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Diversity trumps agility

May 21, 2014

“Diversity in the world is a basic characteristic of human society, and also the key condition for a lively and dynamic world as we see today.”

-Hu Jintao


At the April RIT Board of Trustees meeting, Dr. Michael D'Arcangelo, director of diversity education at RIT, presented a thorough and thoughtful presentation entitled "A Business Case for Diversity: A Basis for Higher Education". I found his presentation built a compelling case for why diversity supports a number of strategic initiatives and I want to share some of the key points in this posting. You can find his entire presentation on the Resources section of the Diversity at RIT website.

Let's start with innovation and creativity, certainly a key strategic direction of RIT for the past several years. Citing the work of Scott Page from his book The Difference, research supports the claim that an organization with a diverse workforce leads to an environment that is creative and innovative. Further, companies with a higher percentage of women in top leadership positions performed better than their competitors and companies with a higher representation of different racial minorities in significant positions increases production compared to their competitors. I particularly like the notion that, again supported by research, diversity trumps agility, meaning that organizations that want to be creative and innovative, are more likely to be successful if they embrace a diverse workforce than by striving to be 'agile'.

Student success is clearly another important RIT strategic initiative so what does the research show about how diversity matters? For one, having a diverse faculty facilitates the recruitment and retention of students of color, especially when combined by a structured approach for mentorship (of students). Not surprising having a diverse faculty also leads to a stronger sense of self-efficacy for students of color. Students of color adjust to campus life more readily when the staff and faculty are diverse.  And when campuses encourage diversity-based rooming assignments, there were significant gains in comfort levels with people from different backgrounds.

Finally, academic excellence, particularly measured in terms of teaching and learning, is positively impacted by a diverse environment. For example, diverse classrooms lead to greater 'integrative complexity', the notion that processing information and problem solving in groups is enhanced when cognitive connections are made between different perspectives.

My take-away from Dr. D'Arcangelo's presentation is that diversity truly transcends all strategic dimensions at RIT and so we would be wise to address this transcendence as we craft a new RIT strategic plan. And by this I mean to continue to diversify our student body and our faculty, staff and administration. Of course, there are other reasons to embrace diversity such as its moral imperative and the fact that diversity on campus models the world in which our students will work, play and live. Nonetheless, it is important that our reasons to diversify RIT extend beyond the moral and the modeling and include a strategic sense.