What executives want students to do about diversity in organizations

Posted November 08, 2017 by


Having grown up more aware of diversity issues than previous generations, college students might not think they have blind spots. Recruiters, HR leaders and executives all know, however, that even as the millennial generation floods the workforce, we are all still struggling to create more inclusive workplaces and more diversity in organizations.

We heard from two executives who are participating in the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advancing diversity in organizations and inclusion within the workplace in the U.S.  CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ brings students into a conversation about diversity in organizations, right at a time when students are making important decisions about their career paths. We share their insight here about how to engage students in these conversations, what they have learned about inclusion and lessons they hope employers will take to heart.

Their initiative kicked off their college campus tour last month, seeks to engage students in productive dialogue around unconscious bias, and inspire them to take part in diversity and inclusion conversations both in their communities and with their future employers.

What advice do you have for employers who recruit college students, and are looking for candidates who can work well on a diverse team?

Question candidates about their ability to work with people different than themselvesDeb Pine (Executive Director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University): It is important to ask the right questions when interviewing college students for a job at your company. Don’t simply ask about their strengths and weaknesses, ask about situations they have been in where they have learned something new from a teammate who was unlike them or been challenged to think differently and the outcome was a success. Look at the programs within your organization and ask, are they supportive of marginalized groups like women or people of color? Are there mentorship or sponsorship programs in place that support those groups? College graduates should consider these just as they would consider other attributes of the job offer such as responsibilities, title, pay, location, benefits, etc.

Harvey Stenger (Binghamton University President): Employers should make sure that college students they hire have been exposed to a diversity of ideas and viewpoints. No matter which industry you’re working in — whether it’s engineering or nursing — successful employees are those who can see the big picture and those who can recognize the needs and wants of all members of society.

Also read Diversity in the workplace: Recruitment tips and tactics [expert panel discussion]

What have you learned that is changing your understanding of how inclusion “works”? 

Harvey Stenger: We have learned that achieving true inclusion is more complicated than hiring one person or implementing one single program. A truly inclusive campus takes buy-in and support from students, faculty and staff, at all levels. It’s about an ongoing dialogue, listening to all key stakeholders, and making changes both large and small, year-round.

Why involve college students in conversations about diversity in organizations? 

It is important to get college students involved in the diversity discussionHarvey Stenger: College is about expanding one’s worldview, embracing new ideas, and challenging pre-conceived notions. That experience hinges upon exposure to people from all walks of life. These types of conversations are crucial to the development of a healthy, well-rounded mindset, one open to change and acknowledging the beliefs, cultures and backgrounds of all. These conversations lead to dialogue that helps students better understand their world and contribute to society in a more thoughtful way.

Deb Pine: Students need to know how to navigate issues of diversity and build inclusive teams if they are to become successful leaders. We are committed to educating the campus community about unconscious bias. Once you are aware that blind spots exist, you can start to develop strategies to address them.  Research shows that diverse teams are simply more effective!  Whether it is students working on a team project here on campus, or corporations focused on growing their business, diverse teams are more creative, members are more engaged, and outcomes are more productive. There clearly is a strong business case for diversity, which matter immensely for students once they graduate. Study after study confirms that diverse organizations outperform less diverse organizations along many financial measures.  For example, a Credit Suisse study of 3000 companies found that companies with greater gender diversity have higher ROE, profitability, and stock performance. Diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do…it’s the smart thing to do.

Harvey Stenger CEOAbout Harvey Stenger, Binghamton University President: A native of upstate N.Y., Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger was appointed president in Nov. 2011, and assumed his duties Jan. 1, 2012. Prior, he served as interim provost at the University at Buffalo, where he had been dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences since 2006. A chemical engineer by training, he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1979, and his doctorate in the same discipline from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983.

Deb Pine CEOAbout Deb Pine, Center for Women and Business Executive Director at Bentley University: As the Center for Women and Business Executive Director at Bentley University, Deborah Pine sets and leads all external and internal strategic efforts, including corporate engagement, student initiatives, faculty collaboration, and research. Deb joined Bentley from Harvard Business School, where she served as a consultant and advisor as well as a student career coach and mentor for start-up teams. Previously, she served as COO of thegrommet.com, a curated online e-commerce site that was acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten. She also co-founded PreVision Marketing, a customer marketing and technology firm which developed breakthrough customer loyalty marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies.


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