Diversity Goes To School

What chief diversity officers can teach colleges, universities

Thornton agrees. “Higher education should focus on the business case for diversity,” she says. Her three-pronged plan for Babson stresses attracting, recruiting, and retaining diverse students, faculty, and staff; creating an inclusive environment on campus; and developing minority and global content for the classroom.

“We are currently working on building a resource of minority and international content to integrate into the classroom as an integral component of our overall diversity strategy.”

But with minorities still occupying less than 1% of the corner offices of Fortune 500 companies, it remains to be seen how effective CDOs will be in academia. Thornton is optimistic, however: “I believe that CDOs in higher education can help corporations improve these numbers over time. They can partner with corporations to help them achieve their diversity goals by providing them with a pipeline of well-trained graduating students that have been empowered to embrace a diversity mind-set, i.e., the ability to value, interact with, and lead a diverse group of  people.”

In addition to having direct access to institutional decision makers — an advantage many corporate CDOs currently do not enjoy — Thornton will work with various organizations and departments to create a more culturally aware campus.

“At Babson, we are compelled to deliberately create an environment that embraces and values differences,” Thornton says. “Being able to effectively engage a global and multicultural society is as much a fundamental requirement for our students’ success as accounting, strategy, and entrepreneurial thinking. Diversity in higher education is no longer just the right thing to do; it is what we must do in order to prepare our future leaders.”

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