Wake Forest University held a Diversity & Inclusion Symposium at the Bridger Field House on Tuesday March 19. It was a beautiful sight to see the almost one hundred participants in attendance. Assistant Provost, Barbee Myers Oakes and Executive Director, Employer Relations, Mercy Eyadiel were the symposium planning co-chairs. The Symposium was co-sponsored by several University offices in conjunction with the North Carolina Diversity & Inclusion Partners. The partners are a consortium of public and private institutions of higher education in the State of North Carolina established to coordinate a statewide network among chief diversity officers. The schools are Duke, East Carolina, North Carolina Central, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Wilmington and Wake Forest. The symposium sought answers on how Wake Forest might ensure that there graduates were ready to compete in a multicultural environment.
Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development moderated the first session where panelists were asked to address, “Defining Core Competencies for Graduates Entering a Global Marketplace.” Jeff Webster, Global Learning & Professional Development Manager, Exxon Mobile, Debra Langford, CEO & Principal The Langford Company, Rod Sides, Principal, Deloitte Consulting, LLP and Wake alumni along with Rachel Cheeks-Givan, Director of Global Diversity an Inclusion, PepsiCo each offered insights to the group. Among the comments that I captured were:
• Diversity used to be a code word for Black, but not any longer – it’s a much broader term.
• Are you as a leader saying what’s going on?
• Do you seek to understand the cultures you serve?
• Inclusion is when everything about you is valued and you’re free to be your authentic self.
• Relationships can prove vital. Let folks have fun together, let them connect.
• Inclusiveness is sometimes a lengthy journey.
• Don’t mistake a common language for a common understanding.
• Ask – what are you doing to mentor, what are doing to be inclusive?
• Graduates need to understand the value of others and what their differences bring to the table.
• Before you join a team, see if their leadership reflects an inclusive culture.
The continuing discussions focused on identifying how students might make the most of their time at Wake and within their internships. Students today want to know exactly what they need to do to get that A. They want it scripted. This leads to a worker who wants to be told exactly what to do to be productive. This could be somewhat of a downer. They haven’t had to figure it out. Their creative juices have not been tapped. Panelist recommended that professors be vaguer. They could use such statements as, once we finish X we can talk about how we’ll approach the next part. Assign more projects that require collaboration, connectivity and exploration.
An internship is more than just doing a job well and learning from that experience, but it is doing a job well while learning the culture, learning from the interactions and learning about the varying communication methods and styles. It is being in the game. An example used by one panelist compared a team player for the Lakers, the colors worn, the coach, the practice times, the strengths brought to the game by each player. Suddenly she moved over to the Los Angeles Clippers where there was a new coach, new players, new practice times and different folks bringing different strengths to the game. If she was going to be successful she had to pay attention, absorb the culture, all the while maintaining who she was. She used this same analogy to teach lessons to the students who seem to take their “entitled to attitudes” with them to work. There are out of bounds in any sport you play!
Melenie Lankau, Senior Associate Dean of Diversity and Graduate Programs served as moderator for the luncheon panelists. Tasked with speaking on “Diversity and Inclusion 50 years after Integration: Where Do We Go from Here? Panelist included Frank L. Matthews, publisher/Editor in Chief of Divers: Issues in Higher Education; Benjamin Reese, Vice-President of the Office for Institutional Equity, Duke University and our own Barbee Myers Oakes. Conversations around how minority candidates are invited to college campuses under a “culture of trust” to a campus climate which turns out to be far from welcoming and inclusive and many times the journey results in a failed attempt at tenure. So yes it is no wonder many college campuses lack the diversity amongst college faculty that would aid in preparing our graduates to work in an ever increasing diverse global community. This in reality is a catch 22, fewer minorities go in to Ph.D. programs and then even fewer of them get tenure. Barbee presented statistics showing that in 1998, some 6% of doctoral recipients were people of color. Unfortunately in 2008, ten years later, that 6% was an unchanged number.
Other highlights from this session revealed that Duke Chairs, Deans etc. have to prepare a summary outlining the progress made towards creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive school or department. They also indicate within the report any obstacles they faced in meeting their desired goals. Targeted search efforts were among the most successful strategies implemented.
The final speaker was Marva Smalls, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, Chief of Staff for Nickelodeon Networks Group. She left the audience with nine suggestions for how you could produce better qualified graduates.
• It’s not what students learn today that prepares them, but what they are willing to learn tomorrow.
• Use teaching techniques that engage the student. Ask them what went well, what didn’t, and how would you change it?
• If it ain’t broke fix it anyway. Constant reinvention is essential for success.
• Unleash the geekness.
• Good writers are not a dime a dozen.
• If a tree falls in an empty forest, it doesn’t make a sound. Learn to communicate.
• Have the capacity to be in the moment.
• Generalists are better than specialist. Flexibility is a must.
• Diversity is destiny! The wider we cast our net, the better the results.