Dr. Joslyn Johnson
Associate Dean for Career Education and Director of Career Catalysts
BEAM, Career Education
The summer has arrived, and where many of us that work in higher education are usually able to take a collective sigh, we have found ourselves in a peculiar place. Though some states are gradually beginning to open back up as the pandemic enters a season of high vaccination numbers, we are still feeling the weight of a year and a half of turbulence. With the confluence of the viral attack of COVID, matched with racism and the call for social justice, we have found ourselves at a precipice moment for both higher education and the future of work. There are many unknowns about what will be our new "normal". So when we would typically be winding down for the summer, greater attention has been placed on planning for the future. One of the ways that this is taking shape is through strategic planning. The purpose of developing a strategic plan is to build an actionable roadmap to achieve goals that move the organization forward.
However, recently I had the opportunity to listen to a Vision Chat where Sally Amoruso shared about the role of strategic plans in higher education. Amoruso had conducted an analysis of hundreds of strategic plans across multiple universities and found that 90% of them were nearly identical. The primary focus was more about a declaration of values and engaging different constituencies in the institution's future direction. Amurosu asserts, "Strategic plans don't always equal strategy in many cases". You can listen to the entire Vision Chat on Reimagining Higher Education here. I reflected on this and thought about what happens when 90% of strategic plans are a declaration in light of our current climate. Many institutions recognize the expediency of incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion but may struggle with it as an operationalized practice. This has created an onslaught of multiple conversations, working groups, and initiatives to address disparities and systems of racism embedded in their institutions. In some cases, these attempts have been experienced as performative. For others, a sense of paralysis has taken place when trying to decide what steps they should take that won't come across as performative. Each department within the university has a part to play to see diversity, equity, and inclusion institutionalized beyond a declaration of values to actionable outcomes. As career leaders, you have an opportunity to embed DEI at a structural level across your organization through actionable strategic planning. I hope that this guide can provide you with some simple steps that can lead you to applied allyship.
Developing a Roadmap That Produces Results: Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
One of the first steps to creating a career DEI strategy for your department is to set the foundation by clearly defining what DEI— diversity, equity, and inclusion means. DEI is often talked about as one entity because of how they overlap with one another. However, understanding what each one means and the implications of how they will impact your strategy is essential. Before you can think about indicators and metrics, clarity around what is being measured is important.
To ensure a strong foundation, going through a process with your department that helps to cultivate a shared language around what diversity, equity, and inclusion means within the context of your work as career educators, connectors, and employment strategists, is critical. Moreover, clarity around a shared language will also provide the opportunity to set the tone by giving clear definitions as part of the introduction of your DEI Strategic Plan document.
When you are thinking about DEI within the context of your work in career, consider:
How are you recognizing diversity, as outlined in the categories below, when it comes to your initiatives and programs, and engaging with all your stakeholders?
In what ways have you been focused on leveling the playing field by changing processes and making structural changes as needed to address inequities? Is evaluating and assessing for inequities a regular part of your current process?
What steps have been taken to cultivate an environment where people from all backgrounds that engage with your career space are valued and experience a sense of belonging? Is there a current feedback loop in place to evaluate if your current inclusive practices are working?
As you are thinking of examples for incorporating DEI, you may want to review this publication on Integrating Career Advising for Equitable Student Success, written by The Collective in partnership with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Additionally, here is an example of how George Mason University’s Career Center has incorporated DEI into their 2021-2023 Strategic Plan.
Assessing and Identifying Needs
Based on how you define diversity, equity, and inclusion, assess your department within each category. This process is comprehensive and not to be rushed. That is not to say that you can’t start making changes in the process (please do as necessary), but rather emphasizing the importance of doing the groundwork. The goal of a strategic plan is to address needs to bring about new outcomes. A strong strategic plan indicates having a clear understanding of the next steps that need to be taken to bring about change. If the groundwork of assessing and identifying needs is not properly done, it increases the chances of developing a moot strategic plan. The danger of moving too quickly is that you may have a plan that looks great but is not applicable within the context of your department’s work. Unfortunately, this can be the fruit of performative planning. A thoughtful, circumspect process for assessment does take longer, but the implications for positive change are long-lasting.
Below I have included some resources that you can adapt to your career space as you zoom out and take a panoramic view through data collection and assessment:
Again, the needs assessment process is comprehensive and takes work! Joining in this process is a form of applied allyship! If you need help with assessing where your organization currently is, the Career Leadership Collective provides DEI analysis services. You can learn more about that process here.
The Anatomy of a Good DEI Strategic Plan
Finally, once you have completed the groundwork of identifying what needs to be addressed, now it's time to start pulling together the pieces that make for a strong strategic plan. The most robust part of developing a plan is accomplished— you have established clearly defining DEI, and assessing the department's needs at large. Next, you will focus on developing a clear pathway to equitable changes and new outcomes that speak to the diverse needs identified. This process is focused on developing both a communicative plan, and an actionable plan. The following outline can serve as a guide for how to lay out your strategic plan.
Providing Context for why the strategic plan exists
This is an opportunity to tell your department’s narrative for the work completed thus far, your current priorities, and where you are going. This should provide a contextual backdrop for why your strategic plan is important.
The department’s shared language around diversity, equity, and inclusion, should also be shared, with an emphasis on how it will be integrated into your work.
Establishing Goals based on Needs
Based on the needs assessment, this will be where the goals to bring about equitable and inclusive changes should be identified.
To ensure that the goals are actionable, rather than values or mission statements, clear indicators will be developed to showcase that each goal was accomplished.
You can ask the following questions, “How will you know when you are successful with each of your goals?” and work backwards to develop indicators.
Setting a Timeline for each area
Setting a clear timeline for both the length of the strategic plan and a timeline for each goal is important. Is your strategic plan for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, etc.? Be clear about the long and short-term goals of the plan.
Each goal that you develop for the strategic plan should include dates for each area. These dates can range from set times when a percentage of a goal will be complete, to when the goal is completely reached. The more detailed the better you will be able to assess progress.
Incorporating evaluation, auditing, and a continuous feedback loop as part of the strategic plan
Perhaps the most important part of a strategic plan is ensuring that there is accountability. To ensure a sustainable plan the process of evaluating and periodically auditing one’s strategic plan is necessary.
A section should be clearly articulated in the strategic plan that demonstrates how the evaluation and feedback process will take place. To help keep the momentum going, it would be good to make this process align with other cyclical processes in your office (i.e. performance reviews, campaign planning, etc.).
By taking the steps to partner in developing a strategic plan, you can make sustainable changes. As you begin working through this process, The Career Leadership Collective is here as a resource for you.
Joslyn Johnson is an Associate Dean for Career Education and Director of Career Catalysts for BEAM, Stanford’s Career Education Department. In this role she pioneers and leads initiatives at the intersection of identity and career. One of the primary focuses includes removing barriers and creating bridges that enable students to explore widely, think about their identity in the context of work, and gain access to opportunities. Joslyn earned her PhD in Adult, Professional, and Community Education from Texas State University. Her research focus was on how life-wide learning experiences served as shaping factors in the career success of high-potential individuals in early adulthood. In addition to her current role at BEAM, she also serves as an Instructor for Stanford Continuing Studies, and a DEI Research Facilitator Fellow for The Career Leadership Collective.