Why Faculty Diversity Matters

June 6, 2023 Watermark Insights

Beyond contributions to job opportunities and career satisfaction, higher education serves to expand minds. Many students come to higher education institutions to experience the kind of cultural broadening that tends to happen when people are exposed to new people and perspectives, more nuanced historical contexts, and rigorous study. Faculty diversity is uniquely important for everyone—both for those students who are accustomed to being in rooms where everyone looks and believes like they do, and for those who struggle to find familiar faces and worldviews.

Higher education institutions often lack diversity, which can impede student success. Building a faculty that reflects the diversity of the student body and the world outside is vital. Institutions must not only evaluate their current processes and take steps to change and improve them but also ensure that they have the necessary support in place to attract and retain diverse team members. 

Demographics of College and University Faculty

Before understanding why diversity is important in education, it can be beneficial to compare the racial diversity of higher education faculties with that of the student bodies they serve. (While diversity is of course inclusive of more than just race, we can start by looking here.) Although faculty has become more racially diverse in recent years, it still does not accurately represent the student body. Faculty who are people of color are still greatly outnumbered by White faculty in higher education positions. For example, while only 5% of faculty in 2017 were Hispanic/Latino, 20% of undergraduates were Hispanic/Latino. Additionally, 14% of undergraduates were Black compared to only 6% of faculty. 

More recent numbers don't show this gap closing soon. In the fall of 2020, almost 75% of all faculty were White. These faculty include lecturers, professors, associate professors, interim professors, assisting professors, and instructors. Of these faculty members, 12% were Pacific Islander or Asian, 7% were Black, and 6% were Hispanic/Latino. 

Why Diverse Faculty Matters

Why Faculty Diversity Matters

Knowing why diversity is important can help your institution see increases in student engagement and retention. Students can gain confidence in their work, participate more often, and become better connected to their education. 

Having a diverse faculty is important because:

  • Students can become more comfortable: You can encourage students of every background to seek help from faculty members they feel comfortable relying on when they need help. 
  • Diverse faculty can bring new ideas: Each faculty member has a different background, but a diverse faculty brings even more new ideas to the table. 
  • Faculty can shape curricula: Your institution and students can benefit from new ideas. Diverse teams can deliver a more enriching curriculum to students, giving them a more rewarding academic experience. 
  • Your institution can prevent stereotypes: As your team grows to include more diverse faculty, you can work to reduce common stereotypes and educate students and staff about inclusivity. 
  • Diverse faculty can serve as role models: Minority students can reimagine what a scholar looks like when they can see that their instructors reflect their same backgrounds and challenges. 
  • Students can seek diverse research: Minority faculty may have different research interests than their peers who fall into historically privileged groups and can investigate new topics. 
  • Students can seek worthwhile mentors: A diverse faculty can encourage students to seek new perspectives and find mentors who can coach them in shared academic and personal interests.
  • Faculty can help recruit upcoming students: When you're visiting high schools, marketing programs, or hosting tours, your diverse staff can encourage upcoming students to connect with your diverse faculty and deepen their understanding of their academic opportunities.

Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

A diverse faculty can increase student outcomes and positively affect student engagement and retention. Once achieving this becomes an institutional priority, you can set your sights on new initiatives and develop the best practices for hiring, recruiting, and support processes.

How to Recruit Diverse Faculty

How to Recruit Diverse Faculty

To begin building your diverse faculty, you'll need to have an effective process and be willing to change or address challenging aspects of your current hiring procedure. You must mitigate bias, refine job descriptions, and ensure equity in compensation. These best practices can give your team the support they need to built out the most impactful faculty. 

Mitigate Bias on Job Search Committees

You may need to develop strategies to minimize bias during the search process. Providing anti-discrimination and implicit bias training to your team can help them better understand how to combat debilitating factors throughout the search. Additionally, ensure you provide adequate time for your team to make a meaningful decision. Your team should be able to review a candidate's application, evaluate their credentials, and conduct a formal interview.

Improve Job Description Wording

Although descriptive job postings can help you find those with specific training, credentials, or experience, they also limit your search pool. By creating broad descriptions and outlining departmental needs, you can attract many more candidates, including those with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. For example, rather than requiring candidates to have a specific number of experience years, you can ask that all candidates be able to exhibit their experience in the position. 

Ensure Equity in Compensation

Equity plays a vital role in higher education, and this is especially true for compensation. Despite working long hours and having equal education, women still make less money than men. When seeking new faculty members, actively commit to the principles of equity when evaluating potential candidates' opportunities for employment and compensation. 

How to Support and Retain Diverse Faculty

Your efforts don't stop after finding new faculty members. You must dedicate efforts to retaining them and providing resources to create an engaging, welcoming, and meaningful working environment. Below, we've outlined the steps you can take to support and retain diverse faculty. 

Develop Mentorship or Support Programs

Departmental experience can be a huge factor in whether a faculty member stays at an institution. Positive experiences promote retention, and the support and programs you provide can aid in crafting these experiences. As soon as your faculty members arrive, you must have welcoming, supportive, and safe programs in place to help retain them. A mentor program could be a beneficial resource, as new faculty members can seek advice from experienced and well-known team members on campus.

Implement Family-Friendly Policies

Family-friendly policies can help increase the likelihood of female candidates applying for a position. Regardless of gender, you should offer candidates more time on the tenure clock for team members with children, encourage them to use family leaves to support their families, and create programs that support faculty with young children. This might include on-site daycare or breastfeeding facilities for nursing parents. 

Increase Administrative Support 

Many people believe that more sophisticated technology and rising automation have reduced the need for administrative support. However, institutions still require a variety of resources in place to adequately meet faculty needs. A lack of structured processes can leave faculty members who are facing discrimination little recourse when they most need support. 

Improve Your Higher Education Institution With Watermark

Watermark has been providing higher education with unique solutions for decades. We built our solutions to support continuous improvement so you can create an enriching environment for your faculty, staff, and students. 

We have a solution for every program. With our comprehensive solutions, you can craft centralized approaches to every institutional effort you need to manage. You can improve non-academic and academic departments to keep students engaged and ensure they receive the support they need, including through the hiring of diverse faculty. You can easily request a Watermark solution to experience how we can help your institution. 

Improve Your Higher Education Institution With Watermark

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