Women of Color Chief Diversity Officers: Their Positionality and Agency in Higher Education Institutions
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Colleges and universities are seen as sites for harnessing for the common good the challenges and opportunities associated with diversity. Research supports the link of diversity experiences with a range of individual, institutional, and societal benefits. Contemporary models of operationalizing diversity on college campuses focus on the integration of diversity goals with the overall educational mission in ways that maximize the benefits of diversity for all. A growing number of institutions have created Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) positions to procedurally and symbolically centralize diversity capabilities. The study of CDO positions is a relatively new focus in diversity and higher education literature, with research to date addressing commonalities and distinctions in organizational structures, portfolios, and strategies. This qualitative study builds on existing literature by examining through semi-structured interviews and document analysis the ways that five women of color CDOs experience their roles, the impact of race and gender on their experiences, how they exercise personal agency in their work, and factors that mediate their positionality in integrating diversity functions in their institutions. The conceptual framework incorporates Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Feminism, positionality according to social identity and institutional structure, and human agency. Four major findings emerged from the study: social identities matter for women of color serving as CDOS; barriers to retention exist for women of color CDOs; CDO work provides opportunity for the exercise of agency but carries the potential for co-optation; and CDO leadership serves as a form of resistance to hegemony and oppression. A framework of agency and self-efficacy is very useful for the CDOs to understand and enact the complex responsibilities with which they are charged. These findings highlight the need for institutions to understand the complexity and challenges of CDO positions when they create them. Colleges and universities must resource the CDOs appropriately, in the form of budget, personnel, and, most importantly, the investment and imprimatur of institutional leaders. Institutional leaders should also facilitate the access of CDOs to mentors, affinity networks, and professional development opportunities.
- Education - Seattle