USING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET TO PROMOTE EQUITY AND DIVERSITY
MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER
The murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protest that followed led many colleges and universities to issue statements condemning racism and reaffirming their support of diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses. While these gestures helped address a sense of urgency for institutions to respond to these events, many have sought to hold leaders’ hands to the fire as they are challenged to create institutions that truly reflect statements that were made during this historic moment. With this in mind, leaders have begun to look to DEI practitioners to help them build campuses and communities that are truly just and equitable.
“The progress of the world will call for the best that all of us have to give.”
Mary McLeod Bethune
DEI work requires entrepreneurial leadership because the DEI practitioner is often asked to navigate new terrain and engage community, institutional, and organizational issues that other leaders have avoided. It is a complex work that requires practitioners to embrace uncertainty as they engage in these issues in creative and innovative ways. DEI practitioners must align his or her interest, passion, and capacities with the needs of those who have been most marginalized. This alignment allows the DEI practitioner to employ the entrepreneurial mindset as they employ resiliency, growth mindset, self-efficacy, and critical thinking to create entrepreneurial innovations in the forms of practices, polices, programs and pedagogies to accomplish their goals.
DEI practitioners are called upon to practice empathy and bring their whole selves into the work. This includes them bringing their emotional, imaginative, social, cultural, and spiritual selves into the work. For these practitioners, this work is about promoting the well-being of individuals and moving organizations towards wholeness and interconnectedness. They understand that they must participate in the holistic development of students, faculty, staff, and the communities they serve. Their work requires that they take the role of the other.
Chimamanda Ngozi | The Danger of a Single Story
TEDGlobal 2009 | July 2009
Postsecondary institutions, particularly community colleges, are well positioned to promote healing and reform and to build structures and systems that promote educational equity and economic inclusion. The access that community colleges provide along with their responsiveness to communities they serve is a great starting point. However, there is a greater level of intentionality required if community colleges are to make a greater impact on closing the economic and educational gap in historically underserved communities. There is much to learn from those DEI practitioners and leaders committed to this work.
The DEI practitioners and leaders I interviewed over the last few months embrace many social and cultural identities. They are Asian, Jamaican, male, female, Caucasian, and much more. They are entrepreneurs, educators, and makers. They provide great insights, wonderful lessons, and critical information to help us embrace this work on our campuses and in our communities.
DEI Practitioner and Leader Dr. Kim Freeze
Dr. Kim Freeze, the Dean of Science, Art, and Applied Technology at Rogue Community College, has a DEI practice and life’s work deeply rooted in spiritual practice, life experiences and empowered by the entrepreneurial mindset. Kim is a yoga instructor, former construction company owner and clinical psychologist who contends that the entrepreneurial mindset helped to save her life, and give it purpose. She is now committed to creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable spaces in her college and community that will allow those from historically underserved and marginalized groups to pursue healing and wholeness by learning to employ the entrepreneurial mindset.
When Kim started entrepreneurial work, she had struggled, completing a college education, dropping in and out of school. She grew up experiencing abuse and trauma from and early age and was diagnosed as being Bipolar II at the age of 20. She later learned that she suffered a comorbidity of mental health issues. She realized that many doctors only wanted to treat her with drugs. While they focused on treating the diagnosis with medications, Kim realized that she was more than these diagnoses. With mental health issues and diagnosis, comes a sense of shame, douby and feeling judged. Kim could see through the labeling and stereotyping that is often associated with mental health, and focused on the positive, it that she was fierce, resilient, creative and energetic. She was entrepreneurial.
Kim discovered a way through her business endeavors, the start-ups and even failures, to channel her energy in a healthy and innovative way. With a focus on channeling energy, even the negative low times, into something positive, goal-oriented and productive.
Kim now attributes her ability to heal, to her capacity to participate in entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship education and through employing the entrepreneurial mindset. She is now dedicated to creating organizations and communities that provide opportunities for health and wholeness to students who have been marginalized due to health status, race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors that have historically been used to exclude people.
Kim has pursued a deeper understanding of neuroscience, pychology of human behavior and creativity in her attempt to create communities of inclusion that allow students to bring their whole selves into the space. She has begun to write custom curriculum to serve diverse populations. Specifically, she has used the curricula to help those from historically underserved communities to utilize the entrepreneurial mindset to pursue healing. She believes real healing comes through human connection and that human connection needs diversity the coming together of people in a "safe," relaxed, inclusive space that fosters equity and innovation, supports diversity and honors diversity. This diversity, through goal-oriented behavior helps students to cultivate curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, agency and other factors necessary for entrepreneurial thinking and action.
