Creating Leadership Roles and Structures

Successful implementation of a DEI plan requires the activation of “point leadership” at various levels of the institution.

Those various levels of leadership include: the president’s office, which launches the initiative and provides ongoing oversight and support; the university’s executive officers; faculty administrators; DEI Leads – at U-M these are faculty and/or staff members appointed to serve as point people within each unit; and a dedicated central hub within the university—guided by executive-level officers—to coordinate DEI efforts across campus and assure that every unit contributes to the work of diversity, equity and inclusion.

It’s important that all of these leaders have a deep understanding of how the organization works and, further, that they demonstrate a willingness to be vocal and visible in communicating and promoting the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

  • Build a leadership structure with the resources to communicate a vision and the authority and influence to enact organizational change. This begins with the President making the DEI initiative a top priority and charging the campus community with strategic objectives.

  • Appoint a team of executive-level officers to organize and coordinate a central hub for campus wide DEI activities

  • Enlist the support of all university leaders in making DEI a driving force and core value of the university

  • Create supporting structures for change at the local level by appointing one or two DEI Leads for every academic and administrative unit. Build a community of DEI Leads across campus to foster idea sharing, collaboration, and mutual support.

Key participants include “point leaders” across campus charged with instilling the values, strategies and structures that support change at the local level. In addition to activating those with formal leadership roles, a cadre of DEI Leads who guide efforts at the unit level act as liaisons, ambassadors, and partners in implementing the strategic plan.

The DEI strategic plan requires multiple levels of leadership in order to produce tangible, meaningful outcomes. That leadership must begin with the President, in consultation with key DEI leaders and champions on campus.  

To signal the seriousness of the effort and generate the greatest possible impact, the DEI strategic plan should be introduced to the campus as a presidential initiative.

In the case of U-M, after announcing to the university community that DEI would be a top priority of his administration, President Schlissel launched a year-long campuswide planning process to develop a five-year Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

This official roll-out was preceded by extensive discussions with deans, campus-level unit directors, executive officers, regents and other executive leaders.

To ensure that the planning process mirrored the realities of the university, and that all views and voices were heard, the campus community was invited to participate in town hall meetings, round-table discussions, a university-wide assembly and social media conversations. 

The act of making DEI a presidential initiative is strategically important for a number of reasons. It signals the seriousness of the effort to the entire campus community and enables DEI programs to operate under “reflective” presidential authority.

In addition, it assures material as well as symbolic support for planning and implementation. Once the strategic plan had been developed, the next step—and the next challenge—was to make DEI an integral part of the university infrastructure.

This was accomplished by establishing a dedicated Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and appointing a Chief Diversity Officer with reporting lines to both the President and Provost.

Among other responsibilities, the CDO oversees the university’s five-year strategic plan for DEI and serves as principal adviser to the president and members of the university’s executive leadership team.

Other key appointments followed, including:

  • Deputy Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Implementation – responsible for providing critical support and leadership for the DEI strategic planning process, campuswide climate survey assessment, advising campus DEI leads,  and assisting with all administrative processes.

  • Chief Organizational Learning Officer – leads DEI education efforts across campus, creating curricula and strategies to build awareness and capabilities for all faculty and staff members 

  • Associate Dean for Health Equity and Inclusion at Michigan Medicine – to direct and coordinate DEI programs within Michigan Medicine, a semi-autonomous unit of the University of Michigan.  

  • Staff Ombudsperson – to assist with DEI-related information and referrals, serve as a campus wide resource for policy, and make recommendations for change. This appointment mirrors a faculty ombudsperson role that has existed for some time.

Through discussions and meetings at high levels, the DEI leadership structure is reviewed annually. Feedback on this group is sought from the Academic Program Group, which includes the Deans of all 19 U-M Schools and Colleges.

Early in the implementation process, for example, the DEI leadership structure was augmented with representation from the Michigan Health System (Michigan Medicine).

Leaders at all levels receive feedback through regularly scheduled meetings with their superiors and with their own teams.

  • Making the DEI strategic plan a presidential initiative will enhance credibility, generate awareness, and promote broad support among the campus community.

  • Creating a central hub for all DEI-related activity is an efficient and effective means for providing data support, communications, event planning, professional development programs, monitoring of campus DEI activities, guidance for unit-based DEI leads, and detailed progress updates. 

  • It’s important that those who promote and coordinate DEI initiatives recognize that they, by themselves, cannot make change happen. Leaders can guide, teach and serve as an example. But they cannot do the work of others. Creating a diverse, equitable and welcoming campus must be the goal and responsibility of every member of the campus community.



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