The client’s perspective

After several years of work on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues, faculty and staff within a large department at a prominent research university discovered they had not made as much progress as they had hoped. In a letter to department leadership, graduate students identified persistent challenges and a list of items they considered necessary to improve the DEI climate.

This letter created an impetus to understand DEI needs and experiences across the department, beginning with refreshing their climate survey to assess the current state and to develop a roadmap to target the focus areas and actions most important to the department’s students, faculty, and staff.

A new view

Recognizing it could benefit from an outside expert’s perspective, the department sought the help of Eagle Hill Consulting. We brought the right mix of qualities to help this department understand and close its DEI gaps:

Vast experience in organizational assessments and change management + Our collegial and inclusive approach to consulting = The right mix

This initiative required great sensitivity. Eagle Hill would not only be working with stakeholders that carried misaligned perceptions about the current DEI climate across the department, but also on a topic that could easily become contentious. So we developed a multi-faceted approach to generate broad support for the initiative.

Develop trust

We realized we needed to begin by developing trust: in our motives, in our role in the process and crucially, among the different individuals and teams within the department. The graduate students had previously established their own DEI council, and from the beginning we worked closely with both this group and the department’s formally established DEI committee, to listen to their concerns to ensure they understood that they were equally valued as clients.

Build understanding

Much of our team’s initial time was spent building understanding. Eagle Hill knows that successful change initiatives begin with engaging people from the outset. We conducted interviews and focus groups with each major stakeholder segment—faculty, staff, graduate students, and postdoctoral students—to gain insight into the current state of DEI in the department. We used the information gleaned through interviews and focus groups to develop draft questions for the department’s climate survey.

Promote transparency

Then, as we refined the survey, we continued to invite input from all stakeholders about our proposed questions and how we worded them. By promoting transparency, we gained and gave valuable insights and began fostering intradepartmental communication—an area that the graduate students had highlighted as crucial to improving the department’s DEI climate. This give-and-take approach was rooted in our well-established change management principles.

Unconventional consulting—and breakthrough results.

The result was a warmly embraced survey, which garnered a nearly 70 percent response rate among participating graduate students. Combining the rich quantitative results from the survey with our qualitative information, Eagle Hill identified eight recommendation areas to set the department on the path to achieving the DEI climate it desired. Our team then worked with the Deputy Department Chair to present the results in a widely attended town hall, answering questions and allowing stakeholders the chance to reflect openly on our findings.

The conflict the department originally faced as it renewed its DEI climate has become increasingly prevalent on campuses and in companies across the country. Intergenerational differences in perspective will continue to push DEI issues to the top of the agenda, but Eagle Hill sees these differences as opportunities for progress, not roadblocks to it. As we demonstrated for this client, bringing people along together, through every stage of a completely transparent process, engenders success.