How to Incorporate DEI Into Academia: Building a Roadmap

Jan. 30, 2023

People working together to develop a DEI roadmap for their institution.
People working together to develop a DEI roadmap for their institution.
Source: istock

A diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) roadmap is a resource that provides guidelines, best practices, overview of objectives and more, as it relates to integrating DEI principles and values into the operations and practices of a business unit. A roadmap will outline a course of action to embody DEI across business operations, practices, policies and procedures.

Elevating DEI across an academic institution, organization or department is essential for overall success within any work environment. Today, having a DEI roadmap and ongoing efforts and initiatives are a regular standard. However, not all work environments are continuously striving to develop and implement a strong roadmap. Here are steps and insights on beginning and strengthening your departments’ DEI roadmap.

Please keep in mind that the steps below are based on the assumption that high-level buy-in and support are already present. Starting there is critical, prior to addressing the guidelines below.

Step 1: Determine Roles and Responsibilities

DEI should be a strategic, focused priority embedded and incorporated into all aspects of an organization, institution or association.

DEI is the responsibility of all individuals across an organization, however, ensuring 1-2 people (or more) provide the management and coordination of DEI goals and objectives allows for greater accountability. Without this level of accountability, coordination and management, a DEI roadmap will lack real meaning and a strong potential for success.

In many instances, the leader responsible for managing and coordinating the DEI roadmap is a chief diversity officer, however, the responsibilities are not restricted to the title. In academia, leaders of DEI might also include the associate dean, assistant provost, department director, etc. While the title of the role is not limited, it is essential to ensure that the leader has influence and access to the resources needed to lead change across the institution.

Step 2: Establish Meaning and Intention

Once a leader is selected for the DEI work, the next step is to establish the definitions, meaning and intention of DEI. For example, what diversity means for a chemistry department might not align directly with what diversity means for a microbiology department. Within microbiology, achieving diversity will mean including microbiologists from various subdisciplines (e.g., clinical or environmental microbiology), however, these same terms may not apply to the scientific diversity that a chemistry department strives for. Overall, diversity should include race/ethnicity, gender, sexual and/or affectional identities, physical disabilities, neurodiversity, degree level, socio-economic background and more.

Once a department has defined its DEI terms, determining how to apply those concepts in its overall vision is essential. This is usually captured within a diversity statement, guiding principles and/or vision statement. These statements will provide clear and concise communication for the department’s position, mission and values related to DEI. They also provide a level of accountability and guidance so that the entire department, the institution at large and the broader community is aware of what the DEI efforts and initiatives are working toward.

Step 3: Conduct an Assessment and Determine the Diagnosis

Before diving in and developing a DEI roadmap, first determine the diagnosis. This helps assess the department’s current environment and facilitates development of an intentional, applicable DEI roadmap. Asking these 6 questions can be helpful when determining the department’s diagnosis:

  1. Are there any barriers, inequities or exclusionary policies present within the department? If so, what are they?
  2. How and when did the barriers, inequities or exclusionary policies begin?
  3. What impact, negative or positive, are the barriers, inequities or exclusionary policies causing to certain groups, communities and/or individuals? Who is included in the groups, communities and/or individuals that experience the negative impact? Who is included in the groups, communities and/or individuals that experience the positive impact?
  4. Are there any gaps within the department’s policies, practices, programs or operations? If so, what are they?
  5. How would a roadmap to address the gaps, barriers, inequities and exclusionary practices enhance the department?
  6. What are the strength areas within the department overall, as well as related to DEI?

The information identified and uncovered through the diagnosis will provide the rationale (i.e., the ‘why’) behind each component of the DEI roadmap. For example, if the department currently has policies that create barriers for historically excluded groups to pursue and attain promotion and tenure, then the rationale might be to work to ensure historically excluded groups do not encounter barriers to promotion and tenure.

Remember to bring many people to the table when conducting the diagnosis portion of this journey, as it will help ensure the community supports and leads the efforts within the roadmap to stimulate change across the community.

Step 4: Put the Roadmap Into Action

Now that the diagnosis phase is complete, take the information collected and move to action. Developing a roadmap grounded in data is essential, so work to certify that the information from the diagnosis guides the overall roadmap. These data will likely include qualitative responses from staff, faculty, students and stakeholders, as well as quantitative data related to demographics, pay equity, overall sense of belonging and inclusion and more.

Preparing and launching the roadmap requires that everyone across the department actively participate in implementing the plan. Identify the stakeholders and collaborators who will work to champion and lead the DEI initiatives that stem from the roadmap. Having champions across the department is essential for holistic integration of DEI.

Once the stakeholders and collaborators are identified, take time to develop the DEI roadmap so everyone within the department knows what they are working toward. The time needed to develop the roadmap varies, so determine a timeline that is appropriate for your institution. Here are a few examples of DEI roadmaps that a department can reference when developing its own:

The roadmap should address the gaps, barriers, inequities and exclusionary policies, as well as continue to build upon the strengths and progress within the department. Addressing these components will include creating new activities, programs, projects and revised policies. Be creative in the approaches taken to respond to each focus area, as not all gaps will require the same approach.

Lastly, once the roadmap is developed, remember to remain flexible in its execution. What might work in the first year of the roadmap might not work the next 2 years. For example, revising promotion and tenure policies to ensure equitable inclusion and access might work as an objective for years 1 and 2, but it might not work as a primary objective for years 3 and 4. In years 3 and 4, a new focus item might include evaluating the progress from the revised promotion and tenure policies and developing action steps for how to move forward. Reviewing and evaluating progress each year in order to revise and enhance the roadmap is essential, as growth will look different from year to year.

Taking action will require dedicated resources and attention to achieve sustainable success. The roadmap will likely include the revision of policies, practices, operations, etc., and to do this, culture change will need to occur. Culture change takes time—so don’t rush it. Remain intentional and dedicated and progress will happen. Taking it 1 step at a time is the best way to navigate a DEI journey.

ASM is committed to elevating and embodying DEI across the organization and the broader microbial sciences field.

Author: Shaundra Branova

Shaundra Branova
Shaundra Branova is a program officer at ASM who develops and leads strategic projects, programs and initatives dedicated to elevating and embodying inclusive diversity.