10 Tips For A Career In DEI USA
Hannah West
Research lead

If you're interested in becoming a DEI practitioner or just looking for some practical tips to keep you inspired on your DEI journey, then read on below 👇

Our Top 10 Tips

Here’s our round-up of some of the best advice from our US Interviewees. Enjoy!

#1: Don't Stop Believing 🍀

Just believe in yourself — much easier said than done, right? Though it can seem clichéd, it’s good practice to reflect on everything you were able to achieve in the past—especially those challenges that seemed insurmountable — to remind yourself of what you’re capable of. Dr Marsha Currin McGriff, Chief Diversity Officer, and Senior Advisor to the University of Florida’s President emphasizes the importance of not only keeping faith in the wider cause but also your power to do great work as an individual:

“Don’t stop believing in yourself and in the fact that change is possible.”
Marsha Currin McGriff
University of Florida

#2: Be Yourself 😊

Establishing a distinction between a work self and a home self is a challenge for many. Ultimately it’s about finding that balance between sharing your authentic self with others and not sacrificing so much that you lose your original passion. Alicia LaPolla, Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Brown University, shares how important it is to bring your whole self to work:

“There’s always more work to be done. The wins will be big and small and you can still make an impact without sacrificing yourself. It's also important to find an institution that not only aligns with your values, but also allows you to be your authentic self too.”
Alicia LaPolla
Brown University

#3: Stay Committed to the Cause 🌱

Work — just like life — is full of setbacks and disappointments. But it’s important to try and remember why you show up at work everyday, as you battle the daily trials and tribulations at hand. Danushi Fernando, Director of LGBTQ and Gender resources at Vassar College, never gives up and sees failure as an opportunity to reflect on the importance of staying committed to DEI work:

“Ask yourself why you want to work in DEI, and really hold onto the answer, because there will be times when you want to give up! Make sure that your personal values align with those of the institution you’re joining, because making progress in this area requires a lot of commitment and conviction.”
Danushi Fernando
Vassar College

#4: Adapt To Change ⚡

Rich DeCapua is used to juggling a lot at once — simultaneously holding down two roles as Senior Associate Dean of Students at Tufts University and as a board member of the Global Alliance for International Student Advancement (GAISA), a cross-institutional body that informs and advises higher education institutions on the specific needs of international students. But however experienced you are, always be prepared for things to change 👇

“Understand that Covid has changed the game around what students need and expect. We’re dealing with students that for almost two years now, haven’t had the type of social development other adolescents have had. We put an emphasis on how to socialize, and we’re patient with them. Know that it won’t always be an easy process!”
Rich DeCapua
Tufts University

#5: Remember Change Takes Time ⏰

Although we may feel personal anger at many of the injustices that continue to prevail in our institutions, just remember the old adage - Rome wasn't built in a day. Just as Richard Harris, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Northeastern shares, creating meaningful change isn't something that happens overnight:

“Remember that change is a continual process, rather than a sudden thing. Your targets will change along with the DEI landscape, so it’s crucial to be flexible and keep appreciating the value of diversity in novel ways.”
Richard Harris
Northeastern University

#6: Resilience Is Key 💪

Striking a similar note, it’s important to not be demotivated when a project isn’t an overnight success. As brilliant as that would be when working within institutions as large and unwieldy as universities, steering the tanker isn't always that easy. Wendy Maragh Taylor, Associate Dean of Vassar College’s Office for Student Growth and Engagement, advocates for staying the course, whatever setbacks are faced:

“Whatever the battle is, stay the course. Not everything has to be executed in the moment—it can be a process. Yesterday we held an event marking the opening of a garden on campus, which was dedicated to the celebration of Black lives. This was a year and a half in the making: we didn’t know if it was going to happen, but we stayed the course!”

Wendy Maragh Taylor
Vassar College

#7: Schedule Time To Reflect 💭

The work we produce is really only as good as ourselves and those around us. A crucial part of developing ourselves and our teams is reflecting on what is and isn’t working, and in turn, what can be done to fix those gaps in our skills and expertise. Nicolette Cagle, Associate Dean of DEI at Duke University, recommends diarizing time for personal reflection:

“It’s important to actually schedule in time to reflect—keep doing your own work, which includes reading widely and completing different training courses as they come up. It’s important that we all keep learning.”
Nicolette Cagle
Duke University

#8: Connect With Others 🔗

Working harmoniously with others is the mark of any great leader —particularly in a field as people-centered as higher education. Moreover, collaboration inside and outside of your institution is a brilliant opportunity to learn new skills and build diverse networks. Floyd Cheung, Vice President for the Office for Inclusion and Equity at Smith College, says:

“Stay curious, keep learning, and connect with a network of people in your desired field so that you can share resources and lift one another up. I have been privileged to find such networks among my colleagues at Smith and the Five Colleges, the Association for Asian American Studies, the Professional Organizational Developers Network, and the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.”
Floyd Cheung
Smith College

#9: Keep Reading 📚

As any university professional will know, education is a lifelong journey. The more you know, the more you don’t know, as the old adage goes. West Point’s LaKeysia Harvin highlights how crucial it is to stay up-to-date with the latest research in the sector, in order to implement the most forwarding-thinking DEI approaches:

“Continue to read widely and stay up to date with new ideas and terminologies. This is a big bonus when it comes to working with other DEI professionals and communicating your ideas. Be sure to celebrate the small wins, so that you can keep chipping away at your big goals—and make sure that you have a mentor who can inspire and guide you through difficult periods.”
LaKeysia Harvin
US Military Academy at West Point

#10: Get Involved 👪

Take inspiration from the kid that’s always putting their hand up in class — the people getting involved in extra work are also the ones learning skills and developing professionally. Dan Solworth, Vice-Chancellor of Wellness and Student Success at Northeastern University, agrees:

“Raise your hand to be involved in committee work, projects, and task forces. Make sure you’re working across boundaries and cross-faculty units to gain a broad range of experience in the academy.”
Dan Solworth
University of Nottingham

There we have it - a wealth of thoughtful, inspiring and astute advice from some of the most impressive change-makers in the higher education sector.Here at GoodCourse, we're fortunate to learn from some of the most driven and passionate leaders committed to creating positive change in universities across the USA.With us, they share their personal experiences that led them to the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) field, the initiatives they are most proud to have implemented, and their pearls of wisdom on how exactly they affect positive change on campus.

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