The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Lean in to the Uncomfortable — 3 Ways Higher Ed HR Can Lead the Charge for DEI

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

This sobering statement echoed throughout CUPA-HR’s recent town hall meeting, where higher ed HR panelists discussed how to tackle systemic racism on campus and urged higher ed HR pros to challenge leaders and rethink policies and procedures that perpetuate ongoing inequalities and create barriers to inclusivity. Panelists shared these three ways to lean in to uncomfortable conversations as we lead the charge for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Call Out Biased Practices, Procedures and Behaviors

Speak up when the things higher ed leaders say and do conflict with the institution’s commitment to DEI. Panelist Marion Fedrick, president of Albany State University noted, “If we’re only willing to sit at the table, but not raise a voice, we’re letting people down.” Lynne Adams, associate vice president for human resources and organizational development at Prince George’s Community College, suggested reflecting on questions such as, “What parts of our code or operations no longer make sense and don’t align with today’s culture or with the direction we want to head?”

Hold Leaders Accountable With the Help of Data

Isaac Dixon, associate vice president for human resources at Portland State University, recommended beginning conversations with the destination in mind. “We can’t move things forward without a plan,” he said, “When the passion cools … everybody walks away from the table, and it’s hard to get people back.” Dixon suggested having performance indicator data available so that HR can hold leadership accountable on whether steps are being taken to move the needle on DEI. CUPA-HR’s free assessment tool, the DEI Maturity Index, provides a great starting point by highlighting specific areas where your institution can improve its DEI efforts and providing resources to help.

Make an Impact Where You Are

What are you doing within your own circles of influence to listen, learn and take action? How are we shaking up routines and seeking opportunities to engage with people on campus who have other perspectives and experiences to share? And how are you encouraging others to do the same? These conversations are critical to understanding not only the value of diversity, but the power of inclusion as a tool to confront racism, inequity and bias. Invite someone to coffee or lunch, actively listen to what they have to say, and look for concrete ways you can become a leader in eliminating systemic racism on campus and in our communities.

Are you a CUPA-HR member? If so, be sure to check out the recording of the town hall meeting: CUPA-HR Partners in Justice — We Will Not Be Silent!

Related CUPA-HR resources:

Become a Better Champion for DEI by Focusing on These Three Areas

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Resources

Being Stronger Together Means We Must Move Talk to Action

CUPA-HR DEI Maturity Index, sponsored by Segal

Creating Inclusive Communities

Building a Successful, More Inclusive Search


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.