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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Coaching Methodology
Change Management

Taking steps toward diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging

“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” At InsideTrack, we take this sentiment from the Dalai Lama to heart. Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is interwoven into our values and everything we do. For many years now, we have been working toward creating concrete, actionable DEI policies and practices guided by our mission and rooted in our values.

By examining the work we’re doing in our own organization, we hope it furthers the DEI conversation, allows us to reflect on what we can be doing better, and provides the impetus for student support professionals to think about their own processes. Here are three recent improvements we’ve made to our own DEI journey to get the conversation started.

1. Refreshing our Foundational Coach Training

InsideTrack's Goal:

To rethink our coaching methodology and our Foundational Coach Training through a lens of cultural competence and cultural humility. In doing so, we can continue to adopt inclusive and equitable practices in our coaching.

Why was this change necessary?

The demographic makeup for college and university students is more diverse than ever before. It's critical to implement equitable support techniques that serve the needs of all students. One of the ways we addressed this was to strengthen equity and inclusion in a comprehensive update of our Foundational Coach Training materials.

What was the process like?

As explained by Megan Breiseth, Senior Director of Learning & Development at InsideTrack, “We are continuously challenging ourselves to think about support from an equitable perspective.” With that in mind, we partnered with Asia Wong, Director of Counseling and Health Services at Loyola University New Orleans, to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion practices in coaching, as well as expand how we think about responses to trauma and offer a more holistic approach to fostering well-being.We incorporated four key practices into our work to help coaches improve their ability to provide meaningful, tailored coaching to every learner they work with:

  • Individualism: meeting each learner where they’re at
  • Self and situational awareness: reflecting on your own background and any biases you might need to address
  • Adaptability: being able to take different approaches with different learners
  • Cultural competence and humility: self-educating and avoiding assumptions, holding an open mind and acknowledging that every person’s journey is unique

You can learn more about the four practices to advance equity in student support, along with five tips to help you see and correct any biases, here.

What about biases?

Even though everyone has biases, most people are unaware of those biases. This is called implicit bias. It’s a way for the brain to shorthand stored information by sorting things into categories. One of these categories is the way a person thinks about certain social groups, based on identity facets like race, ethnicity, gender, physical appearance or any number of other identifiers. For coaches, in order to truly understand a learner’s unique situation, they need to be aware of — and actively resist — any biases they may have.

What work is left to be done?

We aim to continually adapt our methodology to meet the ever-evolving needs of our learners and our partners. To this end, we are always evaluating our methodology to make sure we’re growing as an organization, for our learners. This might mean regularly checking in with outside experts to help us understand what we’re doing right — and where we have room to grow.

How does this relate to the student support professionals we work with?

It’s critical that people in student support roles meet students from an equitable perspective, keeping both cultural competency and cultural humility in mind. Evaluating biases can help you relate to students in an authentic way, using curiosity rather than preconceived biases to lead your student support conversations.

2. Creating a microaggression reporting system

InsideTrack's Goal:

To learn from DEI-focused tools at our partner institutions and create the ability for our own employees to learn from each other in a non-punitive way, ultimately fostering a more inclusive environment for InsideTrack employees and the company at large.

What is this tool and how does it work?

The microaggression submission system we use at InsideTrack provides a way for employees to anonymously (or non-anonymously, if the submitter chooses) describe microaggressions through a form that goes to our committee of reviewers. Submitted information is then used as a learning tool for the entire organization through company-wide meetings and other anonymous learning sessions, providing a way for employees to grow toward more inclusivity and acceptance in the workplace.

How did the process begin?

Before the microaggression submission system was in place, the company used something called Bias Incident Reporting. The label, which was aimed to feel like a step toward understanding incidents of bias, ended up feeling punitive in nature. The Bias Awareness Tracking tool was created to feel less punitive and provide more of an opportunity for staff members to learn, as well as collect microaggression data over time.

Because of our collaborative partnerships with colleges and universities, we learned about similar tools that they used — and we worked to adapt them to fit our own specific organizational needs. The primary goal is always a safe, non-punitive way for employees to share microaggressions and other subtle acts of exclusion noticed in workplace behavior, with the goal being to facilitate anonymous, company-wide learning opportunities from these submissions.

Why do we need this tool?

