Over the last decade, more and more colleges and universities have expressed their intent to increase faculty diversity.

Higher education is focused on this goal because faculty diversity brings many benefits. These benefits include improved support of students from underrepresented groups and increased intercultural competence of all students.

This article looks at these and other benefits while also presenting tips on how to increase faculty diversity.

What is Faculty Diversity?

Faculty diversity means more than just racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. A diverse faculty should also represent a diversity of abilities, social statuses, sexual orientations, religions, viewpoints, and scholarly interests.

The Importance of Faculty Diversity in Higher Education

Having a diverse faculty brings several demonstrated benefits for students, for the institutional community, and for the faculty themselves.

Improved Student Engagement and Retention

Achieving faculty diversity enhances underrepresented students’ educational experience. For example, minority faculty can serve as mentors of students from underrepresented groups. Moreover, students from underrepresented groups may feel more comfortable talking about their challenges to faculty members with whom they share a background or experiences. 

In general, minority faculty provide much needed support and opportunity for growth and development to students from similar groups.

Consistent with these observations, a study found that 96% of minority students say that studying under minority professors has a positive impact on their education.
Not surprisingly, a more supportive and inclusive educational experience results in improved academic performance. In fact, increased faculty diversity leads to better graduation rates for students from underrepresented groups.

Enhanced Learning Environments

When your faculty come from a variety of backgrounds and have varied interests, your institution can offer a greater diversity of programs and research opportunities. Faculty diversity also broadens classroom discussions, with more perspectives shared.

In addition, when you have a diverse faculty, you attract more students from underrepresented groups to your institution, which itself has a host of beneficial effects.
For example, students’ learning outcomes improve when they informally interact with other students from different racial groups. In particular, these students’ outcomes improve in intellectual engagement, self-motivation, and citizenship and cultural engagement. Students’ academic skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and writing also improve from interacting with students from different backgrounds.

Increased Opportunity and Better Preparation for the “Real” World

The skills students develop in interacting with a diverse faculty and student body also prepare them to successfully interact with the diversity of people they encounter in the real world.

Students graduate into a multicultural world, where the majority of work settings will involve interacting with people of different races, faiths, abilities, and viewpoints. To succeed in these settings, students must recognize the value of different experiences and know how to communicate in a way that is sensitive to these differences. 

Students exposed to diversity during their time in higher education are also more engaged citizens as adults.
In short, students that experience diversity in higher education are better prepared for all facets of adult life.

How to Close the Diversity Gap

Given its many benefits, it’s easy to understand why colleges and universities are eager to increase faculty diversity. 

Nevertheless, many institutions have struggled to make significant progress. Improving diversity in higher education requires addressing multiple challenges, including shortcomings in recruitment and promotion practices as well as pipeline problems (that is, an insufficient number of new PhD graduates from underrepresented groups). 

Below we look only at a subset of the responses needed during faculty recruitment and professional evaluation processes to increase faculty diversity:

Recognize and Guard Against Unconscious Bias

One threat to increasing faculty diversity is unconscious bias: social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness

To combat this threat, institutions should provide staff with needed resources and education. It’s also important that you examine your policies and practices for any potential discriminatory effects. 

Focus on Education

Of course, you should also provide all of your employees with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. Your training program can include multiple levels, including materials that establish a baseline of knowledge and programs that enable faculty to deepen their understanding of DEI issues. Oregon State University is one model of this multi-level approach.

Rethink Hiring

In addition to targeted training and education on DEI issues, an essential step to increase faculty diversity is to improve your hiring practices and policies. You can find concrete ideas on how to make faculty hiring practices work for your diversity goals — rather than against them — in these Interfolio resources:

Promote Diversity in Higher Education With Interfolio

While improving your hiring practices is one important part of increasing faculty diversity, making progress at your institution also depends upon examining your academic review policies and processes.   

Interfolio can help you with that as well. Universities that hire faculty through Interfolio gain a new level of applicant pool data, equitable committee work, and consistency that enables them to reach diverse academic hiring outcomes. 

And institutions like Emory University and others use Interfolio to track DEI-related faculty activities and account for them in the evaluation process.
You can learn more here about how we can support your institution reach its diversity goals — and enjoy the many benefits that come from faculty diversity.