Sandra Healy is Head of Diversity at Dublin City University, and the Director of the University’s recently launched Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion. We spoke with Sandra about the role academia can have in driving change towards more diversity and inclusion in the corporate world.
JL: Sandra, after over ten years in the telecom industry working with D&I on a voluntary basis, you moved to lead D&I strategy at Dublin City University. Quite rapidly, you found yourself connecting private sector organizations and academics. Could you tell us about that?
SH: Yes, when I moved into DCU I started tapping into the academic expertise within the University to help solve some of the D&I challenges for the University. At the same time private organizations also came to me looking for support.
So I approached Professor Brian MacCraith, President of the University and said, "I think there's an opportunity here for us to formalize what we're doing". And that's what we did: we created the Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion. We launched the Centre on 21st June 2018 and we are working through the set because we have no template, a Centre such as this doesn't exist anywhere else.
JL: What is the objective of the Centre of Excellence?
SH: The Centre of Excellence provides a formal way for enterprises and industry organizations to connect with academic experts across all the different topics of diversity and inclusion. We describe the work as ‘research in action’.
We have expertise around diversity and inclusion across all different disciplines within the University, everything from our academic lawyers in the School of Law and Government to our psychology experts in the School of Human Sciences. And we have organizational psychologists within the Business School.
JL: How do you collaborate with companies?
SH: As one example, we help organizations scope out a topic that they want to explore and apply within their own business. In one ongoing project, we're looking at self-identification around hidden disabilities. The question we want to answer is “How can you encourage and create an inclusive work environment where people feel comfortable to disclose around neurodiversity and hidden disabilities?”
"...we're looking at self-identification around hidden disabilities. The question we want to answer is “How can you encourage and create an inclusive work environment where people feel comfortable to disclose around neurodiversity and hidden disabilities?”
JL: What kind of output does the research typically lead to?
SH: At the moment we're conducting the research with 50 different organizations and look at questions like “How do they collect the data?”, “What do they do when they have collected the data?” and “How do they support people in their organization who have disclosed?” We take a toolkit approach and create case studies, practice documents, examples of policy documents and do's and don'ts around the hiring for hiring managers. We also produce material around the language of inclusion. So how can you encourage people right the way through from applying for a job, how can you encourage them to disclose that they may need additional support? How can you encourage them to disclose and make sure that they're supported within the organization?
JL: Is the output also available to organizations not participating in the research?
SH: That is the intention. We plan to build a membership community within the Centre. And one of our membership groups consists of our industry partners. We plan to build a community where we're able to share best practices across members. The Centre of Excellence is a nonprofit centre, so everything will go back into research and building out the capability of the Centre. So that's really important to us and that's the ethos with which we operate. Our purpose statement is “Transforming Lives and Societies through Diversity and Inclusion”.
JL: You mentioned that there isn’t a similar centre working across academia and private sector organizations in Ireland. How will the Centre of Excellence impact the D&I landscape in Ireland?
SH: Yes, it is true. In our research we couldn't find a similar centre anywhere really working in this particular way with industry. In my view, diversity and inclusion expertise has to be grounded in research. When you work for creating change towards more inclusion it is really important to have the academic understanding around this topic. So our intention with the Centre really is to accelerate the pace of change and the adoption of diversity and inclusion in Ireland.
JL: We have talked a lot about the Centre of Excellence, and I want to ask a question about your career in general. What is the achievement in your work that you are most proud of?
SH: Well, together with one of the academics in the University, we have come up with a new way to measure diversity and inclusion using technology and psychology. We received funding for this project from Enterprise Ireland. They recognized that this is very unique. Both the technology and the approach are very unique. We have been working on this for three years, and now we are actively building the technical platform.
JL: When are we going to be able to see results or an example of this technology in action?
SH: All I can say is, watch this space within the next twelve months. This is a very exciting project, and we do look forward to spreading the results. We are building and testing the tool in Ireland, but the objective is to take it to other countries. We will localize it and make it relevant elsewhere as well.