Posted on 07 May 2018

Most higher-ed leaders are true believers when it comes to inclusion and diversity — but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically doing enough to battle unconscious bias, says Roberta Maldonado-Franzen, Kansas State University’s Director of Talent Solutions.

As an HR leader with responsibility for 24,000 students and 5,000 employees, Maldonado-Franzen says she’s learned that educational institutions can’t afford to take diversity for granted. Unconscious biases can all too easily taint hiring decisions, she says, making it harder for universities to live up to their ideals of inclusion and openness.

That’s a big deal: academic hiring is increasingly hard-fought, and institutions that fail to prioritize diversity will struggle to recruit or retain star talent. “We have to find talent from new sources and create a more inclusive environment,” Maldonado-Franzen says. “Failure to do so is going to mean that we’re losing talent to other colleges and universities.”

Maldonado-Franzen shares nine strategies that she has used to boost diversity at Kansas State, helping to make the institution a three-time winner of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.

1. Make a business case against bias

The first priority is to ensure that everyone knows they have skin in the game. If you want your institution to succeed and grow, Maldonado-Franzen says, it must be made crystal clear that diversity and inclusion are critical to attracting the best faculty and students. “We have to develop the business case explicitly, so that diversity and inclusion isn’t seen as a practice focused solely on being politically correct or as window-dressing,” she says.

2. Take training seriously

You can’t simply declare yourself an inclusive employer: you need to change the way hiring decisions are made. KSU offers dedicated training programs for search committees, along with tips for designing competency-based interviews, and treats every touch-point with employees as a chance to drive home its diversity messaging. “All of our training provides resources and information on diversity and inclusion, and each training reinforces the importance of unconscious bias and self-awareness,” Maldonado-Franzen says.

3. Showcase your strengths

One way to show candidates that you’re serious about inclusion is to make sure your branding reflects your values. Treat your institution’s diversity as something to brag about, and highlight photos of female employees, people of color, veterans, and other groups in your website and marketing materials. “Showcase the many reasons why you’re an employer of choice,” Maldonado-Franzen advises.

4. Banish boilerplate

When including standard language about diversity in your job ads, it’s easy to sound inauthentic. Kansas State shows it’s serious by moving diversity language to the start of its job listings, rather than burying it at the bottom alongside boilerplate about background checks. “It’s no longer the last thing an applicant sees on the position announcement — it’s now front and center,” Maldonado-Franzen explains.

5. Get strategic about social media

Social media is a powerful way to reach a diverse pool of potential candidates, but only if people actually read your messages. Kansas State’s social media team posts quirky messages and online polls to engage followers across multiple platforms, then uses carefully chosen hashtags – aimed at events and industry groups for people from diverse backgrounds to ensure their hiring messages are seen by a broad range of people.

6. Be mindful about metrics

You can’t manage what you don’t measure — and in the digital era, it’s easier than ever to keep tabs on where people are learning about your vacancies. If you learn you’re attracting more diverse applicants from LinkedIn or HigherEdJobs, you can use that insight to shape future posting decisions, Maldonado-Franzen explains. “There’s data that’s available – we just have to capture it, and use it, and then make changes based on that information,” she says.

7. Anticipate resistance

Every attempt to drive institutional change will run into resistance, so your job is to win people over. “There’s always pushback on new initiatives, on change,” Maldonado-Franzen says. Overcome blowback by seeking feedback from stakeholders early on, and finding prominent internal ambassadors who can endorse and champion new diversity initiatives.

8. Keep an eye on the road ahead

It’s tempting to assume that successful HR programs boil down to a fixed list of best practices, but the reality is more complex. Think carefully about how today’s best practices will need to change to reflect and serve your evolving workforce. “Even as we’re talking about best practices, we also have to look beyond that,” Maldonado-Franzen says.

9. Eat your elephant slowly

What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. The same goes for big initiatives like overhauling diversity practices, Maldonado-Franzen says. Take things slowly, and be sure to get buy-in from managers and employees at every stage. “This is not something that we’ve done overnight,” she says. “It’s taken us quite a bit of time to drive the change.”

You can watch the entire session here: