University of Alaska Anchorage and UConn Tap WittKieffer to Find Chief Diversity Officers

As diversity, equity and inclusion become central to the mission of an increasing number of universities across the country, WittKieffer is playing a critical part in finding the right people to fill the CDO role. UConn and UAA have high expectations for the jobholder, and from the search firm. Let’s go inside the searches!

February 12, 2020 – The role of chief diversity officer is expanding at universities. It has become one of the most important positions for shaping the vision, culture and very face of institutions of higher learning from coast to coast. It is also increasingly becoming a cabinet-level job, with a broad range of responsibilities beyond that of most administrators. So it is that executive search firms have become valuable partners to colleges in finding the right talent for the role.

Recently, both the University of Connecticut (UConn) and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) called in WittKieffer to help find chief diversity officers.

Leading the UConn assignment are consultant Charlene Aguilar and associate Christine Pendleton.

Established in 1881, UConn is one of the top public research universities in the nation, with more than 30,000 students. The school offers upwards of 100 majors, eight undergraduate degrees, 17 graduate degrees and five professional degree programs.

UConn is seeking someone with a documented history of successfully developing and advancing diversity and inclusion programs in a matrixed organization coupled with in-depth knowledge of theory and practice, said WittKieffer. The school wants a strategic leader, thought partner and implementer who will connect the dots between diversity and inclusion efforts across the university.

This is an opportunity for an experienced diversity leader to join an institution that has been on an impressive trajectory, said WittKieffer. Early in his or her tenure, the chief diversity officer will develop a comprehensive university-wide strategic diversity and inclusion plan; develop training programs for faculty, staff and students; review and assess the impact and effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs; and serve as a leader on the campuses, in the media and throughout the State of Connecticut.

Inaugural Diversity Officer

The University of Alaska Anchorage is the state’s largest post-secondary institution. It is comprised of the Anchorage campus located in the heart of Alaska’s largest city, as well as Kenai Peninsula College, Matanuska Susitna College, Kodiak College and Prince William Sound College.


WittKieffer Recruits First Chief Diversity Officer for Emory University
WittKieffer placed Carol E. Henderson as vice provost for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and advisor to the president at Emory University. Consultants Oliver B. Tomlin and Jennifer G. Bauer led the search. Ms. Henderson will join Emory from the University of Delaware, where she has served as vice provost for diversity since 2014.


Alaska has a rich multi-cultural base, which is reflected in the university’s student body. It also recognizes and values the diversity of its unique location on the ancestral homelands of the Dena’ina Athabascan, Ahtna Athabascan, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and Eyak people, and the amazing cultural traditions are reflected in the curriculum.

From this foundation, UAA’s new CDO will be expected to construct a comprehensive and integrated framework for diversity, equity and inclusion, said WittKieffer. Much of the job will entail synchronizing and leveraging current efforts and initiatives and introducing emerging practices to move the school forward to create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment where all are treated with respect.

Ms. Aguilar is also leading this assignment along with consultant Shelley Arakawa and senior associate Alejandra Gillette-Teran.

UAA wants candidates that are experts on diversity, equity and inclusion issues who are also adept at developing relationships with all stakeholders and forging connections. “Experience in establishing a strategic vision, sparking and sustaining cultural change, and harnessing data to motivate people to reach goals and hold the institution accountable for progress are core to this leadership,” the search firm said.

Veteran Consultants

WittKieffer, based in Oak Brook, IL, assists hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers, medical schools and physician groups; biotech, pharmaceutical, diagnostics and medical device companies; colleges and universities and not-for-profit community service and cultural organizations with senior administrative recruiting assignments. With more than 100 search professionals nationwide, its consultants recruit CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CNOs, physician executives and other leaders.

Related: Recruiters Up Their Game in Diversity

Based in South Bend, IN, Ms. Aguilar works in WittKieffer’s education practice. With over 30 years of experience, she conducts leadership searches for college and university presidents, chancellors, provosts and deans, in addition to key positions in advancement, academic and student affairs, enrollment and admissions. She also has knowledge and experience on diversity and inclusion initiatives across the spectrum of independent secondary schools along with public and non-profit enterprises.


Here’s the Single Biggest Challenge Facing Diversity Leaders
Those who step into a new job as chief diversity officer tend to carry a heavy load. Theirs is an increasingly vital role. The challenges they face are complex and the demands of the position are many, with pressure coming from all sides. Naturally, institutions want strong, well-versed leaders in this area. 


Ms. Pendleton, who works out of WittKieffer’s Oak Brook office, joined the firm in 2014. She works to identify presidents, chancellors, provosts, vice presidents, deans and chief diversity officers on behalf of public and private universities and colleges and other senior leaders in non-profit organizations. She is a member of the firm’s diversity council and director of its community fund.

Ms. Gillette-Teran, who is based in Los Angeles, believes in being approachable and available to both candidates and clients. Her goal is to thoughtfully identify leaders who truly connect with the missions of their institutions and find lasting success in their roles.

Related: Academic Career & Executive Search Seeking Chief Diversity Officer for University of Pittsburgh

Ms. Arakawa, also located in Los Angeles, is a change agent with a passion for strengthening access and excellence in education. In her executive search work, she brings an appreciation for the role that leaders play in transforming institutions and contributing to the larger society. Ms. Arakawa provides counsel and guidance on searches ranging from presidents and provosts to vice presidents and deans.

Commitment to Diversity

Diversity and inclusion is integral to WittKieffer’s culture and mission. The firm’s commitment to diversity began decades ago with its efforts to support diversity in the ranks of its client partners’ senior management teams. “We believe that a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion is critical to the success of both our firm and our client partners,” Witt/Kieffer said.

The majority of WittKieffer’s workforce is women, and of its 30 partners, almost half, or 13, are women. Many serve in leadership and governance roles, including the vice chair of the board, chief financial officer, chief knowledge officer, chief human resources officer, the head of the U.S. operational committee and the head of the international operating committee.

WittKieffer has a long track record of helping clients build pools of highly qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds. The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times and Hunt Scanlon Media’s Executive Search Review have cited the firm for its diversity efforts. ”We encourage solution-oriented discussions with our clients about diversity and inclusion and support a broad view of diversity,” WittKieffer said. “We assist our clients in building diverse pools of accomplished candidates through a network of relationships built on trust earned over many years.”

Related: Harvard University Taps Isaacson, Miller to Find Chief Diversity Officer

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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