Broadening Committees for Culture Change (Winter 2018)

When the Women & Gender Collaborative launched in spring of 2016, the initiative joined several other campus offices and programs that work on gender-related issues. In addition to connecting these Core Collaborators, the Women & Gender Collaborative has been developing strategies to fulfill its specific charge to improve the campus culture and climate around gender and make Colorado State University the best place for women to work and learn.

Improving the culture around gender is hard work, and it takes a critical mass to get things moving in a new direction. On an institutional level, this requires practical and concrete ways for a critical mass to work better together by understanding the challenges to overcome, articulating shared goals, and developing strategies to get us there.

To that end, the Women & Gender Collaborative is creating a structure to bring more people in as change makers.

A New Model for Culture Change through Committee Service

The Women & Gender Collaborative is introducing a model to help connect and inform campus-wide gender equity efforts, inspired by the unique institutional landscape of CSU. The Systems-Based Leadership Development through Service (SLDS) model operates on multiple levels to develop employees and foster culture change through committee service.

Key aspects of the model include:

  • Creating meaningful opportunities for leadership and professional development among employees who are passionate about gender equity
  • Elevating and including diverse and intersectional perspectives to gender equity work at CSU
  • Strategically charging committees to develop programs and recommendations that holistically and systemically support the University mission to improve the campus culture and climate around gender
  • Fostering inclusive committee cultures by establishing expectations of accountability, transparency, and mutual support among all committee members
  • Increasing consistency among multiple efforts to advance gender equity across campus by regularly connecting working groups, as well as communicating shared resources, information, and foreseen challenges

Another key element of this model is the emphasis on committee service, but that also creates some interesting challenges.

Research shows that women and people of color (particularly women of color) do more service work in higher education than their colleagues who are white men, often without commensurate respect, recognition, or reward. There are many studies that highlight this discrepancy and note how too much service can be a detriment to career advancement, especially among women faculty.

There are several ways to respond to this “service problem.”

The most popular recommendation is to encourage women to say ‘no’ to more service, but for those who are already underrepresented in their institution, service activities can be some of the only ways to ensure that your voice, concerns, and experiences are heard. This means invitations to serve on culture change efforts can simultaneously feel like a responsibility and burden.

One may feel responsible to speak to important issues, but the burden can be heavy when there are few others whose experience and expertise provide them with adequate understanding to effectively address these issues.

At worst, one can feel tokenized, that is, asked to be involved as a “representative” and provide input, but only in ways that are deemed acceptable to the powers that be. This amounts to being not fully heard, and rarely asked to help lead on the issues that one knows most intimately to realize genuine culture change.

Another option is to encourage more people to say ‘yes’ to internal service for the institution, especially among white men. We need and want more men to get involved, and this new model provides plenty of opportunities for men participate on these committees. That’s part of the plan, but it’s doesn’t solve everything.

Given challenges associated with service commitments, why would we ask people to join more committees? The answer is pretty simple: one can reap huge benefits through service, too.

The Good Sides of Service: Privilege and Opportunity, Principle and Means

Rather than turning away from service, the SLDS model seeks to make service a net gain by providing meaningful opportunities for employees to enrich their own development as they shape institutional culture through their service, which is recognized with supervisor support.

This is especially valuable given inherent privileges and benefits that come with service appointments, such as: networking and relationship-building across units; deepening understanding of institutional systems and how the University operates; developing strengths, passions, and areas of interest that may exceed current job responsibilities; improving skills in organization, communication, project management, and leadership.

Finally, service is included in our Principles of Community and is largely how we get things done. A well-functioning group can be an incredible catalyst for activating change, implementing new processes, and making real progress. Have you noticed shifts over time with respect to how we do things at CSU? A committee probably did that.

Committees for Culture Change and Changing the Culture of Committees

If we are serious about culture change, we need broad engagement from people across campus who can speak to the varied ways that gender informs our policies, practices, and systems. We also need to be intentional about engaging those who possess the will, passion, and commitment to embody the change we seek to make our institution more inclusive, equitable, accountable and transparent.

The Women & Gender Collaborative committees are charged with activities to make our institution more gender inclusive and equitable, including developing programs and recommendations that respond to needs of women of color, LGBTQ faculty and staff, and those with dependent care responsibilities. By focusing on issues that affect the most marginalized, we create an environment where everyone can succeed. Other committees address equity in awards and recognitions, promoting women’s leadership, and engaging men in culture change. To build cohesion, there will be regular retreats to connect the community of those involved, including the inaugural CSU Gender Summit next spring.

With that said, perhaps the most exciting goal of this model is to carve out corners within the University where things feel and function differently by changing the culture of the committees themselves.

The expectation is that all members and co-chairs will be invested in creating inclusive, accountable, and supportive working groups that develop committee members and advance gender equity through an intersectional approach to our policies, practices, and programs. With shared language, resources, goals, and expectations, these committees become spaces to foster a culture where feedback is generous, people are honest, everyone participates, and all voices are heard. As a result, service activities become highly rewarding, effective, and transformative for our employees and our institution.

Join our Efforts

If you are interested in serving on a committee and participating in the Systems-Based Leadership Development through Service model, fill out this form.

The University’s charge to improve our campus culture around gender presents each of us with the responsibility and challenge to become part of the effort to realize it. I extend my sincere gratitude to everyone who has been involved in pushing our institution forward with respect to gender thus far. None of this would be possible without you. To those who will respond to the call to get involved, thank you for adding your contribution to make deep change.


*A version of this appeared as a guest column on the SOURCE