Why Diversity, Equity & Inclusion?

In February 2008, the National Academy of Engineers announced 14 grand global challenges for engineering in the next century. The list included making solar energy economical, providing access to clean water, engineering better medicines, and securing cyberspace (“Grand Challenges for Engineering”, National Academy of Engineering). As a discipline focused on problem-solving, engineering is an enormous part, though certainly not the only part, of the way to a better world. The increasing interest in engineering careers among students and the increasing number of students applying to our programs in Michigan Engineering speaks both to their excitement about being part of these efforts and to the College’s recognized excellence. Michigan Engineering must demonstrate leadership in the development of globally competent engineers prepared to take on the grand challenges in engineering.

To develop this next generation of engineers, our efforts in teaching, scholarship, research and service to society must be coupled with an understanding that diversity, equity and inclusion are a critical part of our excellence, both now and going forward. There are several compelling reasons why increasing and leveraging the diversity in Michigan Engineering is an imperative today, ranging from the needs of our workforces to the mission of our public universities:

  1. Diversity drives innovation and fosters creativity. Studies consistently show that diversity – of perspective, thought, experiences, and training – drives innovation and fosters creativity.[1],[2]Companies with diverse workforces out-innovate and out-perform others. In one report, employees at these companies were 45% more likely to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market.[3]
  2. Businesses agree that diversity is critical for the bottom line. In a Forbes survey, 85 percent of respondents said diversity is crucial for their businesses, and approximately 75 percent indicated that their companies will put more focus during the next three years to leverage diversity to achieve their business goals.[4] Understanding that diverse workforces come from diverse undergraduate populations, more than 60 leading 500 Fortune companies—including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson — submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the Grutter v. Bollinger ruling in support of admissions policies that include consideration of race.[5]
  3. The global marketplace drives a need for cultural competency. Our corporate partners (Michigan Engineering’s Engineering Advisory Council; Center for Educational Diversity and Outreach (CEDO) Advisory Council) have defined diversity as a key element of their business strategy. Their business rationale includes the need to develop and market products and services in a global marketplace and the requirement of working with suppliers and customers who are multicultural, both elements requiring multicultural skills and competencies. “We want our management to be culturally prepared. We have a vast amount of diversity that comes into work every day in order to create and build technology that plays out around the world.” – Rosalind Hudnell, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Intel.[6] Our corporate partners have made it clear that they expect to be able to hire talent from universities with both multicultural skills and having international experiences. They can and will choose universities that provide a strong pool of talent with such skills.
  4. Diversity (both faculty and student diversity) on campus benefits all students. Diversity on college campuses isn’t just a benefit for non-majority students. Learning with people from a variety of backgrounds encourages collaboration and fosters innovation, thereby benefitting all students. Research shows that the overall academic and social effects of increased diversity engagement on campus are likely to be positive, ranging from higher levels of academic achievement to the improvement of near- and long-term intergroup relations.[7]
  5. Our nation is changing, and our higher education institutions need to reflect this diversity. By 2050 our nation will have no clear racial or ethnic majority. As our nation becomes more diverse, so too does the national workforce. According to Census Bureau projections, in 2050 one in two workers will be a person of color. Communities of color are critical to the engineering leadership of tomorrow, and we need to better prepare our future workforce. As the population changes to one in which there is no majority group, we need to learn to work with, respect, and build on all the various types of difference between people while recognizing that, to a very large extent, we are all the same at the highest level. Today our biggest challenges in engineering fall along racial/ethnic, gender and socioeconomic differences, so we chose to pay particular attention to these diversity dimensions.
  6. As a public, state university, we have an obligation to educate the broad spectrum of qualified students from across the state. 2% of the Michigan population is Black or African American and 4.8% is Hispanic,[8] but the Black and Hispanic Michigan Engineering student populations in total are only 8%.[9] The University of Michigan is largely off the radar screen of many students in western Michigan, the UP and Detroit. While gender diversity has slowly increased over recent years (now reaching 25% within the College), there are still enrollment and climate challenges for women students.

A community that is diverse, but not equitable and inclusive, cannot achieve its full potential. A climate that does not provide equal opportunity for all to excel will not remain diverse, as those who are afforded less opportunity will not choose to come to Michigan. Those who do come will be more apt to leave, or will not take full advantage of all Michigan Engineering has to offer. Diversity on campus that is equitable and inclusive provides educational benefits for all students—minority and majority alike—that simply cannot be duplicated in a homogeneous setting. Providing a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment enables us to deliver on the educational promise of creating a unique learning and research setting where innovation and creativity can be combined with the spectrum of academic programs and resources that are the hallmark of the University.

Thus we believe that there is intrinsic value to Michigan Engineering in delivering on its educational, scholarship, and service goals by proactively embracing and leveraging diversity, equity and inclusion. However, we have a long way to go to create a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive community. In terms of gender and race/ethnicity – the two most easily measured metrics – the level of diversity is low, including as compared to the overall U.S. or Michigan population. In terms of other, less easily identified, measures of diversity (e.g. religion, gender expression, physical disability, low socioeconomic status), we need to better understand and measure how we are doing.

[1] Page SE. The difference: How the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools, and societies: Princeton University Press, 2008.

[2] Galinsky AD, Todd AR, Homan AC, Phillips KW, Apfelbaum EP, Sasaki SJ, Richeson JA, Olayon JB, Maddux WW. Maximizing the Gains and Minimizing the Pains of Diversity A Policy Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science 2015;10(6):742-8.

[3] Hewlett SA, Marshall M, Sherbin L. How diversity can drive innovation. Harvard Business Review 2013;91(12):30-.

[4] Insights Forbes. Global diversity and inclusion: Fostering innovation through a diverse workforce. Forbes Insight, New York 2011.

[5] Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)

[6] Insights Forbes, op.cit.

[7] Maruyama G, Moreno JF, Gudeman RH, Marin P. Does Diversity Make a Difference? Three Research Studies on Diversity in College Classrooms. 2000.

[8] “Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015)”. Census.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[9] University of Michigan Office of the Registrar. 816: Enrollment By Program, Location, Ethnicity And Gender. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[10] “Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015)”. Census.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[11] University of Michigan Office of the Registrar. 816: Enrollment By Program, Location, Ethnicity And Gender. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

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