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Creating an Inclusive Culture

How can athletics diversify its job candidate pools and place more women and ethnic minorities in leadership positions? According to the schools and conferences now seeing success, it all starts with a culture check.

The college sports community strives to champion student-athletes, helping them finish college and pursue their career goals. But athletics has long acknowledged a disparity between department leaders and the diverse college athlete population they work to serve: Student-athletes who hope to pursue a career in college sports often don’t see people who look like them in leadership roles.

Demographics of College Athletics
Title % Female % People of Color
Athletics Director 22% 15%
Head Coach 25% 15%
Student Athletes 44% 36%

The NCAA’s promise to improve diversity and inclusion in college sports is called the Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics. Created by the NCAA Board of Governors in 2016, the pledge encourages presidents, chancellors and conference commissioners to commit to achieving ethnic and racial diversity and gender equity in college sports hiring practices.

Signing the pledge, of course, doesn’t get the job done. The colleges, universities and athletics conferences recognized for their accomplishments on the diversity and inclusion front report their success didn’t begin with a significant hire or a diversified pool of job candidates. Instead, they started with something even bigger: robust conversations about how to incorporate inclusion into their institutions’ culture. Honest discussions about how their campus confronts issues surrounding race and sexuality. Comprehensive blueprints for inclusion that are baked into an athletics department’s strategy — and marry with the college or university’s approach.

“Committing to inclusion starts with examining your institution’s culture and thinking about whether you have an environment where anyone would feel welcomed and valued,” says Katrice Albert, NCAA executive vice president of inclusion and human resources. “Putting the culture piece front and center makes the most lasting impact.”

NCAA Members That Have Signed the Presidential Pledge

Division I, Division II, Division III

Diversity Pledge Summary
  Schools Conferences Total
    All Multi-Sport  
Division I 294 82.8% 35 68.6% 31 96.9% 329 81.2%
Division II 242 73.8% 24 96.0% 24 100.0% 266 75.6%
Division III 341 75.8% 43 64.2% 38 88.4% 384 74.8%
Total 878 78.3% 102 72.9% 93 93.9% 980 76.9%


Updated September 15, 2020

Inclusion Insights

The NCAA schools and conferences that have worked to make inclusion a centerpiece of their culture share advice for others hoping to follow their lead.

Mid-American Conference

Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher is filled with nothing but pride about the conference’s work in diversity and inclusion. From hiring practices to cultivating an inclusive culture on its member campuses, the MAC is trying to lead by example.

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Concordia Portland

A culture of inclusion has become an important element of a longtime partnership between Concordia Portland and the broader Portland, Oregon, community.

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University of Wisconsin-River Falls

At the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, diversity and inclusion programming has been organic from the start — “homegrown,” as Athletics Director Crystal Lanning calls it.

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Bowling Green

At Bowling Green, the student-athletes, administrators and coaches hold one another accountable to have difficult conversations that ensure inclusivity is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

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Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association

With 12 historically black colleges and universities in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams says, diversity and inclusion aren’t just initiatives — they are part of the conference’s DNA.

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Northern Illinois

You Can’t Build an Inclusive Culture Alone - Q&A with Sean Frazier.

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