopted slogans and given lip service to helping managers effectively implement these programs.
Identify What You Can Do
The remainder of this article identifies some practices you might start with your workgroup or consider with peers and supervisors. Do not try to boil the ocean. Start with the low-hanging fruit: one or two things that you can do quickly and successfully to build momentum. Document any key outcomes you realize or observe, and stay connected with peers and advocates as you incorporate JEDI activities. Learn from each other, and play the long game to create a sustainable JEDI culture.
Grassroots JEDI Practical Actions
These practical ideas are provided for frontline managers to build JEDI characteristics into their teams and enact positive change in their organizations from the bottom up. The ideas are derived from literature, blogs, and firsthand experiences of higher education managers.
- Accept that there is no diversity without inclusion and belonging. While you are building toward greater diversity, focus on creating inclusion and belonging to leverage the diversity that exists today in your team. Managers are encouraged to think of diversity in broad terms that include traditional and new ways of looking at diversity such as personality traits, learned skills, and lived experiences.Footnote6
- Identify key aspects of the current culture at your organization. Take time to understand the employee experience before making changes to promote inclusivity. Engage staff and outsiders to obtain an accurate perspective on the current state. Continue engagement after instituting change. Daily interactions are the most telling sign of whether you are achieving a culture that embraces desired JEDI characteristics.
- Develop and share personal statements about JEDI. Personal statements convey your understanding of and commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and/or justice. By engaging staff and carefully crafting statements, you can articulate consensus regarding the current conditions while communicating your intentions and commitment to a shared future state.
- Identify experiences that demonstrate your commitment. Managers can augment their personal statements about JEDI by characterizing experiences (and outcomes) that reinforce the desired future state. Identifying the impact of JEDI on the success of students, staff, and peers is a powerful reinforcement that ties diversity practices to the institutional mission.
- Think institutionally but act departmentally. You may not be able to influence institutional leadership, but you can build collegiality and a coalition for change by reaching out and engaging colleagues. Talking with colleagues to compare notes and tactics for fostering JEDI is a valuable activity. Moreover, by working with your institutional peers, you can create opportunities that advance JEDI such as diverse career paths across roles and departments, interdepartmental team meetings to discuss issues, and coalitions for new policies and change actions that connect to institutional strategies, plans, and mission.
- Embed JEDI throughout your employees' experiences. Managers can help staff experience JEDI by creating new opportunities such as offering job shadowing, temporary assignments, and flexible work arrangements to improve inclusion, growth, and trust.
- Foster authenticity and employees' well-being. Managers can champion programs that support human connectivity and purpose in society. Ensuring work-life balance by not over-allocating work, developing mentoring/coaching skills in staff, and creating opportunities for teams to share in community service work are several examples of how managers can create an ethos of well-being in their teams.
- Bypass layers and filters to develop relationships with JEDI leaders. JEDI champions at your institution may not be in your organizational branch. Reach across organizational boundaries to introduce yourself to JEDI leaders at your institution and share ideas about taking pragmatic actions to create awareness and change.
- Measure your diversity. Set goals, collect data, and examine change over time. You cannot manage what you do not measure. Instill rigor into inclusion strategies with data-driven plans, and measure the results. Qualitative assessments can reveal important themes and changes in perspectives over time, while quantitative measures provide easy comparison with traditional institutional metrics. Managers must be cautious and balance urgency and care in the ethical use of metrics to avoid unintentional harm.Footnote7
- Review job descriptions to identify bias. Managers can work beyond the traditional "equal opportunity employer" statements to address bias and discrimination in more specific terms. Bias exists in every job description (e.g., able to lift 45 lbs., must work 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.). Managers can work with the HR office to remove such statements and unnecessary requirements that put nontraditional persons at a disadvantage and limit applicant pools.
- Develop your team's active listening skills and practice the platinum rule. Listening for understanding is an important skill that can be enhanced through active listening exercises. Adopting the "platinum rule" to do unto others as you would want done to you helps create an environment of authentic engagement and fosters a "seek to understand, then be understood" culture in your team and with stakeholders. Consider reviewing the EDUCAUSE Inclusive Language Guide to help direct the language of your conversations.
