4 strategies to grow your higher ed.’s equity, diversity and inclusion program.

Every higher ed. institution has an iteration of an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) program. How well is your institution developing and executing yours?

Your EDI program may be the pride of your institution, making good on your promise to create a more equitable and welcoming campus and world. Unwittingly, however, many higher ed. institutions strategize about implementing equity, diversity, inclusion (and in Canada, Indigeneity or Indigenous perspectives) initiatives without consulting with those directly impacted. And that’s a problem if you want your EDI program to be more than lip service.

Involving affected students, staff, and faculty and taking meaningful action toward your institution’s EDI initiatives isn’t just the right thing to do. It has a direct impact on whether or not you can effectively recruit and retain your students, staff, and faculty. It can also affect your relationships with donors and alumni.

You want everyone to feel safe and embraced at your institution. Here’s how to make it happen.

A higher ed. equity, diversity and inclusion program matters more than ever.

Higher ed. institutions are catalysts for change, empowering the next generation to make the world a better place. Embracing challenges, advancing steadfast toward progress, and doing what you say you’re going to do are all part of that relentless commitment.

But can that mission advance in a place where people don’t feel represented, heard, or welcome?

You know the answer.

Fulfilling your institution’s purpose means putting your money where your mouth is. And if there’s any part of your institution’s rallying cry that calls for:

  • Unity
  • Truth
  • Justice 
  • Integrity 
  • Progress 

…you need to ensure the actions and initiatives within your EDI program back that up.  

As you work to recruit and retain your students, faculty and staff, know that they’re paying attention to your messaging and noting if you follow through. An EDI program lacking in strategies, perspectives, and concrete plans simply won’t cut it — and your audiences won’t be afraid to let you know. More and more, people are putting their time and money where their values are, and they’re speaking out. 

As competition remains fierce for your right-fit students and talent, the continuity between what you say and what you do is paramount.

4 strategies to take your higher ed.’s EDI initiatives to the next level.

You have rules for your recruitment process. You have mandatory diversity training for new faculty and staff. But what else are you doing to create a robust EDI program that moves the needle?

Here are some good places to start. 

1. Involve and listen to traditionally marginalized groups. 

Forming your EDI initiative without the voices of those it directly affects may seem harmless. At least you’re working on doing something, and the sooner the better, right? Unfortunately, no. Any effort to solve problems for a subset of people without those people present is in vain.

Look at your campus. Invite BIPOC individuals, differently-abled people, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community to contribute their thoughts and experiences. Listen to their stories and their struggles. Then, include them when strategizing how to address those issues. Creating an EDI program without these essential voices is like not knowing who your audience is when you’re creating a marketing campaign. It’s useless.

5 research methods for planning stakeholder engagement

Download our consultation research planning guide to find out what methods work best for engaging students and alumni.
Would you like to receive marketing and branding insights about higher education in your inbox? We will send you a few emails each month with our newest content, upcoming events, and new services.

2. Involve an unbiased third party to facilitate discussion.

Conversations with your diverse audience are going to be difficult. They’re going to be painful and rife with emotion. Because of this, consider bringing in an outside facilitator to lead the dialogue. 

A good facilitator addresses the elephant in the room head-on. They’ll get the conversation going and create a space for participants to speak up without fear of any consequences that may stem from the uncomfortable information that they’re sharing.

Especially helpful is when the facilitator can articulate the issue in a resonant way. In a brand context, this includes ensuring a variety of voices are represented and reflected when expressing who you institution is and what it stands for. ED Marketing has conducted these kinds of tough conversations many times before. We can convey ideas, concepts, and strategies in ways that have a greater impact, leading to more meaningful and lasting solutions.

3. Use the right wording.

It’s not enough to simply say what you plan to do. It’s important how you say it, too.

In today’s day and age of performative activism, audiences can smell a non-commitment a mile away. Where inequity’s concerned, they don’t want your well-wishes – they want, expect and deserve definitive action.

Demonstrate it in your wording. Be specific about actions and outcomes. Include deadlines and dates for things you promise, where appropriate – and meet those deadlines.

One example: when you’re talking about your initiatives, use the words “we will” and “we are” instead of “we want.” “We want” lets you off the hook if nothing happens. “We will” and “we are” show commitment and hold your feet to the fire.

4. Don’t launch your EDI initiatives without a plan.

You may be tempted to announce your initiatives to show you’re doing something. But launching your program or messaging without simultaneously rolling out a meaningful plan with solid initiatives can backfire.

Make sure you take the time to gather the right stakeholders, have sufficient discussions and come up with real, actionable answers. Otherwise, you will most certainly invite scrutiny.

How the University of Manitoba demonstrated commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

The effects of your EDI program go beyond inclusion programs, discussions, and training. They also mean discovering aspects of your institution that you may not have realized were problematic.

The University of Manitoba experienced this when it decided to update its logo. They received feedback that said that it was felt that the crown in the logo “was a clear reference to Canada’s colonial history – which was inconsistent with the university’s prioritization of Indigenous student success and its commitment to reconciliation.” This visual identity was no longer an accurate reflection of their diverse campus.

As ED worked with the university, we saw an opportunity. Our design team immersed in university-led Indigenous design principles learning, which strongly informed our exploration.

Replacing the colonial elements of a book and crown is a bison climbing a hill, with environmental elements distinctive to Manitoba. The blue hues of the Aurora Borealis and the gold flame under the bison reference the ‘water keepers’ and ‘fire keepers’ in some traditional Indigenous teachings.

Instead of just refreshing the brand’s visual identity, this entire exercise took on a whole new meaning. It created a tighter bond between the institution, its community and its students. And the effort made good on the university’s priorities as noted above.

Now, students, staff, and faculty at the university walk through campus and experience the same feelings when they see their logo: Pride. Resilience. Strength.

You want everyone to feel included and embraced at your institution. In all aspects – including when evaluating, refreshing, or updating your institutional brand – everyone deserves to have a voice. Make it happen and let us help.

    Receive insights by email.

    Email *

    Country *

    Related Posts

    Your guide to writing a great higher ed. case for support.
    Writing a case for support is hard. Securing support for your higher ed. institution’s needs depends on finding the right...
    July 13, 2021
    Quiz: Is your higher ed. public relations story newsworthy?
    Do you have a buzzworthy story you think will earn media attention in your higher ed. institution’s next media relations...
    June 23, 2022
    A higher ed. institution's guide to hosting a dynamic virtual open house.
    Higher ed. marketers, faculty and recruitment officers have had to embrace videoconferencing from everything from classes to international student recruitment...
    January 11, 2021