Vision of the Future Amy Kahn, Ph.D. Director of Diversity, University of the Rockies Corporate Headquarters: Colorado...

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Vision of the Future

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Amy Kahn, Ph.D.
Director of Diversity, University of the Rockies
Corporate Headquarters: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Website: www.rockies.edu
Primary Business: Graduate school
Revenues: $190.9 million
Employees: More than 5,500

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What diversity and inclusion challenges remain today?
The industry continues to be challenged by the meaning and nature of the work. A quick glance at current publications shows many definitions, functions and opportunities for the industry. Is diversity work about building organizational capacity and business opportunities? Is it about offering opportunity to emerging and underserved populations? I would argue that the reality intersects both objectives.

The conduct of diversity work is described in the literature with four components: meeting organizational requirements, honoring a sense of social responsibility, focusing on systemic change, and focusing on individual transformation. There is, however, a clear tension between the moralists’ and the pragmatists’ view of the work; this intersection of philosophy provides a platform of intellectual discourse and business confusion. Industry leaders and practitioners mix their passion for social responsibility and for meeting organizational requirements with a focus on the organizational system and/or on the individuals in the system.

Diversity & Inclusion is about three components: (a) raising consciousness about the impact that difference can have on a system; (b) teaching people the skills to respond to differences; and (c) shaping systems to align with differences. The challenge to the industry is clarity on the definition and scope of diversity work and strategic alignment of efforts to business objectives.

What programs/initiatives work best in your organization that other companies can benchmark?
The secret to effective diversity work is a focus on the details. What is it that people see when they are at your organization? Are pictures, posters, color schemes, magazines, people and other visual indicators representative of your definition of diversity? How are people treating each other? Practices, policies and procedures can and will speak volumes about the organization’s commitment to the work. The secret is to focus on the entire organization, its people and systems.

What is your advice for diversity officers/managers who are just starting out in their positions?
My advice for diversity officers is to enjoy the rich engagement afforded to individuals in diversity work, stay the course, forge relationships, listen closely to colleagues, and recognize that change requires continual assessment, learning, and realignment. When all of these things come together, there is a perfect storm for exceptional practice.
Remember that it is okay to take chances. Change is not always fun. So, when we remember to take the time to focus on our ultimate mission and vision, the job is invigorating, rewarding and worthwhile.
Have fun, focus on details, define the work, align the practice and measure results. PDJ

  • Charlene Center

    February 18, 2011 #1 Author

    Dr. Kahn
    I work in a very diverse workplace. Recently one of the secretaries was being fired. She is Hispanic and threatened to sue. The office manager felt that she was being “held hostage” and did not fire the woman. I think that was a mistake….Why should someone who is a minority and not doing her job have to keep her job simply to keep the office more diverse. By the way there is a woman of color who works there as well and does a very good job and will not be fired…..Any suggestions

    Reply

  • Amy Kahn, PhD

    February 18, 2011 #2 Author

    This is an excellent question, Ms. Center. Your scenario exemplifies the importance of creating inclusive work cultures where employees recognize their contribution and feel empowered to make decisions that support the organization’s objectives. Organizations that value diversity hire the most qualified candidates for positions. These are the exact types of scenarios that can be avoided through well constructed systemic diversity initiatives. Employees should feel confident in their decisions to hire and to downsize. As Melissa Donaldson stated in her vision (on page 22 of the journal), “Diversity is tantamount to building great leadership.” I would suggest that the organization consider providing leadership training opportunities to enhance leader confidence and equip the team with skills to lead a diverse workplace.

    Reply

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