Developing Culturally Competent Employees
Using in-house expertise to enhance Poole College’s culture of constant improvement and belonging, this professional development program builds competencies through training focused on awareness, knowledge, skill-building, and application.
Maggie Merry, Assistant Dean of Finance and Administration, Poole College of Management, North Carolina State University
Call to Action
One of the strategic goals of the Poole College of Management is to create a culture of constant improvement, and we hold the value that we will have a culture where diversity will thrive. These two statements were a large motivating factor in creating a professional development program for our own faculty and staff. While the program was initially focused on general professional development for all employees, through revelations in the university employee engagement survey, we recognized the need to expand it and include important work in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training.
We reviewed our university culture survey and were able to compare our data to other colleges, to the university as a whole, and to the 2018 survey in our own college. There were several belief statements from this survey that shaped how we proceeded with the Poole Pack Development Series. In particular, in 2020, the belief that “At this institution, people are supportive of their colleagues, regardless of their heritage or background.” scored lower than in our 2018 survey. This gave us a clear indication that we needed to do substantially more work in this area. While we remained unchanged in many other statements surrounding our DEI practices, the college leadership decided that was not acceptable and charged us to be better. We identified an opportunity to innovate within the professional development offerings.
In 2019, our assistant dean of Finance and Administration initiated the creation of the Poole Pack Development Series that uses our own faculty and staff to provide professional development for all our employees. This program aligned with our strategic goal of creating a culture of constant improvement. Dean Frank Buckless indicates that, “Our goal with the Poole Pack Development Series is to provide relevant programs that allow our faculty and staff to grow and develop to ensure they can efficiently and effectively do their jobs.”
In 2020, we hired a director of diversity and created our DEI Committee. These critical moves allowed us to evaluate our culture and led us to determine that we needed a training program to increase our cultural competency through awareness building, skill building, and application. In the 2020-2021 academic year, we had 65 percent attendance in our programming. For the 2021-2022 academic year, the director of diversity and assistant dean of Finance combined efforts and created the Poole Pack Development Series certificate, which requires attendance at nine training sessions and participation in one reading group. The certificate is designed to ensure participants receive DEI training and professional development, and once completed, individuals receive recognition from the dean, a digital badge, a small token of appreciation, and recognition at our college’s annual awards ceremony. Our goal is to have 90 percent participation in events and have at least 12 members of the college complete the entire certificate program for this first year.
While our university offers one required DEI training, we recognized the need to elevate the awareness in our college community beyond that offered in a single training. The Poole Pack Development Series has allowed us to create safe, supportive, and open discussions with our faculty and staff on important issues such as race, gender, sexuality, food insecurity, and more.
By being purposeful in building awareness across our college, we are creating a culture of belonging for all members of our community while increasing awareness and understanding of these important issues. The series and supported reading groups also allow our faculty and staff to share ideas and ask questions in an open and safe environment that allows for individual and group growth. Having these honest conversations helps people feel valued and enables us to provide some new tools for their “toolbox” and help them develop professionally.
We have been purposeful in developing the curriculum for the series to provide opportunities for administrators to meet people where they are—no matter the topic. As our student body and wider community becomes increasingly diverse, these conversations enable all employees to fully understand the role that we play—collectively and individually—in creating a welcoming and inclusive college. Further, we believe that by enabling our employees to embrace belonging, it will help our students be more culturally aware, as well.