Rethinking our approach to faculty diversity efforts

By Ashley Delamater

It seems like you can’t open a newspaper today without seeing an article on diversity issues in higher education. And increasing student activism, explosive national politics, and a legacy of slow (if not stagnant) progress has made faculty diversity an even more urgent issue.

Although most faculty members wholeheartedly support diversification efforts in principle, initial enthusiasm can fade when progress is slow and next steps are unclear. So how can we embed continuity and rigor into the processes dedicated to increasing faculty diversity?

Problem 1: Right message, but wrong messenger

Administrator-led diversity workshops prevent faculty from developing a sense of ownership over diversity initiatives
Solution: Diversity education should be based in research and led by faculty

Begin by creating a diversity committee whose goal is to write or revamp a handbook on faculty recruiting and develop a workshop for search committees. Since faculty are most receptive to other faculty, the committee should be made up of well-respected, senior faculty members. This is most easily done by asking deans to nominate several faculty from their departments.

To signal commitment from the institution and to incentivize participation, establish the following:

  • A program-support position (this can be shared with other programs)
  • A part-time director position, to be held by a senior faculty member
  • A stipend that can be allocated to summer salary, course release, or research

The committee should begin by developing a reading list on diversity and unconscious bias to discuss in weekly seminar-style sessions. Once they have gained a solid foundation on these topics they can begin to build the handbook on faculty recruiting and develop the workshop. The academic nature of the resulting workshop will resonate with the faculty on search committees and increase engagement in diversity initiatives.

The workshop should include four main components:

  • The importance of faculty diversity
  • The effects of unconscious bias
  • Institutional performance and benchmarks
  • Best practices in recruiting

Download the full study for breakthrough advances in faculty diversity

Workshops should then be delivered by a team of four presenters from the diversity committee, each with expertise in one of the four areas. If you have a larger committee, consider having at least two experts for each topic to allow for sharing of workshop responsibilities. Prior to launching the workshop, diversity committee members should rehearse their presentations and receive feedback from their fellow committee members.

To maintain committee engagement and keep the workshop up-to-date, the committee should continue to hold weekly or biweekly meetings throughout the year. During these meetings they can continue their research and update workshop materials. Other topics to consider investigating include work-family balance, climate, and retention issues.

Problem 2: Diversity rates seem impossible to change

Due to lack of progress, faculty are often skeptical that diversity rates can improve
Solution: Benchmark diversity performance against the best

Lack of faculty action on diversity initiatives can also stem from a belief that the institution simply cannot achieve greater faculty diversity. This misperception stems from the common practice of benchmarking against merely an average of the peer group, which obscures the existence of significantly more diverse academies at upper ends of the range.

To challenge the idea that there is little room for improvement, institutions should benchmark their performance against the most diverse of their peer and aspirant institutions, communicating that the goal is to be among the most diverse rather than to simply avoid being one of the least.

Aspiring Beyond Average Performance

Aspiring Beyond Average Performance

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