7.4 Retention

Last updated on 2021/08/09 by Pamela Beth McLeod

Retention within an ERC includes retention of individuals whose participation contributes to the diversity of the ERC at all levels both within the partner institutions and across the ERC. DCI-focused strategies and considerations for retention vary based on the target audience (students, faculty, or staff); however, there are some essential components of retaining individuals whose participation contributes to the diversity of the ERC. These include:

  • Timely, strategic, and inclusive onboarding that introduces ERC norms and unwritten rules, fosters relationship building with peers and other ERC participants at varying levels, clearly communicates expectations, shares resources available through the ERC and ERC partner institutions, etc.

  • Structured and informal mentoring opportunities and training

  • Inclusive and value-adding practices at ERC reviews, IAB meetings, and retreats, which reinforce DCI-related retention

  • Clear and open communication and resource-sharing across the ERC, using tools such as newsletters, collaboration spaces (e.g., Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams), regular meetings, etc.

  • Fostering a culture of inclusion where all ERC participants feel welcomed, included, supported, seen, and heard while examining the impact of culture and climate within the departments and institutions that form the foundation of the ERC (see Section 7.5).

ERC participants whose background and experiences add to the diversity of the ERC can be influenced by different factors that affect their engagement and performance and that manifest both internally and externally. While DCI practices are becoming more responsive to how community members are supported within organizations, it is sometimes easy to focus solely on performance and overlook the challenges faced within our systems, institutions, and society. Overlooking, minimizing, or ignoring these factors and/or challenges can alienate and isolate ERC participants and lead to damaged relationships, poor retention, reduced productivity, and loss of institutional knowledge. A few examples are shared below:

  • Recognize the phenomenon known as ‘cultural taxation’ where participants from underrepresented groups are frequently asked to undertake extra, often uncompensated work to address DCI aspects of the center; ERC leadership can compensate participants for extra work and recognize disparities in requests for engagement.

  • Understand that local, regional, national or international events may unequally impact participants or their communities; ERC leadership may share ERC-wide messages reiterating ERC values centering on DCI or hold “town halls” for discussion while recognizing possible effects on individual ERC participants (e.g., Black Lives Matter movement, hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, wars or conflicts in foreign countries, etc.); specific, intentional, and authentic actions must follow messaging and discussions.

  • Recognize that bias, discrimination, and harassment are experienced and/or internalized differently by each individual; ERC leadership can directly address bias, discrimination, and harassment and foster a culture of inclusion within the ERC while also recognizing that external systems and structures may continue to affect ERC participants.

7.4.1 Retention of Students

Student retention at both the undergraduate and graduate level is a critical aspect of any institution of higher education, and this is no different for ERCs. DCI Directors, in collaboration with EWD and education leads, play an important student affairs role in monitoring and supporting student progress towards the degree, engagement in ERC activities, sense of belonging, and other factors that influence retention both within partner institutions and the ERC.

In addition to the onboarding, mentoring, communications, and DCI components listed previously, activities that contribute to the retention of students that increase diversity at all levels of the ERC include:

  • Structured and informal peer mentoring and faculty mentoring opportunities and training; resources include:

  • Regular and inclusive interaction with ERC faculty and leadership fostered by open door policies, regularly scheduled office hours, networking events or socials, etc.

  • Awareness of changes in individual, small group, or ERC-wide student engagement or retention where check-ins on student perspectives, experiences, and needs may be necessary

  • Peer-led networking and social events to foster relationships across the ERC

  • Focus groups with students at each partner institution led by the DCI Director or external evaluator on an annual basis to allow students the opportunity to elaborate upon climate survey questions, discuss DCI challenges or opportunities, share feedback on ERC activities, and/or provide input on future ERC directions

  • Workshops, professional development, and resources incorporating the student voice in the planning and dynamically adjusting based on community needs (e.g., mental health and wellbeing support during the COVID-19 pandemic).

Specific examples of retention-focused activities within ERCs include:

  • PATHS-UP offers a Diversity Mentoring Program to all team members, with flexibility for students to choose mentors at any PATHS-UP partner institution.

  • NASCENT incorporates DCI-related icebreakers into graduate student orientation in order to help build relationships among students and to celebrate the diversity across the ERC.

  • NEWT, CBBG, and PATHS-UP offer an anonymous reporting system where students can report their concerns without fear of repercussions.

7.4.2 Retention of Faculty

While DCI Directors should be aware of faculty retention considerations, implementation of retention-focused activities will likely rely on ERC leadership, partner institution leadership, and research faculty.

In addition to the onboarding, mentoring, communication, and culture of inclusion components listed previously, other activities that contribute to the retention of faculty who augment the ERC’s diversity include:

  • Providing a formal mentoring program for new ERC faculty, with particular emphasis on supporting new faculty whose identity characteristics place them in historically marginalized groups

  • Supporting ERC faculty with mentoring and professional development for NSF CAREER award and other grant preparation

  • Mentoring junior ERC faculty who must balance individual research accomplishments required for tenure with the collaborative research characteristic of ERCs

  • Fostering professional relationships between ERC faculty within and across partner institutions that may result in collaborative grant-writing efforts

  • Encouraging ERC and partner institution leadership to build robust counteroffers for high-performing faculty.

7.4.3 Staff

ERC staff provide an important foundation and source of continuity of ERC and institutional policies, practices, and culture over the lifespan of the ERC. It is important that ERC faculty leadership establish strong and empowering relationships with all staff and ensure that those in leadership positions within ERCs regularly demonstrate how they value the people filling staff positions. Care must be taken not to establish practices that overburden staff—especially people whose identity characteristics place them in historically marginalized groups—as they often find themselves being drawn upon by multiple ERC constituents who all view their needs as high priority.

In addition to the onboarding, mentoring, communication, and DCI components listed previously, other activities that contribute to the retention of staff that contribute to the ERC’s diversity include:

  • Connecting staff with their counterparts at other ERCs and supporting peer-mentoring and professional development

  • Seeking input from staff, recognizing that staff are professionals in their specific vocations, with expertise that contributes to the success of the ERC

  • Including staff in decision-making that can affect them and their responsibilities

  • Working with institutional DCI leadership to maximize career advancement opportunities within the ERC so that diverse talent can be retained.