In order to recognize what microaggressions are and understand their impact, they need to be called out and discussed. Learning to recognize and address microaggressions has to be an intentional learning process, because they typically occur under the radar. When something happens, no one points to the person saying it and says “yes, that’s a microaggression.” So if you don’t learn about the specifics of any given microaggression, you’ll never know that you are using them yourself — or why your words can be hurtful and harmful.

How has this tool changed InsideTrack’s organizational culture?

During the first months after launch, most events described were submitted directly by the people who were negatively impacted by the experience. Over time, we’ve seen more anonymous submissions — often submitted by people who witnessed the event. This indicates that people are looking out for one another – and recognizing that there’s an emotional burden that comes with taking the time to write up and submit the description of what happened.

What work is left to be done?

We want to continue to grow in how we share availability of this resource with our employees, presenting insights in a way that feels both informative and inspires accountability without feeling accusatory or punitive.

How can student supporters learn from this?

The tools we’ve seen from colleges and universities are often compliance-based, with a lens toward disciplinary, punitive actions. Many institutions are increasingly incorporating or creating DEI positions and departments into their work, which allows them to use the data collected to identify trends that can be woven into new student orientation and staff trainings. Having adapted this tool to meet our specific needs, we can now share it back with institutions to help them make their own tools even stronger.

3. Adding non-binary gender identification options to our HR platforms

InsideTrack's Goal:

To make changes in our HR systems that allow employees to feel like they can accurately identify their gender and show up to work as their authentic selves.

How did this process begin?

By the time we began working with ADP Workforce Now in 2019, our DEI journey was well underway and in the forefront of our minds. Unfortunately, Workforce Now didn’t have non-binary as a gender selection. So we submitted a formal request (as did many others) for them to add it. A year later, due to the volume of requests, ADP made the change on their platform and we incorporated it into our hiring process for new-hire onboarding. In addition, our HR team continues to let staff know about how to update their gender ID/pronouns in the ADP system.

Why is having this option important?

First and foremost, it allows InsideTrack employees to identify in the way that is genuine to them. Employees have long since been able to use their preferred pronouns in emails, in Zoom meetings and on Slack. But now they can do the same within their official HR documents.

This identification option also allows InsideTrack to run reports about the demographics of our workplace with more accuracy – which is critical, because as a nonprofit, we are often required to provide employee demographic information when applying for certain types of funding or when working with partner organizations.

What does the process change mean to InsideTrack’s organizational culture?

At its most basic level, it’s meaningful for folks who do identify as non-binary. But it spreads beyond forms in the HR system. It allows people to begin using this language and identify people correctly — and not just assume gender. “We also introduced questions surrounding DEI in the interview/training process,” Joe Donato, VP of HR business partnerships at Strada Education Network (InsideTrack’s parent organization) notes. “What does DEI mean to you and how do you bring your true self to work?” Even just asking this question shows potential employees that we are an organization oriented around this topic.”

What are some continuing challenges in this area?

There are still a lot of old, antiquated, binary systems set up across the HR world. As an example, if your company has over 100 employees, the HR department is required to fill out a federal government report called an EEO-1 each year. This report only allows the gender identification options of ‘Male’ or ‘Female.’ So even when you make progress in one area, it’s not consistent across HR documents, policies or even states. While employees can select non-binary as their identification in the ADP system, we still have to categorize them as male or female on other forms, like the EEO-1. And most healthcare forms require a selection for “gender at birth.”

What work is left to be done?

As Joe sees it, “If someone wanted to be true to themselves and their identity, there would be well over 10 options on that gender identification list.” But the fact of the matter is that teammates show up to work each day and don’t get to fully identify in the way they would prefer. “We can make a culture of acceptance, but filling out a form that doesn’t include your true self is exclusionary by nature and can be triggering for many.”

How does this relate to the student support professionals we work with?

As anyone in higher ed can tell you, students have to fill out a mountain of forms to enroll in school and throughout their educational journey. Institutions need to ask themselves (and their students) a trio of questions regarding this topic.

  • Do students see themselves represented in the identifying options on your forms?
  • Are the forms consistent across departments, campuses and processes?
  • Beyond the forms, how are you promoting inclusion and belonging for people who identify outside of the gender binary?

Looking for more DEI In the Details? Watch for a follow-up blog post, coming early in 2023.

To help you have meaningful conversations that can create real impact for your learners, here are resources you can use to better understand and support all your students — starting with how we illustrate the concepts of equity, equality and justice.

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