Diversity: An Essential Asset for Ferrum College

Administration March 2024 PREMIUM

Diversity, encompassing both traditional demographics and acquired traits, is a crucial asset for organizations like Ferrum College. It fosters innovation, supports growth, and prepares students for an interconnected world, making it essential for educational institutions and national success.

The Strategic Value of “Two-Dimensional Diversity”

In an article in the Harvard Business Review several years ago, Hewitt, Marshall, and Sheldon of the Center for Talent Innovation identified what they coined “two-dimensional diversity.” 

The first dimension incorporates the traditional traits associated with diversity - inherited traits such as gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Their study went on to identify a second dimension of diversity they called “acquired diversity.” 

Acquired diversity includes traits gained from experience - things you learn from your career, studies, or living circumstances. Hewitt, Marshall, and Sheldon found that  organizations that possess more than one dimension of diversity outperformed and out-innovated those that did not. 

Global entrepreneur Richard Branson says his companies intentionally employ people with different backgrounds, viewpoints, skills and personalities. According to Branson, the results are “teams that can spot opportunities, anticipate problems, and innovate solutions.” 

Unfortunately, many in higher education still view diversity as an imposed cost of doing business in a politically correct world. 

This needs to change. Diversity must be seen as a valuable strategic asset, a competitive advantage, and a growth enabler.  

Let me give you an example from the business world of what this change can mean. 

Thirty years ago, many business leaders viewed Information Technology (IT) as a cost of doing business, contributing little or nothing to overall performance. Fast forward to today - IT is indispensable to our growth and success across all industries, including higher education. 

We do not have thirty years to change our view of diversity. We all must embrace diversity now as an imperative for operational success. We must capitalize on the advantages of diversity to develop innovative solutions, drive growth, and provide programs and services that exceed our students’ and our clients’ expectations. We need to use diversity to increase our measurable enrollment, retention, and career placement outcomes. In short, we need to leverage diversity in all its dimensions to “up our game,” because diversity is all about driving and achieving excellence.  

Diversity as a Driver of Excellence at Ferrum College

According to Gallup-Workhuman, HR leaders report that over 80 percent of businesses have implemented strategic plans to increase dimensions of diversity in their workforce. At Ferrum College, we have also done the same. Diversity is integrated into our forward-thinking, industry-ready way of life. Now, we’re adding a new component – world engaged.  

To fulfill our brand promise to Ferrum College students, we must reflect the diversity of today’s interconnected world. We must recruit and retain the best individuals from the broadest possible talent base – the globe. We need to employ creative thinkers as diverse as our international reach. We must use them  holistically to support, engage, retain, and graduate our students. 

With the impending demographic cliff, higher education is looking for engaged students. They are critical to Ferrum College, other institutions’ and  the industry’s growth. We must seek them domestically and internationally - for our future, and our nation’s success. 

Historically, diversity has been measured in one-dimensional demographics – the numbers of people of differing ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. At Ferrum College, we have also learned diversity measured solely by demographics has limits and does not guarantee inclusion.  

We have learned that two-dimensional diversity is the diversity we need - it allows us to build an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that differentiates us and creates the best programs and services  worldwide. 

No homogenous talent pool can be truly innovative. A commitment to diversity is essential and it must start at the highest level. Part of my job at Ferrum College is to be a role model and to show how important diversity is to the success of our mission. 

For example, to meet the needs of students with  ability, intellect, drive, and financial needs, we launched the Panther Promise – which provides free tuition to attend Ferrum College for qualifying Virginia residents. We also created additional out-of-state grants for students who wish to make Ferrum College home. Additionally, we affirmed our mission as the “College of Opportunity” by lowering 2024 tuition by $10,000. Ferrum College is committed to educating the next generation of leaders superbly, proudly, and affordably.  

Ferrum College continues cultivating a culture where everyone is heard, and it is safe to propose new ideas, give team members decision-making authority, share credit for success, give actionable feedback, and implement change. That is why Ferrum College will succeed - because diversity is part of the fabric of our institution.

Promising Prospects to Encourage more Inclusive Opportunities

The imperative to create more inclusive opportunities and innovative programs has never been greater. 

As we look to the future, we need broad diversity to connect naturally to the new faces of America. USA Today’s study of Diversity Index (a measure of the likelihood the person you randomly meet will be of another race/ethnicity) jumped from 20 out of 100 in 1960 to 70 out of 100 by 2060. In other words, more than 2 out 3 people you randomly meet on the street will not be Caucasian. 

Georgetown University Center for Education projections suggest the economy will create 55 million new job openings over the next decade, and 65 percent (37 million) of these new job vacancies will require some postsecondary education and training.  Diversity is the key to increasing the number of Americans seeking the necessary degrees and training.  

It is critical to our nation’s success we attract, engage, educate, and graduate all the bright minds of this country across the broadest possible spectrum of ethnicity, gender, and experiences. 

Only through education will we protect, promote and provide the American Dream to the next generation of leaders. Without diversity in higher education, there will be a void of leadership in our nation like we’ve never seen before.  

My colleagues and I at Ferrum College will continue doing everything we can to promote the pursuit of happiness and excellence through education. I invite you to join us in this quest.

Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways homogeneity simply cannot.

Last spring, I raised an important question at Ferrum College, “Why place such an emphasis on diversifying Ferrum College - a college in the middle of Virginia?” I answered this way: 

Are there any commodities more global than food? Any industries more international than agriculture or healthcare? Are there any communities that would benefit more from worldwide connections that will expand opportunities and create jobs? From injections of new creative ideas and talented human capital? From experiences that will change the way our children view the world and the way they view themselves? So, why not capitalize on diversity, in rural Virginia?

We must see diversity as an imperative - the essential ingredient for innovation and growth. 

For Ferrum College, diversity is no longer a "nice to have" addition, or business obligation. It is an invaluable, indispensable ingredient for our future. 

Diversity affords Ferrum College the ability to achieve our dreams; it affords individuals the ability to break the glass ceiling of the status quo– why? Because diversity inspires others and transforms lives.

This is what we teach our students. The value of diversity is one of the great lessons you take with you when you earn a college education from Ferrum College.

In the end, it will only be through a college education that we will change the narrative from sí, se puede to sí se pudo (yes, we can to yes, we did it). 


About the author

A native of Havana, Cuba, and an immigrant to the United States, Dr. Martin is the 13th President and Professor of Business Administration of Ferrum College. She holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and political science from Duke University; a MBA from the University of Richmond; and a Doctorate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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