Witt/Kieffer Tapped by Syracuse University to Find Chief Diversity Officer

Organizations that employ diverse talent innovate faster and see better business results. Syracuse University, with a historical commitment to diversity and inclusion that dates back to 1870, is well aware of this. The school recently added the chief diversity officer role to its administrative staff and turned to Witt/Kieffer to find a new leader.

February 27, 2019 – Diversity and inclusion are increasingly being recognized as key factors in the success of any organization, and institutions of all types are lining up to bring highly sought-after diversity heads on board. Witt/Kieffer was recently retained by Syracuse University to lead its search for a new chief diversity officer. Consultant Charlene Aguilar and associate Christine Pendleton are leading the assignment.

“This new position will help us continue to focus on and broaden our initiatives to create a more welcoming and diverse community,” said Kent Syverud, chancellor. “The chief diversity officer will help guide us there and bring us together in our shared work across campus.”

The search firm seeks an experienced diversity leader who will accentuate Syracuse University’s commitment to access, opportunity and inclusion. A central tenet of the university is to provide an education informed by multiple points of view, life experiences, ability, ethnicities, cultures, and belief systems, and undergirded by a shared commitment to excellence, said Witt/ Kieffer.

The chief diversity officer will provide executive leadership, oversight and vision in the administration of a range of services, programs, policies and procedures for faculty, staff, students and administrators related to advancing the institution’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, said the search firm. The individual will be expected to develop a clear vision of diversity and inclusion for the campus that addresses intersectionalities, create a sustainable infrastructure around current diversity and inclusion initiatives, develop and implement a university-wide strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, and establish a system of accountability using data and reporting.


Successful candidates should have a minimum of five years of experience as a senior-level leader in a higher education institution or equivalent field. “Candidates should possess a demonstrated track record of successfully engaging with faculty, staff, students and the community on issues of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility,” said Witt/Kieffer. “Candidates who have scholarly credentials that would merit a faculty appointment in one of the university’s colleges or schools will be at marked advantage.”

In addition, Witt/Kieffer notes that candidates should demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Ability to build trusting and mutually respectful relationships with students, administrators, faculty and staff as well as the greater Syracuse community.
  • Visionary leadership with an entrepreneurial approach to program development and implementation of an operational plan while establishing dynamic relationships with students, faculty, university staff and community leaders.

Diversity Recruiting: Supply, Demand and the Matchmaking Process  

Hunt Scanlon Media recently released its latest issue of ESR. This time around, an in-depth look at diversity recruiting – what drives it, why it’s not a social crusade, and how it matters in every workplace. According to the newsletter, diversity starts at the top – and that oftentimes means it begins in the boardroom. Diverse boards make better decisions and lead to improved company performance. But boards are failing to reflect society as a whole. What’s the problem? Hunt Scanlon Media offers some answers.

As you might expect, building cultures that will not tolerate discrimination but instead promote diversity – and recruiting talent that reflects this – is the challenge facing every recruiter and talent acquisition leader today. The #MeToo movement is, of course, leaving its mark on recruiting – and in this issue that is examined as well. Five incoming chief diversity officers making a big difference by putting a special emphasis on diversity are also highlighted. Get the free issue now!

  • Exceptional communication skills and facility in understanding a wide variety of constituent groups.
  • Proven results in fostering an inclusive, diverse environment.
  • Creativity, resourcefulness, resiliency, trustworthiness, diplomacy and a sense of humor.

Top School for Diversity

Syracuse University has a long, historical commitment to diversity and inclusion that dates back to 1870 when it opened its campus to women. The school recently received a four out of five star ranking for LGBTQ inclusion by the Campus Pride organization, making it a “Premier Campus” for LGBTQ inclusion. Syracuse also has had a longstanding and leading commitment to disability as an element of the diversity of the human experience for students, faculty, staff and the community.

Last year, Syracuse appointed Keith A. Alford to the post of interim chief diversity officer. Mr. Alford is an associate professor and chair of the Falk College’s School of Social Work.

Related: Search Firms Step Up Diversity Recruiting Initiatives

“We are fortunate as a leading university to have several initiatives already in place that are working toward greater appreciation of diversity and inclusion on multiple levels,” Mr. Alford said. “Progress is happening right now. However, we must remain vigilant and steadfast in our introspective efforts, individually and collectively, so that the lived experience of every member of Syracuse is respected and embraced.”

“Deeper understanding is needed,” he said. “We will build on our strengths and engage in the critical work ahead, remembering that dignity and worth of humankind are cornerstones for positive coexistence.”

Syracuse is a private, co-educational research institution with a strong tradition of providing an environment in which students from diverse backgrounds come together. Over 21,000 students are enrolled in nationally ranked undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in the university’s 13 schools and colleges.

Veteran Consultants

Witt/Kieffer has been an advisor to hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers, universities, physician groups and other healthcare enterprises for more than 45 years. With over 100 expert search professionals nationwide, its consultants recruit CEOs, CFOs, COOs, physician executives and many other leaders.

Related: Recruiters Up Their Game in Diversity

Based in South Bend, IN, Ms. Aguilar works within Witt/Kieffer’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. But diversity chiefs cannot succeed on their own, as a report from Witt/Kieffer makes abundantly clear.

Ms. Pendleton, who works out of Witt/Kieffer’s Oak Brook, IL 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 the director of its community fund.

Commitment to Diversity

Diversity and inclusion is integral to Witt/Kieffer’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 Witt/Kieffer’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.

Witt/Kieffer 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,” Witt/Kieffer 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: Key Activities to Drive Diversity and Inclusion Strategies

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

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