William & Mary is taking several steps to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the university following an independent assessment conducted last year to identify barriers to belonging on campus.

Based on the resulting report, conducted by Ivy Planning Group, the university will implement new DEI training modules, launch a three-year faculty hiring pilot and increase its use of Small, Women and Minority-Owned businesses, among other actions.

“We know that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts lead to organizational excellence, and advancing DEI is a strategic imperative for the whole university,” said W&M President Katherine A. Rowe. “It is also an ethical imperative, as we continuously strive to embody our values of belonging and respect. While we have taken steady, sustained steps toward improving inclusion and equity in our culture and systems, we have more to do. This assessment gives us a strong understanding of where we stand and how we can strategically expand and improve upon our efforts.”

The assessment is part of William & Mary’s efforts to build a strong foundation of data from which to make decisions in key competitive areas as the university looks toward long-term, strategic operations. Its results will inform W&M’s Inclusive Excellence Framework and the Vision 2026 strategic planning effort.

“The timing for the external assessment enabled us to expand upon the newly adopted Inclusive Excellence Framework, which provides a structure that centralizes DEI as an institutional imperative and provides a way of tracking and assessing our work,” said Chon Glover, W&M chief diversity officer. “The Ivy group’s comprehensive external review helped us align previous DEI work with their current findings to develop our university strategic plan’s goals and objectives, thereby reaffirming the inclusion of DEI work as central to fulfilling the mission of the university.”

Ivy Planning Group, a management consulting firm, has worked with Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies on similar efforts.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion play such a critical role in our society today,” said Ivy Planning Group Senior Partner Gary A. Smith. “The world’s best academic institutions understand that it is the diversity of students, faculty and staff that make them special. The richness of that environment accelerates learning. The goal is to build a community that allows that difference to thrive.

“Our partnership with W&M acknowledges that great work is already being done but that long term success and growth require a willingness periodically to evaluate how that work is going. Curiosity and a commitment to continuous improvement are critical elements of higher education and must be applied to the topic of DEI.”

Charged with identifying barriers to and opportunities for advancing W&M’s DEI work, the Ivy group began its assessment process at W&M in spring 2021. Focus groups and individual interviews were conducted with about 200 faculty, staff and students who were selected at random. The consultants also completed a systemic review of documents related to policies, practices and procedures and evaluated how they align with W&M’s DEI goals.

The assessment revealed four main themes in its findings:

  • W&M has several current-state conditions that enabled DEI success.
  • A lack of accountability for DEI execution, along with organization autonomy, has hindered DEI progress.
  • Too few leaders understand DEI is an imperative and opportunity enabler.
  • People of color have more negative experiences at W&M than their white peers.

The report includes a list of overall recommendations related to the areas of leadership, culture and talent. Glover discussed the results of the study with Rowe, and they identified an initial list of actions to be taken by the university in response to the report, with additional actions to be considered in the future.

The initial actions include:

  • Creating a culture of accountability and continuous improvement to advance the university’s core values throughout the community.
  • Cultivating cultural competency and civil discourse throughout the university community with associated programming and services to bolster critical skill sets.
  • Completing a three-year faculty hiring pilot to recruit and retain excellent faculty with expertise in inclusive teaching.
  • Utilizing community data and annual surveys to improve health and wellness and ensure equitable learning environments and workplaces.
  • Ensuring affordability by growing financial aid and providing funded internship opportunities for all students.
  • Achieving the Commonwealth of Virginia’s goal of 42% use of Small, Women, and Minority-Owned (SWaM) businesses in procuring goods and services.

These actions align with efforts already underway as part of the university’s Inclusive Excellence framework, which seeks to integrate W&M’s DEI efforts and incorporate them into the core of the university’s organizational functioning. The Inclusive Excellence framework includes a plan for tracking and assessing progress on DEI strategic priorities between 2020 and 2023, and the Ivy group assessment was part of that plan.“We have learned and confirmed much over the last two years,” said Glover. “Moving forward, I am seeking to increase our institutional capacity by broadening the collective group of individuals – faculty, staff and students – to address and move beyond those barriers or structures that  may have inhibited our progress toward inclusive excellence. Our goal is to be a national model and lead transformational change that goes beyond the status quo.”

, University News & Media