- Bring diversity to your hiring process and committees. The EDUCAUSE Inclusive Hiring Kit is a guide and tools that hiring managers can use to help ensure JEDI practices. The toolkit addresses five modules: Planning and Recruiting; Screening and Interviewing; Hiring and Onboarding; Inclusivity, Retention, and Belonging; and Overcoming Obstacles and Celebrating Success. The power of the toolkit is rooted in seeking out community members who bring diverse points and mindfulness to your interviews and hiring decisions. By being intentional about JEDI, you will get fresh perspectives about job candidates, and you will also signal to current and prospective staff that you are committed to creating JEDI environments.
- Foster digital equity. Make sure all employees have the right technology and training to do their jobs. For example, make sure all staff who participate in virtual meetings have the necessary equipment. Be cautious about unintentionally excluding team members who may have recurring digital limitations. Also be mindful of extending the notion of digital equity to stakeholders who use your team's services.
- Embrace diversity through effective meetings.
- Distribute meeting materials in advance and share questions to be discussed. This is helpful for workers for whom English is a second language and for employees who function better when they are given time to process information before reacting to it.
- Reach out to teleworkers. Welcome them to the meeting, ask them questions, and pause to ensure they are given the chance to take part in the conversation.
- Rotate meeting times if you have remote workers in different time zones.
- Give credit where it is due. When someone is recognized for an idea that someone else put forward earlier in the meeting, lean into the conversation to point out who originally shared the idea.
- Be conscious of your communication style. Do not assume you know more than others by explaining concepts they may already understand—a behavior sometimes referred to as "mansplaining" when done by men to women.
- Promote active debate, and practice active listening. Encouraging conversation and productive discourse around issues is healthy and accepted in higher education settings. Ensure equity of engagement in these conversations, and if one colleague interrupts another, politely call attention to it and ask for the person's input to underscore the importance of letting everyone's voice be heard. When listening, listen for meaning, and provide reflective responses to ensure an understanding of others' points of view.
- Conduct a review of your employee onboarding processes. What are the JEDI messages and expectations established from the outset? What climate are you creating? Be intentional about weaving JEDI practices into new employees' onboarding.
- Develop and document a talent management strategy that is sensitive to JEDI. It may be difficult to operationalize a strategy for recruitment, development, and retention of talent in today's fluid job market and with today's disparity in institutional HR policies, but a talent plan is essential to guiding your managerial efforts and fostering JEDI in your organization. The plan also signals your intentions regarding JEDI and establishes team-building principles that guide everyday managerial decisions.
- Identify any shortcomings and discrepancies around JEDI in your organization. If someone indicates there is a problem with respect to JEDI principles and policies, believe it. Engage with staff to seek clarity about any issues, and formulate a plan or response. Beyond listening, managers must also take prudent action to overcome identified shortcomings. Transparency can be hard but sweeping issues under the rug is not acceptable.
- Articulate the benefit of JEDI to your team by examining key questions.
- What are our shared JEDI goals?
- What are the reasons for those goals?
- How do we quantify JEDI?
- How will JEDI impact our effectiveness as a team?
- Create an environment where people feel included and comfortable bringing their "full selves" to work.
- Make sure your team understands that inclusion is about ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and that opinions are considered as valuable contributions to your team.
- Create meeting opportunities to ensure that all participants have a chance to share their points of view, expertise, and lived experiences.
- Communicate the importance of managing personal conscious and unconscious bias. Use the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) or other resources like those identified by the University of California, San Franciso to illustrate that we all have bias.
- Enroll your team in a JEDI-related training program, and participate with them.
- Consider reorganizing some people among established teams to bring more diversity of thought to their work.
- Choose staff who are less experienced for committee roles rather than assigning the usual participants.
- Engage those from underrepresented groups to listen to their experiences and needs, and then give them the necessary support and resources.
- Provide team members with a safe space to voice their concerns.
- Make it easy for everyone to participate in employee resource groups.
- Facilitate anonymous feedback through trusted channels.
- Examine pay equity among your team. Look at pay equity through various lenses of diversity. Ask for or make prudent adjustments to address inequities that may have developed over time or through unintended consequences.
- Recognize and celebrate employee cultural differences. Work within institutional policies to acknowledge holidays of all cultures and peoples. Create opportunities for staff to share, explain, and exhibit cultural practices to enrich appreciation and understanding.
