Workplace Culture

Diversity 101: How Mizzou Students Changed the Game and What Business Can Learn From It

By Joe Dixon

Nov. 10, 2015

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

By now, the protests over racism on campus at the University of Missouri have been plastered across the front pages of newspapers across the country and has dominated cable news tickers. Racial tensions peaked on Nov. 9 when Tim Wolfe, the president of the University of Missouri system, resigned. University of Missouri chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also announced he would resign at the end of the academic year and move to a new role within the university system.

As a former student, it’s disheartening to watch animosity run rampant through campus, but the months-long protesting underscores a vital idea: the need for an inclusive and diverse school and work environment. It wasn’t just the escalating protests that led to Wolfe and Loftin’s resignations. It was their fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of diversity and how people in power should deal with it.

Diversity is a hot-button political issue. Some say affirmative action policies, for instance, are unfair to nonminority candidates, and others say it is essential to leveling a field that many candidates don’t even get the opportunity to play on. Research shows that diversity has tangible benefits for institutions that actively work toward an inclusive environment. Companies with diverse workforces enjoy a 53 percent higher profit margin than those that don’t, according to a McKinsey & Co. study, and a recent Harvard Business Review study found that 45 percent of workers at companies that focus on diversity are likelier to “report a growth in the market share over the previous year.”

Concerned Student 1950, the Mizzou student protest group that spearheaded the call for Wolfe’s removal, issued a list of demands to the university’s board of curators aimed at increasing diversity and campus inclusivity that included, in addition to Wolfe’s removal from office, an increase of black faculty and staff to 10 percent campuswide by the 2017-18 school year; it’s currently at 3 percent.

There’s no doubt Wolfe and Loftin have acknowledged that racism exists on campus. But at an institution where 79 percent of undergraduate students are white and 75 percent of faculty is white, it takes more than words to change a culture of discrimination.

It is impossible to know someone else’s experience. No matter how educated, thoughtful or open-minded someone is, unless they belong to that specific minority, an individual cannot know what it is like to experience the biases, marginalization and judgment from the majority. It is the duty of leaders such as Wolfe and Loftin to promote and enhance minority voices because they must work harder to be heard. Sympathy is not enough.

By bringing on more minority faculty and staff, companies and institutions like Mizzou can make employees and students feel like they have an equal say in the conversations that affect them and that they’re not just adding a footnote.

Diversity doesn’t talk. It walks in our everyday conversations — in the looks we give strangers passing by and in the TV shows we watch. And it’s time to step in the right direction, so our society and every person in it can thrive together.

Joe Dixon is a Workforce editorial intern. To comment, email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.


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