The professional learning narratives of Chief Diversity Officers
Bryant, Robert George
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Chief Diversity Officers (CDO) are executives who are responsible for institutional diversity at colleges or universities in the U.S. Each CDO has a unique background, unique experiences and career path (Gose, 2006; Williams & Wade-Golden, 2007). Despite having a variety of academic backgrounds the knowledge that a CDO constructs while on the job is most important to their ability to be an effective diversity executive. Learning while on-the-job is the primary mode for learning given the absence of a degree or certification for diversity executives. The purpose of this study is to examine the professional learning of CDOs who work in higher education. Professional learning is framed using informal, incidental and experiential learning theories. Ten CDOs at large research universities were the participants who shared narratives about their professional learning. The narrative analysis data collection process was used to elicit detailed stories from participants. Each participant was interviewed up to one and one-half hours using a semi-structured interview. All 10 interviews were compared after reviewing each typed transcript individually. Constant comparative techniques guided the data analysis process. Four themes emerged from the data that include narrative about how CDOs: (a) master the intricacies of the CDO role in higher education; (b) develop an individualized learning plan based on context and needs; (c) implement learning based on individual and institutional factors; and (d) “move the needle,” on institutional diversity. Four conclusions were derived from this study. CDOs at large research universities: (a) are sensitized to diversity and social justice based on early life experiences; (b) are in contested and marginalized roles; (c) are purposeful about their professional learning; and (d) negotiate the university environment to advance diversity on campus.