why faculty diversity matters

What does it mean to have a diverse faculty in higher education? A diverse faculty is one that brings diverse experiences and backgrounds to their roles as educators and researchers; represents a diversity of races, ethnicities, genders, ages, sexual orientations, and abilities; and includes a diversity of scholary interests, viewpoints, and learning styles.

You likely already know how such diversity can improve student body diversity and success as well as broaden scholarship and human understanding. Many colleges and universities have robust plans in place around diversity, equity, and inclusion — but how many are realizing their goals for faculty diversity?

To help more institutions in higher education fulfill their vision of greater faculty diversity, this article outlines key steps to take that will enable both short-term progress and long-term success.

The Benefits of Having a Diverse Faculty

Research shows that faculty diversity in higher education supports the success of students from underrepresented groups as well as all students’ intercultural competence

Moreover, female students feel that they receive more help and support from faculty of the same gender. Given that 59.5% of U.S. college students are women, having more female faculty is essential to making the majority of your students receive the help and support they want.

Faculty diversity in scholarship and research also expands societal knowledge and understanding, whether through an African-American researcher uncovering the reasons for racial disparities in blood pressure, a scholar from a disadvantaged community studying the effect of early-childhood stress on life outcomes, or a professor with a disability publishing about disability justice. 

How to Increase Faculty Diversity in Higher Education

Increasing faculty diversity depends upon success in multiple areas: 

  • ensuring a campus-wide commitment to diversity efforts;
  • improving hiring practices; and 
  • developing resources that support the success of faculty members from underrepresented groups.

Below we elaborate on how to succeed in each of these areas.

Ensuring A Campus-Wide Commitment to Faculty Diversity – and Policies that Support that Commitment

Higher education administrators and department chairs should weave their institution’s commitment to faculty diversity into strategic plans and mission statements — as well as institutional policies.

For example, institutional policies relating to faculty workloads and faculty review, promotion, and tenure need to be reexamined in light of how they impact faculty diversity. Institutions may need to adjust these policies to improve attraction and retention of diverse candidates. 

Administrators can also remind all community members of their institution’s diversity goals by reaffirming them during campus talks and meetings. 

Of course, realizing a commitment to faculty diversity also depends upon making specific changes to hiring practices.

Five Steps in Hiring Practices to Increase Faculty Diversity

Faculty affairs administrators and departments have the ability and responsibility to actualize their institution’s faculty diversity goals. 

The first step each department should take is to set goals for diversity and inclusion by:

  • Discussing long-term goals related to faculty diversity and inclusion in hiring;
  • Assessing past successes and failures with diversity goals — which informs practices going forward; and
  • Discussing ways that faculty recruitment and selection processes can be more inclusive.

For example, for business schools that lack faculty from underrepresented groups, departments might discuss dropping the requirement of a Ph.D. for tenure-track candidates and instead consider candidates based on their business experience and/or possession of an MBA degree.

One outcome of this initial broad discussion is that your department will likely recognize the importance of this second step in hiring practices:

  • Electing an inclusive search committee and implementing strategies to encourage multiple opinions.

If your department’s current make-up is not especially diverse, you can always include members from other departments to achieve an inclusive search committee.

The third step is for the hiring manager and search committee to develop a broad and active recruitment plan.

This plan would naturally have the goal of attracting a large and diverse pool of applicants. The plan would also include specific recruitment strategies that would ensure wide dissemination of the opportunity. For example, the plan would likely call for the search committee and hiring manager to identify resources that would ensure wide distribution of the position announcement.

“Most fields have listservs, email groups, and other resources that can help you identify or reach qualified underrepresented candidates,” notes this UCDavis resource

In general, search committees must actively seek out diverse candidates, as this University of Washington resource argues:

“Transforming the search process requires that the committee do more than simply place ads and wait for applicants to express interest. Search committees can use personal and professional networks of existing faculty and students, and discipline-based organizations, and take advantage of publications and web sites that specialize in the recruitment of diverse faculty members.”

This list of resources for finding underrepresented faculty candidates is one place to look.

Personal outreach is another strategy that can be included in the plan.

Once you have your plan, the fourth step naturally is to implement and monitor the recruitment plan.

Make sure job announcements reach a broad audience by including outlets such as minority-serving publications, listservs, bulletin boards, and blogs. For example, you will likely want to post on the DiversityTrio job boards, which receive high traffic from faculty candidates from diverse backgrounds.

You can also use personal and professional networks to find leads for potential minority candidates. For example, you might reach out to your institution’s black alumni association and similar networks to spread the word about the opportunity.

It’s also critical that you monitor the diversity of the candidate pool while the submission window is open, not after. You want to preserve the ability to redouble your efforts if your initial results are lackluster.

As you implement your recruitment plan, you’ll also want to take this fifth step: create an inclusive advertisement.

To achieve this, make sure the job advertisement clearly indicates your institution’s commitment to equity and diversity. Research shows that this practice is more likely to result in the hiring of a candidate from an underrepresented group.

In addition, define the position in the broadest possible terms consistent with the department’s needs. Try not to define overly narrow experience requirements and to instead indicate your openness to non-traditional career experiences and pathways. For example, if you are hiring a professor of public policy, you might note in the posting that you are open to candidates with extensive public policy experience and that you do not require either a master’s or Ph.D.

Providing Support for Faculty Members from Underrepresented Groups

To attract and retain a diverse faculty, you must also make your institution appealing for candidates from underrepresented groups. 

To do so, you must look at your institutional policies relating to faculty workloads and promotion, as mentioned earlier, as well as create an inclusive culture with practices that support faculty members from underrepresented groups.

For example, creating mentorship programs dedicated to these faculty is just one approach that could enable these faculty members to flourish.

Your institution may also want to pursue discussions and relationships with local and national minority organizations and other associations. These conversations can focus on other potential strategies for supporting faculty members from underrepresented groups.

How Interfolio Can Help You Deliver on Faculty Diversity

The Interfolio Faculty Information System supports your efforts to increase faculty diversity at every stage.

When you are trying to recruit a diverse pool of candidates, Faculty Search offers you the capability of assessing your pool during the submission window and intervening if the pool is not diverse enough. That’s because Faculty Search enables you to collect real-time, self-reported, anonymous demographic survey responses from 100% of applicants.

In addition, if your search committee has devised specific evaluation criteria, such as whether candidates offer real-world experience, Faculty Search enables you to make such custom criteria part of your digital workflow.

As you hire more faculty members from underrepresented groups, Review, Promotion & Tenure helps you support them because it provides a documented review process that increases consistency and transparency.

The Faculty Activity Reporting module also makes it easy for faculty to document activities relating to student support, service, and diversity. 

Need Additional Help in Implementing Your Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Goals?

Download Interfolio’s Best Practices Checklist: Achieving Diversity Across the Academic Lifecycle to see whether you’ve adopted the best strategies for recruiting and retaining diverse faculty candidates.