Building High-Level Buy-in and Support

The success of a DEI Strategic Plan depends on the ability of planners and campus leaders to generate and sustain broad-based support within the campus community: from the executive ranks and departmental leadership to faculty, students and staff. 

This process begins with the president who, ideally, will both initiate and champion the DEI initiative through every phase of planning and implementation. However, it is equally important to gain grassroots support and to anchor that support to the college or university structure.  

Building and maintaining buy-in requires an array of initiatives, all of which require a substantial investment of dollars, human talent and technology. In the case of U-M, President Schlissel underscored the critical importance of DEI by earmarking $85 million for building and implementing the strategic plan over a five-year period.

In particular, this included substantial funding to support additional student financial aid, faculty recruitment, expansion of campus-wide efforts such as inclusive teaching initiatives and college access programs.

This is a very significant investment, yet connects directly with the University’s ongoing goals for recruiting the brightest and most capable students, staff and faculty, for building a highly effective workplace where all can perform their best work, and to provide top-notch learning experiences that engage and build skills for success in a diverse society.

Thus, this investment is part and parcel with all of the work we do in these domains; it aims to improve that work and the outcomes from it.

To oversee campus-wide planning, implementation and evaluation of DEI efforts, the university launched the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), which moved several existing offices under this new organizational hub while adding modest staffing to support campus-wide planning and implementation efforts year over year.

ODEI was placed under the leadership of a newly appointed Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Provost of Equity and Inclusion, who is also directly engaged in the approval process for all university and unit-level budget allocations.  

  • Gain support and create allies at all levels of the university

  • Establish DEI as a core institutional value, essential to our excellence

  • Reinforce the concept of DEI as a standard operating procedure and an integral part of all unit and campus-wide activities

  • Create events and experiences that make DEI central to the university experience

  • Align DEI with the budgeting process for the university and each individual department 

  • Emphasize accountability by implementing rigorous measures for monitoring and measuring progress at the campus and unit level

  • Find ways to incentivize the work of DEI through academic venues such as distinguished professorships and the recruitment and retention of scholars 

“In terms of building buy-in for DEI, the essential challenge is to generate grassroots support and marry it to the larger university structure. In the case of the U-M, this required a process that not only lived the values of DEI but also mirrored the realities of our institution—which is highly decentralized.”

– Dr. Robert Sellers, Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Chief Diversity Officer, Charles D. Moody Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Education

The work of building buy-in for DEI ultimately engages all members of the campus community, including students, faculty and staff. However, to be effective, the process must start with the executive leadership and regents.

It is important to note that building buy-in, while critical at the onset of developing and launching a DEI Strategic Plan, is an ongoing process. Attending to your constituents and collaborators regularly and engaging and re-engaging them for support will help ensure continuing support, especially for periods or needs that are particularly challenging.

First and foremost, do not be daunted by the scope of the University of Michigan’s DEI initiative. The work of diversity, equity and inclusion can be scaled to any college or university.

Even if your institution isn’t ready for a full-blown DEI plan, efforts at generating buy-in from the campus community can prepare the ground and pave the way for future activities.

The steps detailed in this section are intended to serve as a general template or compass for your efforts. As you begin planning your institution’s strategy for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, keep in mind that top-down support is absolutely crucial to the success of any DEI initiative. 

In the case of the University of Michigan, President Mark Schlissel established DEI as a key pillar of his administration at the very beginning of his tenure. This decision coincided with the release of a report commissioned by his predecessor on diversity at the U-M, which recommended the creation of a new university unit dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Through effort and example, President Schlissel enlisted the visible and vocal support of the entire university leadership structure, including regents, C-level executives, provosts, deans and directors. 

In addition, a DEI Executive Leadership Team comprised of 7 of the university’s 19 deans along with other unit-level leaders guided the effort and helped build momentum within their departments and programs.

A lead planning facilitator was then appointed to help create the framework for DEI training. The university also established the Diversity Working Group—a collection of staff and executives from key units.

In order to engage as many students, faculty and staff voices as possible in the planning discussion, the university sponsored town hall meetings; implemented strategies to solicit views and suggestions via social media platforms; scheduled conversations with students, both in-person and via campus media outlets; hosted university-wide assemblies that allowed community members to speak from the floor; and followed up on these initiatives by creating an infrastructure that channeled comments and suggestions from audience members to an appropriate person or committee for follow up.

Given the highly decentralized nature of our university and the relative autonomy of individual departments, the decision was made to add a new role—that of DEI Lead—to every administrative unit participating in the strategic plan.

Some DEI Leads were faculty, some were staff, and some units identified two DEI Leads. Many units did create a new position dedicated to DEI at either the Dean, Director, or Program Manager level.

In addition to promoting and advocating diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, the leads are responsible for developing and implementing a DEI strategic plan for their unit, and for submitting annual progress reports.

No DEI initiative can succeed without adequate funding at both the university and unit level. 

In addition to $85 million in funding from the university budget, each unit also made an annual financial commitment to DEI. To assure ongoing financial, staff and technical support for DEI-related activities, the newly appointed Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion became part of the executive decision-making team for all university and unit-level budget allocations.

  • No DEI plan can succeed without consistent, visible and vocal leadership from the top. The president must be the public champion of this effort.

  • Don’t overlook any constituents or stakeholders. It’s important to gain buy-in from all levels of the university, to empower resources, and to create new allies.

  • Recognize that obtaining support for DEI is a gradual process. Deep, institutional change takes time and requires a long view.

  • In order to succeed, every DEI initiative must be relevant and appropriate to the “cultural DNA” of your college or university.

  • Reinforce DEI behaviors through the budgeting process at every level, in every department and unit.

  • Accountability strengthens credibility. Monitor all DEI initiatives, track their progress, and make the results available to the campus community.

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