NCAA Focuses on Leadership on Path to Improving Inclusion in College Athletics Departments

srobinson franklinConversations about transorming and creating a more diverse organizational culture cannot take place without parallel conversations regarding the role of leadership. In fact, most models depict the central and critical role that leaders play in developing and maintaining a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Strong, diverse cultures manifest through elements such as trust, compassion, engagement, effectiveness, and commitment — elements that exemplify an organization with the ability to transform its culture. Undoubtedly, such organizations boast leaders who also share these crucial traits, using their positions of influence to help those around them achieve great goals with sustaining effect. The task of leaders to articulate and guide a vision, to reflect and assess both present and future, and to organize and inspire others toward progress is never more important than when the vision and charge is related to diversity and inclusion.

Initiatives that fall within the landscape of diversity and inclusion are varied, and this is especially true at institutions of higher education. These efforts might be dedicated to increasing the representation of historically underrepresented individuals in the student body, faculty, and administration, or they could be related to improving cultural competencies that support interpersonal dialogues and productivity. One thing that remains common through the myriad of creative approaches to diversity and inclusion is the connection to culture.

Moving a campus, department, or group toward inclusive excellence requires attention to perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors, all of which are integral components of culture. The visible buy-in and commitment by those in leadership positions to shaping a culture that encourages, values, and honors the integration of diverse perspectives and individuals is imperative to any successful cultural shift. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) takes great pride in celebrating the commitment its leaders have reaffirmed: to support environments of excellence for our constituents, especially in conjunction with our three pillars of academics, fairness, and well-being.

In January 2016, the NCAA Board of Governors — the highest level of governance within the association — approved a resolution reaffirming a commitment to cultural diversity and inclusion in athletics leadership. This statement came after data analysis revealed that increased efforts were needed to influence the range of diversity represented in intercollegiate athletics at the highest levels of coaching and administration. The Board of Governors then created an ad hoc committee expressly charged with providing guidance and support for diversity and inclusion efforts to the more than 1,100 colleges and universities that make up our membership.

Recognizing the need for presidential leadership, the committee developed a voluntary pledge of commitment. The NCAA is requesting that every president within the association sign this pledge as an initial step toward creating a cultural change that not only affects athletics departments, but that also permeates entire campuses.

Throughout history, athletics has provided a social space for dialogue — and even reconciliation — around equality and collaboration. Lessons from sporting experiences indicate the increased potential we have when we work together, matching differences and similarities to create a whole where strengths are fortified and weaknesses diminished. In the face of adversity, the institution of sport has modeled resiliency, persistence, and accomplishment. It has been an instrument of social change; it has been a bridge joining the values of higher education with the forces of societal transformation.

At the NCAA, we are proud to help facilitate our campuses in serving as exemplars in the very best that diversity and inclusion have to offer: the incredible power we have to achieve greatness when all are not only invited to the table, but are also given the opportunity to contribute.

Bernard Franklin, PhD, is the executive vice president of education and community engagement and chief inclusion officer for the NCAA. He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. Sonja Robinson, PhD, is the director of inclusion at the NCAA, with an emphasis in race/ethnicity and student-athletes with disabilities.