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Inclusion Insights: Mid-American Conference

Lauren Ashman, senior associate athletics director at Bowling Green, presents at the Mid-American Conference Diversity and Inclusion Summit. Bowling Green State University photo

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.

The Genesis: Five years ago, Steinbrecher took a hard look at the conference’s hiring practices and tasked his schools with doing the same. The goal was not only to ensure the right individuals were hired, but also that inclusion was part of the conversation at every step. As this conversation continued, Steinbrecher also wondered if there was more that schools and conferences across the country could do with the race, ethnicity and gender data they received annually. At the time, it seemed as if athletics leaders at member schools would discuss the breakdown once or twice a year, then shelve it until they received fresh data the next year.

First Steps: The commissioner convened a working group, composed of athletics administrators, human resources professionals, university administrators and a couple of student-athletes, to consider how the MAC could do a better job of incorporating inclusion. And then, when the group made recommendations, the conference acted: It created minority internships in the conference office and at the schools, and a mentoring program that pairs junior and senior athletics administrators for career counseling and relationship development. The MAC also doubled down on efforts to maintain an alumni database as a place to turn for more diverse job candidates.

“What we know is that building a diverse pool of candidates rarely happens on its own,” Steinbrecher says. “You have to go out and seek out an array of people.”

The Culture Now: The MAC’s work did not lead to overnight culture change. But by prioritizing the efforts and baking inclusive practices into the conference’s work, the MAC is now a national leader in diversity and inclusion. From 2016 to 2018, three MAC schools in a row received the Award for Diversity and Inclusion, presented by the NCAA and the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association — a feat Steinbrecher attributes to “some very intentional efforts on those campuses.”


You Don’t Have To Have All the Answers

My Advice | By Kathy Twist | as told to Emily Weisman

Kathy Twist is the senior associate athletics director for sports administration and senior woman administrator at Buffalo, which received the 2018 Award for Diversity and Inclusion, given by the NCAA and the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association.

When I first began working with diversity and inclusion, I thought I was the initiator of new ideas. What was important for me to learn was to let the dialogue begin with my student-athletes. Instead of giving them facts and talking to them, I listened to what they were thinking and experiencing.

Interestingly, the population of student-athletes that we have today is the most diverse generation. They’re also a large population. I think the way to have them take the lead is to first build trust relationships as the foundation to introduce any new ideas.

Being a listener allowed them to explore and come up with solutions for diversity and inclusion that made sense to them. They decided the activities that would teach them more about diversity and inclusion. So, really, my responsibility was to listen and then to find ways to support their initiatives.