The Case for Diversity Management in Higher Education

4 min read

Joanna Hughes

This year’s NAFSA 2018 Annual Conference & Expo is quickly approaching. This year’s theme? “Diverse Voices, Shared Commitment.” While the diversity imperative -- and the multitude of perspectives it supports -- is well-known in higher education, the successful cultivation of diversity is not as simple as recruiting more international students to college campuses. Colleges and universities must also support their wants, needs, and goals once they arrive. Enter diversity management.

Here’s a closer look at diversity management, why it matters, and how to support diversity.

About Diversity Management

“Diversity management is the strategy of using best practices with proven results to find and create a diverse and inclusive workplace,” proposes the website DiversityInc. And experts agree: It’s of paramount importance. Insists corporate executive and entrepreneur Glenn Llopis for Forbes, “Diversity management is the key to growth in today’s fiercely competitive global marketplace.”

While the diversity and diversity management mandate is universal in our increasingly global society, each sector has its own set of issues. A working paper from Switzerland’s Centre for Higher Education Development (“CHE”), sets forth the following diversity management concerns within the higher education sphere:

●     Internationalization and its impact on diversity management

●     Diversity management in relation to institutional autonomy

●     The role of government policies as diversity steering mechanisms

●     State funding of higher education for enhancing diversity

●     Domestic and international migration dynamics

●     The numbers and preparedness of matriculating students

●     Appropriate admission requirements for traditional and non-traditional students

●     Selection and integration of socially disadvantaged students

●     The integration and accommodation of working people into higher education

●     Staff and student gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, culture and other factors as indicators of diversity

●     Quality assurance in relation to diversity management

●     The role of study program design in diversity management

At the same time, while the specifics of diversity management may vary, the underlying principles remain the same. Continues Llopis, “Diversity can no longer just be about making the numbers, but rather how an organization treats its people authentically down to the roots of its business model.”

Echoes Darla K. Deardorff, executive director of the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) and an expert on intercultural competence, “It’s not enough to just say, ‘Look, we have X number of international students on campus.’ So what? What’s the impact? What difference does it make? How can we better utilize those resources, as well as our international faculty and scholars, and thinking broadly, the international backgrounds of staff on our campuses? I think we’re falling far short.”

In other words,  setting international student targets and achieving them is only a small part of the diversity equation. We also need strategies for successfully integrating international students into campuses and local communities once they’ve arrived. This is diversity management.

Three Diversity Management Tips for Universities

All of which begs the question: What, specifically, can universities do to improve diversity management on their own campuses?


1. Diversify the staff as well as the students.

Shooting for a diverse student body? Then shoot for a diverse ethnocultural base among your faculty and staff. After all, is there a better way to truly understand the issues than to welcome first-hand perspectives on them?

2. Listen to your community members.

On campuses all over the world, students are expressing their feelings on issues, including equality. They want to be heard -- so commit to showing them that you’re listening.

Says Lorelle Espinosa, assistant vice president of the American Council on Education’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy,  “College presidents are engaged on this issue, which is exciting to see. They are meeting with student organizers and prioritizing racial climate, including through initiatives aimed at creating diverse and inclusive environments. Yet presidents also acknowledge that their campuses have work to do and are shifting their attention to more systemic efforts such as curricular revision with an eye towards diverse perspectives.”


3. Implement cultural competency initiatives.

The National Education Association defines cultural competence as “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families. It is the ability to understand the within-group differences that make each student unique, while celebrating the between-group variations that make our country a tapestry.”

Tips for creating more culturally competent staff and students include offering organizations for clubs, providing resources and training for faculty members, soliciting feedback on diversity and inclusion tactics, and educating the entire campus about the benefits of diversity.

Ultimately, diversity management is about much more than airport pick-ups, orientation sessions, and other practical endeavors aimed at supporting the logistics of diverse campuses. While these things are important, they’re just tactics toward an overarching goal. Proposes Kyra Garson, who coordinates interculturalization programs at a Canadian university, “The most important part of making intercultural understanding a strategic priority is that it doesn’t focus solely on integrating international students, but rather recognizes and celebrates diversity both domestic and international.”

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