Diversity & Inclusion

Filling the Pipeline to Boost DEI in the C-Suite and Beyond

One of the many obstacles that get in the way of greater diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the corporate world is what is known as the pipeline problem. While there is controversy over whether the problem is a significant impediment to D&I efforts or simply a convenient excuse, the general premise is that diversity at the highest levels of organizations is lacking because there isn’t enough diversity at the lower levels of organizations. The reason there isn’t sufficient diversity in organizations generally is because there isn’t enough diversity in a particular field at the higher education level.

Ivanie Bronson

Without weighing in on the debate around the magnitude of the pipeline problem, increased diversity and an increased emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the university level can help promote those goals in the corporate world, as graduates leave school to start their careers with a greater appreciation for DEI.

Ivanie Bronson: Poised to Make a Difference

Our subject for this installment of our series on chief diversity officers (CDOs) has experience in both the corporate and the higher education settings and has excellent insights to share on the subject, including her own experiences and the steps her organization takes to make a difference in both the education and business contexts.

Ivanie Bronson is Walden University’s Vice President of HR and its CDO. One of the reasons Walden University was created was to address a lack of diversity, access, and opportunity for adult learners in higher education and beyond. “Walden University was founded more than 50 years ago to support working professionals and underserved populations in achieving their academic goals and making a greater impact in their professions and communities,” says Bronson.

“We’ve grown into a university that serves more than 55,000 students and over 158,000 alumni from 165 countries. Our student base is more than 51% minority and 78% women, and our average age of student is 40,” she adds.

Bronson’s DEI Journey: From Education to Corporate and Back

Bronson’s own journey in the DEI field began in higher education. She earned her BS in Psychology and MA in Industrial Organizational Psychology because she wanted to use her skills in a business setting.

“When I was pursuing my master’s, I was able to get an internship with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield,” Bronson says. “The internship was in the HR department, and my assignment was to create their affirmative action business strategy and implementation plan.” Her internship later transitioned into a full-time role, and she stayed with the company for about 10 years.

In her next role, Bronson served as senior director of HR at Discovery. “It was while I was at Discovery that I led a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives, including development of an extensive employee affinity program,” she notes.

Bronson has leveraged her experience at Discovery in her current role as CDO at Walden University, which she says meshes well with the university’s core goals. “The role is, in many ways, an extension of Walden’s mission of providing diverse talent that not only has skills that answer workforce needs but passion for making positive social change,” Bronson says.

Walden promotes D&I throughout the university through ongoing employee outreach and engagement, as well as to its students and alumni. It has also established various employee affinity groups, including two recent ones geared toward parents and the LGBTQIAP+ community.

Taking a Strategic Approach and Pointing to Real Results

Through HR initiatives, the university has developed a pay equity analysis and strategic plan and is leveraging a comprehensive recruiting outreach strategy targeting key diverse demographics.

“Last but not least, several of our departments came together this year to form the Cultural Moments Committee (CMC), which celebrates diversity, equity and inclusion across the university during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Military Appreciation Month, Pride Month and more,” says Bronson. “This diverse group creates campaigns and strategies to celebrate cultural and other types of diversity inside and outside of the university, while raising awareness and educating on important topics related to these communities. It’s been an exciting undertaking that has led to some very interesting discussions you can see on Walden’s YouTube page.”

For Women’s History Month, the CMC organized a discussion on the importance of diversifying the C-suite and corporate boards with Walden University’s CEO, Paula Singer; Board Chair Toni Freeman; and Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Sue Subocz. As accomplished women in leadership positions, they talked about their experiences and barriers in climbing the corporate ladder, their efforts toward advancing gender and racial equality, and the importance of diversity for company growth and success.

Walden’s drive for improving DEI and the wider world has seen impressive results, as illustrated by some statistics Bronson shared:

  • Walden is No. 1 among 380 accredited U.S. institutions for awarding doctorates to African Americans, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, National Science Foundation (2019).
  • Walden is No. 1 in awarding master’s degrees in nursing to Native Americans and No. 2 to Asian Americans (Diverse).
  • According to Diverse: Issues in Higher Education’s 2020 Top 100 Producers of Minority Graduate Degrees[AF2] , Walden is No. 1 in awarding doctoral (research/scholarship) degrees to African Americans in business administration, management, and operations; health professions and related programs; homeland security and related protective services; mental and social health services and allied professions; psychology; public administration and social service professions; public health; and nursing.
  • Walden is No. 1 in awarding doctoral (research/scholarship) degrees to Asian Americans in business administration, management, and operations; psychology; public administration and social service professions; and public health (Diverse).
  • Walden is No. 2 in awarding doctoral (research/scholarship) degrees to Hispanics in psychology, public administration and social service professions, and public health (Diverse).
  • Walden is No. 2 in awarding doctoral (research/scholarship) degrees to Native Americans in psychology, public administration and social service professions, and nursing (Diverse).

Greater diversity in higher education has long been a goal of advocates of DEI. But diversity alone, whether among students, faculty, or staff, is just part of the picture. Meaningfully pursuing equity and inclusion, along with diversity, is a goal Bronson and the team at Walden University have set for themselves.

The success they can already point to represents numbers to be proud of. Walden is poised to make a difference where it matters: at the top of the pipeline. 

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.