Harvard University Taps Isaacson, Miller to Find Chief Diversity Officer

The chief diversity & inclusion officer, a new position for Harvard, will play a crucial role in fostering an environment of belonging for the oldest college in America.

December 3, 2019 – The role of chief diversity officer is expanding at universities across the country. It has, in fact, 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.

Harvard University, the oldest college in the U.S., just retained Isaacson, Miller to find a chief diversity and inclusion officer. This is a new position for the school. Partners Keight Tucker Kennedy and Ponneh Varho are leading the search along with senior associate Sonia Gomez.

In the spring of this year, Harvard deployed a pilot “Pulse” Inclusion and Belonging survey as the first-ever, campus-wide survey that included over 20,000 members of the Harvard community — students, staff, faculty and academic personnel — to measure and understand inclusion and belonging. The results of the survey are intended to help the university realize a culture of sustainable inclusive excellence by providing those working on inclusion and belonging with the data to supplement and further refine strategic planning efforts.

The CDIO will be tasked with developing and managing the Harvard University diversity, inclusion and belonging dashboard, including those metrics to communicate university-level progress toward inclusive excellence. The CDIO will work closely with the senior advisor and strategist to the president to lead, coordinate, enhance and guide efforts to create and sustain an environment of inclusive excellence at Harvard.

Isaacson, Miller said that the successful candidate will also work to shape and launch Harvard University’s strategic plan for diversity, inclusion and belonging, and establish a sustainable infrastructure for leading and managing the many strands of work required to achieve a culture of inclusive excellence. The chief diversity and inclusion officer will be expected to bring subject matter expertise on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion to Harvard. Accordingly, the individual will be expected to provide content knowledge and data along with a demonstrated track record of success in this arena to the diversity, inclusion and belonging team and key stakeholders across campus.


Greenwood/Asher Seeks Chief Diversity Officer for University of Delaware

Greenwood/Asher & Associates, a Miramar Beach, FL-based executive recruitment firm, has been enlisted to find a chief diversity officer for the University of Delaware. Jan Greenwood, president of the firm, and Marion Frenche, practice leader for diversity, equity and inclusion, are leading the assignment. The University of Delaware wants a seasoned academic administrator to provide innovative, progressive leadership, said Greenwood/Asher & Associates. 


“The ideal CDIO candidate will be a thought leader and subject matter expert to serve as a trusted advisor and implementer on issues of diversity, inclusion, and belonging across the university,” the search firm said. “They will collaborate with stakeholders and partners across campus to develop and implement a diversity, inclusion and belonging strategic plan, build and sustain a robust network of practitioners and stakeholders, and assemble and maintain systems to measure, evaluate and assess impact of diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives.”

The ideal candidate will have significant experience developing and advancing diversity and inclusion programs coupled with in‐depth knowledge of theory, research and practice related to serving and leading a diverse group of constituents (including staff, students, faculty, academic personnel, and alumni) in a complex, decentralized environment, said Isaacson, Miller. “The successful candidate will hold an advanced degree with a minimum of 15 years of relevant experience and a minimum of five years in a leadership role as well as significant experience as a diversity and inclusion practitioner,” said the search firm.

Candidates from outside of higher education with relevant, transferable skills will be considered and are encouraged to apply.

Related: Spelman Johnson Leads Search for Diversity Officer at Saint Joseph’s University

Since its founding in 1636, Harvard has focused on excellence in teaching, learning and research, creating knowledge and developing global leaders across a breadth of disciplines. The university has 12 degree-granting schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The university enrolls over 20,000 degree-seeking candidates, including undergraduate, graduate and professional students, and counts more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

Searching for Academic Leaders

A nationally recognized search firm focused on recruiting transformational leaders for mission-driven organizations, Isaacson, Miller has conducted thousands of placements over more than three decades. More than half of the firm’s work has been in academia, involving university presidents, college chancellors and deans. The firm has filled top leadership posts at Wellesley College, Washington State University, Miami University, Howard University, Bowdoin College, Dartmouth, NYU, Virginia State University and the University of North Carolina, among others. Mr. Isaacson founded Isaacson, Miller in 1982.


Witt/Kieffer Recruits First Chief Diversity Officer for Emory University
Witt/Kieffer has 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. “Carol Henderson is a widely recognized leader in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in academia, and in communicating a deeper understanding of what it means to embrace these values,” said Emory University president Claire E. Sterk. 


A member of Isaacson, Miller’s team since 2014, Ms. Tucker Kennedy brings diverse experience in non-profit and higher education organizations to her practice. She has worked on several presidential searches, including those for Spelman College, Hamilton College, Converse College, Duke University, Johnson C. Smith University and Elizabeth City State University. Additionally, Ms. Tucker Kennedy has played a key role on several student affairs searches for Ohio State University, Washington University in St. Louis, Princeton, MIT and Cornell. As a search consultant, she has worked with historically black colleges and universities, women’s colleges, and K-12 education and advocacy organizations.

Related: Bridge Partners Finds Chief Diversity Officer for Gallaudet University

Ms. Varho is a member of the executive committee at Isaacson, Miller and the leader of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. Since joining the firm in 2007, she has built a strong higher education practice, having completed more than 100 searches for presidents, provosts, deans, and a broad range of functional leaders. Her searches often result in strong client affinity relationships and she frequently works with her presidential placements to build out their leadership teams. Ms. Varho has conducted presidential searches for institutions including Bowdoin College; Spelman College; Vassar College; Wellesley College; and her alma mater, the University of Virginia. She has long been a champion of diversity and inclusion and, in addition to her client work in this area, Ms. Varho co-chairs the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiative.

Ms. Gomez joined Isaacson, Miller this past April. Prior to joining the firm, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, where she researched and wrote on issues related to immigration in the U.S. and also served as part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seminar on migration and the humanities. While obtaining her doctorate at the University of Chicago, Ms. Gomez worked on graduate diversity and equity initiatives in the office of the provost. In this role, she led organizing efforts in support of graduate students of color.

Related: Recruiting and Retaining Your Next 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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