Culture Shift

New Senior VP Debra Pérez is charged with ramping up inclusion and equity at Simmons.

Debra Pérez, Simmons’ senior vice president of organizational culture, inclusion and equity, has jumped right in since arriving September 4, starting with her overarching goal.

“I aspire to make Simmons University the most inclusive campus in New England,” says Pérez. That ambition aligns with a key goal in the University’s 2022 Strategic Plan, which Pérez’ office is charged with translating into action: “Foster a diverse, welcoming and inclusive community.” This includes developing and maintaining equitable practices and policies across campus and in the online community.

“To be inclusive of the entire community, Simmons University must be intentional and create opportunities for the just and fair inclusion of all its constituents,” explains Pérez. “A healthy organization and culture is one that constantly challenges itself to learn from its experiences and be better.”

“I aspire to make Simmons University the most inclusive campus in New England.”Senior Vice President of Organizational Culture, Inclusion and Equity Debra Pérez

She is quick to point out that creating such a culture requires a community-wide effort, and involves building on progress that’s been made over the years. “Through the diligent efforts of countless passionate students, staff, faculty and alumnae, we are doing better,” says Pérez.  But she emphasizes that more work is necessary. She and her team have already begun conducting focus groups with students, staff and faculty to advance the University’s vision for the future.

“We are focused on who we are, how we live and work and who we are becoming,” she explains. “Inclusive excellence will continue to be the framework for how we build our teams, how we collaborate across divisions and departments, how we shape our curriculum and pedagogy and how we share ideas and perspectives.”

On the Agenda: Inclusive Hiring

Simmons’ leadership recognizes that not enough has been done towards diversity, equity and inclusion. Pérez sees this as a chance to engage in transparent conversations around race at Simmons. “We have an exciting opportunity to apply the lessons we have learned and press on to the journey ahead,” she says.

Among the first steps Pérez and her team have made is to build more rigor into Simmons’ hiring processes to ensure more diverse pools of candidates for open positions.

“We have defined and implemented a number of actions that will apply to all hiring at Simmons,” she says. “By expanding the pool for every open position to include people of color and other under-represented groups, we improve the likelihood of finding the best candidates.” Specific changes will include engagement of alumni and students in future searches, deepening the outreach to affinity groups and training for all involved in search processes. “And the time to get started is now,” says Pérez.