Before job applicants even show up for interviews, it is crucial to take steps to ensure diversity, equal opportunities and inclusion.
Higher education leaders often project the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, but are they actually driving equitable outcomes in hiring – particularly in key academic and faculty positions?
Often it’s the proactive process work done by Provosts, Deans, and DEI leaders that can make the difference in whether their campuses accept and employ truly diverse pools of candidates. And it’s the culture they create and cultivate that will keep them there.
Executives from four universities — California State Fullerton, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, and Cincinnati — shared during a session at the American Association of Colleges and Universities annual meeting how the processes they implemented have worked to provide a foundation for success in the hiring stages to accomplish. A common theme among all was that it takes a lot of hard work, planning, and cross-departmental commitment to truly achieve goals. But when done right, they can meet or exceed the intended goals.
Bey-Ling Sha, dean of the College of Communications at CSU Fullerton, said a good starting point for any university struggling with implementation is to remember three key strategies: articulate expectations with words that outline, how these hiring pools should be composed; to be accountable as leaders with public examples of their own work that promotes just practices; and the power to cancel a search if the diversity candidates are not there.
“Not all searches will be successful,” Sha said. “I’ve seen some institutions where people feel they have to hire someone even if it’s not who they really want because they think they’re going to lose them [position]. But it’s about hiring the best people. Recruiting faculty who are on the tenure track is the most important investment any institution will make. Administrators and deans come and go. But a tenured faculty member is a 25-30 year investment that a community or institution makes in a person.”
At most colleges that have sound plans and procedures in place, this does not happen because there is an embedded set of interventions to prevent candidate pools from over-relying on a particular group of new hires.
“I have the authority to stop searching, but I’m glad I didn’t have to,” said Littisha Bates, associate dean for inclusive excellence and community partnerships at the University of Cincinnati. “And the reason is because people think I’ll do it. So they do the right thing to avoid it. If we do the right thing on the frontend, no search ever needs to stop. Sometimes they don’t bear fruit, but can you document your good faith efforts?”
The tools for success
At CSU Fullerton, they create a number of tools to ensure these hiring pools are well represented. You will create a job description template using the latest high impact equity practices. They offer search committees a promotional plan and then require them to create assessment tools. And then the series of checks and balances begins.
“As chief diversity officer, my first stop is the dean,” said Bobbie Porter, associate vice president for DEI at Cal State Fullerton. “I ask them about their strategy, where they want to go with the college, how they are working with faculty to think about the future of the discipline, and from that, identifying the gaps. There is a lot of talking before we even publish the position.”
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Once these benchmarks have been established and followed – and candidate data has been thoroughly cross-checked to ensure these pools are robust – getting them on campus and selling them at the university is critical. And it’s not just about selling them for rankings or mottos, but making sure they feel welcome, both during the process and when they’re hired.
Keisha Love, vice provost for faculty advancement and academic inclusion at the University of Cincinnati, said she had no trouble finding qualified candidates because of a Strategic Hiring Opportunity Program launched in 2015 that offered financial aid to departments that promoted diversity . The problem was that many left after only a few years. So it then created a plan for success, tasking department heads and deans with ensuring retention.
“What supports and resources should be in place for this setting?” Liebe said. “Are we fair in the resources we provide? Can you assign a mentor to this faculty member? We have a few units that put together a tenure committee and these are senior faculty who work with that faculty member to ensure they are on the right track in terms of their research or clinical work. How can you ensure you create an environment that supports all of your faculty?”
Cincinnati saw employee retention increase from 70% to 95% as part of the program. They’re quite deliberate about letting candidates know about minority faculty associations on campus to connect with, for example because Love said a lot of them want to know, ‘When I come here, there’s a community for me?”
During the hiring process or campus visit, colleges should educate candidates about potential resources that can help them succeed and create tailored documents that can serve them well. “When you invite a candidate to your campus, you are setting the stage for what that experience will be like,” said Brooke Barnett, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at Butler University. “Set your values and commitments. At Butler, we declare that we are an institution founded by an abolitionist, so DEI is central to what we do. We can arrange opportunities for you to interact with a specific group of students, faculty or staff to gain additional insight into our campus.”
Colleges can create all kinds of information-friendly guides for prospective employees. Jennifer Malat, dean of Virginia Commonwealth University, said she would provide candidates with a handout outlining all diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Barnett says colleges can provide similar resources, as well as key connections to faculty leaders who are receptive to discussion, but cautions against taking initiatives half-heartedly: “Don’t do this unless you’re prepared to do it well.”