DEI Practitioner and Leader Ms. Ji Mi Choi
Ji Mi Choi, Vice President of ASU Knowledge Enterprise, is a first generation college graduate whose family immigrated in the seventies. Ji Mi’s family is made up of entrepreneurs, artists, and creatives. Ji Mi’s family believed value was created by doing instead of just learning about things. Ji Mi often felt a tension between being an entrepreneur and taking the traditional academic pathway. This became increasingly more difficult when her father passed away at the beginning of her sophomore year in college. Ji Mi enjoyed both paths; she enjoyed the contextual, intellectual, deep study of the issues and at the same time being entrepreneurial. Ji Mi had her first job when she was really young. She managed to incorporate them both into an entrepreneurial perspective. She has been able to integrate both into all her different roles as she has risen through administrative ranks. Most of what she had the opportunity to work on is startups within higher education. She applied the entrepreneurial mindset to new ideas, projects, and initiatives.
Ji Mi has also applied entrepreneurial mindset to building innovative and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems in higher education. She approaches entrepreneurship and economic development from a humanized community development perspective. She looks beyond the metrics to the people at the center of it all. For Ji Mi, economic development is a means to community development. She acknowledges that thriving communities come around people that feel connected, secure, and feel like they have a place in society. She contends that there are complex psychosocial and socioeconomic dimensions that all need to be in concert for communities to thrive.
This human-centered economic approach informs Ji Mi’s DEI work. She believes a mistake that most organizations make is that they begin to pursue diversity before they begin to build an inclusive community. For example, organizations often focus on wanting an African American or Latino leader without thinking about or understanding and building foundations for belonging that people need to thrive in institutions. Ji Mi explains how oftentimes people invite her to participate on panels because they want a non-white female voice. She acknowledges that while it is necessary to have representation of multiple social and cultural identities she is often diminished and not embraced or celebrated for her entire lived experience.
The entrepreneurial mindset can be a source of healing that empowers us to do DEI work.
“I found that every time I helped an individual or created a business, I got healthier, happier, and inspired to do this work.”
Dr. Kim Freeze
Inclusive principles should be the beginning point for DEI work.
“I think if you begin with inclusive principles and follow with equitable practices that leads to diversity.”
Ji Mi Choi
We must include those that have been marginalized to design innovations that will help them succeed.
“The best way to find a solution is to involve those that we are trying to find a solution for.”
Bryan Stevenson | We Need to Talk About an Injustice
TED2012 | March 2012
Ji Mi has learned through her work that organizations must begin with inclusive principles and follow with equitable practices. She argues that when organizations create a sense of space and sense of belonging, we allow self-definition to happen without imposing what we think it must look like. This allows individuals to begin to see themselves as part of the community.
DEI Practitioner and Leader Rayon D. Brown
Rayon D. Brown is the Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion/CDO and Interim Vice President Student Services at Fox Valley Technical College. He is from a small town in Jamaica and is committed to servant leadership. When reflecting on his journey as an entrepreneurial leader in DEI he says that it is always important to begin with an end in mind. He also believes that a part of his role as a leader is to provide representation and to provide resources to those that require additional resources to be successful in whatever path they take. A major concept that guides Rayon’s work is John Powell’s concept of Targeted Universalism. Rayon has used this to lead others in setting universal goals with the understanding that one size does not fit all so some individuals and groups need more resources to reach those outcomes. He explains that different individuals have different foundations and what we need to do is find out what resources are needed to strengthen everyone’s foundations so they may have access to the resources they need to be self-sustainable.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, Rayon explains we might think one person requires one widget to be successful, but the other person might need two widgets and a little more time to get things done. It's not that the person who needs two widgets is incapable but based on their foundations they need a little more time and some added resources for them to do what they need to do. Rayon encourages leaders to look at historical structures that are in place and evaluate them to see if they are serving the purpose that they need to in current society and enhance or change them to give people the opportunity that they deserve for them to access all the services that they need so that they could live a full life. Essentially, we must reflect on what is working and who its working for. If it is not working for everyone in our community, we need to investigate what else we need to do to make sure what is working is working for all not just a small subset of individuals. According to Rayon, the best way to find a solution that is inclusive and equitable is to involve those individuals and groups we are trying to find a solution for in the process of creating the solution.
Looking for more? Take a listen to this curated collection from NACCE's own podcast, Making Our Way Forward. Like what you hear? Subscribe on your favorite platform!