- Assess your company policies through the lens of JEDI to identify barriers. Discuss the implications of these barriers with other managers and staff, and be prepared to engage institutional leaders with suggestions for change.
- Make sure you are delivering feedback equitably. Do you soften critiques for some team members more than others? Are you providing casual feedback to some team members and formal feedback to others? Be mindful of the feedback you are providing to remove conscious and unconscious bias.
- Examine your assumptions about team members. We can all have biases based on age, ethnic background, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, appearance, or other aspects. Do those assumptions impact how you feel about your team members' capability and competency? Be honest with yourself and work to minimize the perpetuation of bias and stereotypes while striving for deeper empathy.
- Ensure that you are sharing accolades and recognition fairly. Avoid unbalanced compliments for some team members, and show appreciation more widely. For example, be mindful to recognize those staff who are doing critical operational work that does not get the notoriety that high-profile strategic projects might receive. Also, be sensitive to how individuals want to be recognized—some people dislike public recognition. The timely and relevant handwritten note is universally appreciated.
- Ensure a well-balanced bench and an even playing field when recruiting for and filling open positions. Be conscious of any bias to hire people who are like you because it is more comfortable to develop a rapport with them. Move beyond this comfort, and fully consider the benefits of hiring people with diverse backgrounds.
- Be mindful of previous high-profile JEDI issues and incidents. No matter where you work, workplace inequities will rise out of unconscious bias and fears. It is important to engage staff authentically to obtain their perceptions and dispositions with respect to any incidents. Discuss the issues with your staff to share understanding and avoid repeating missteps and unintended consequences.
- Consider the diversity represented by your mentors. Do your mentors and influencers represent diverse and challenging points of view? To grow, we must be intentional in obtaining different perspectives and avoiding the confirming biases that result when we choose influencers who align with our comforting and familiar dispositions.
I am fortunate to work for an exceptional leader who courageously articulates JEDI values and invests in others to take actions that build equity, inclusiveness, diversity, and justice through higher learning. José Luis Cruz Rivera, the president of Northern Arizona University, stated on LinkedIn in 2022: "To me DEIJ speaks to the critical responsibility universities have to develop and implement EQUITABLE educational policies and practices that help create an INCLUSIVE teaching, learning, and scholarly environment to ensure the DIVERSE lived experiences and expressed identities of a university's community can be put to the service of advancing a more JUST society."
But many managers at other higher education institutions are struggling to overcome vagueness of vision, a lack of JEDI leadership, limited resources, and variable intentionality around JEDI activities and support on their campuses. Nevertheless, even without substantive guidance and support from institutional leaders, individuals can empower themselves to take on JEDI practices. This article identified some pragmatic actions that managers can take to facilitate change and create a new culture within their teams, their organizations, and their institutions. By engaging in the collection and sharing of practical JEDI best practices for managers, we can move beyond institutional slogans and compliance checkboxes to creating incremental and persistent changes that embrace justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
A certified human creative work. No artificial intelligence was used in the creation of this document.
- Eric Kelderman, "Race on Campus: College DEI Efforts Are Widespread, Poorly Funded, and Ineffective," Chronicle of Higher Education, March 14, 2023. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
- Jenay Robert, "EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: Leadership and Action for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion," EDUCAUSE Review, May 20, 2022. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
- Julie Kratz, "Stop Expecting Marginalized Groups to Lead Diversity Efforts," Entrepreneur, September 26, 2022. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
- Michelle Bazargan, "Diversity of Thought Is Critical for Business Innovation and Talent Retention," Gartner, June 17, 2022. Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
- Greg Lewis, "New LinkedIn Data Shows People Are Paying Attention to Companies Talking About Diversity," LinkedIn Talent Blog, September 3, 2020. Jump back to footnote 5 in the text.
- See Jenay Robert, "EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: A Sense of Belonging for Workforce Retention," EDUCAUSE Review, November 13, 2023. Jump back to footnote 6 in the text.
- For more perspective, listen to the following informative Community Conversations podcast episode: Kim Arnold, Jonathan Gagliardi, Wendy Puquirre, and John O'Brien, "Addressing DEI Issues through Analytics," EDUCAUSE Review, February 16, 2022. Jump back to footnote 7 in the text.
Steve Burrell is Chief Information Officer at Northern Arizona University.
© 2023 Steve Burrell. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.