In a recent column for the Globe and Mail, Dr. Ivan Joseph wrote about his experiences as the Vice-Provost, Sudent Affairs at Dalhousie University, as well as several other senior administrative roles in post-secondary institutions. He acknowledged the widely known fact that when his hiring was announced by Dalhousie it was a “designated hire.” That means the university open stated it was planning to hire someone from an underrepresented group (i.e. a woman, a person with disabilities, a person of a visible minority) for the role. While this approach is a part of a positive initiative to foster diversity and build more inclusive leadership teams, Ivan’s experiences show that there are more factors at play than simply the act of hiring an underrepresented person.
Before moving on to tips and strategies to increase the success and support for a designated hire like himself, Ivan outlined aspects of institutional racism that he experienced across his substantial career. He wrote about how most often this kind of racism is subtle and may require nuance to see, but it can be just as harmful as obvious racism in the form of insults or stereotyping. Examples can range from excluding new members of a team from meetings or votes on issues, to ignoring the advice or suggestion of a team member because it runs counter to “established” institutional culture, to dismissing someone’s credibility because they are a designated hire.
Ivan went on to offer a set of strategies that organizations could keep in mind when bringing on a new leader, especially if the goal is to make progress and institutional change. It’s not enough to simply hire someone into a role, they need to establish themselves and thrive. To that end Ivan suggests the following:
Publicly Declare Your Support
The leaders of an organization need to immediately and publicly stand by the new hire and continue to stand by their ideas/actions, even if there is dissent or conflict from others in the organization
Assign a Strategic Mentor Who is Knowledgeable, Powerful, and Influential
Choosing a mentor who is well established in the power structure of the organization is key to long-term success for the new hire. They need to work alongside someone who can help them network with the established culture, who understands the less obvious ins-and-outs of the established structure and order.
Create a Scaffold of Supports
No matter how dynamic or capable a new leader is, their ability to integrate and work within the team will define their success. Help them find early wins, give them the resources they need, and openly support their mandate for change when you can.
Ivan closed his piece by writing that it’s important to take this kind of change as seriously as you would the pursuit of things like profit and expansion. If you have a successful organization, you know it can handle many challenges, and you’re willing to dedicate major resources to standard business pursuits. Treat this effort to bring systemic change and meaningful progress the same way, and start by bringing in new leaders and giving them the tools to succeed.
Dr. Ivan Joseph inspires people and teams to achieve more than they dreamed. An award-winning coach, educator, and leader, Ivan has spent his career leading cultural transformation, helping people believe in themselves, and creating cohesive teams. He speaks about self-confidence, embracing the “grit” to persevere in spite of setbacks, and leading teams to success, drawing from the lessons he’s learned from a life in sport. Dynamic and engaging, Ivan always leaves audience with a memorable experience that adds value long after the presentation ends.