Driven to be more diverse

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A diverse workforce of faculty and staff is fundamental to the University’s mission, values, and strategic vision. Hiring and Retaining top-notch  women, people of color, and members of other underrepresented groups is a top priority for many employers, and the University is implementing additional strategies to be seen as an employer of choice for these diverse candidates.

That was the message Kathy Brown, Vice President of the Office of Human Resources (OHR); Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert; and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson delivered Thursday (Dec. 10, 2015) to the Board of Regents’ Faculty and Staff Affairs Committee.

Making progress

The discussion with the Regents highlighted a broad array of efforts to accelerate progress in workforce diversity, a priority underscored in the TC campus strategic plan. Brown presented data showing that between fall 2004 and fall 2015, the U boosted the percentages of women and people of color in the ranks of both faculty and staff:

  • Female staff: 53.2 to 54.5
  • Female faculty: 30.8 to 38.8
  • Faculty of color: 12.0 to 17.4
  • Staff of color: 11.4 to 15.5

With progress in employing people of color steady, but slow, Brown said that the University has “put emphasis on employing qualified individuals of color” as part of a broader commitment to access, inclusion, and diversity. She stressed that diversity is essential to ensuring a welcoming and supportive environment for all members of the campus community and to creating the best possible learning environment for students. “This is all about having good ‘connective tissue,’” Brown said.

“Diversification of the faculty is an imperative tied to academic excellence,” Hanson stressed. “Faculty diversity enhances the quality of the education we provide to students and is crucial to the continuing vitality of our disciplines and to forging new directions in our research and public engagement. We aim for diversity not just of ethnicity, sex, national origin, and life experience, but also for diversity of thought.”  

The other dimensions of diversity are vitally important in higher education because they foster diversity of thought—and it’s new thoughts and alternative perspectives that lead to discoveries and that help prepare our students for work, life, and citizenship in an increasingly globalized and complicated world. 

All hands on deck

To get a diverse faculty and staff, “we have to have an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach,” Albert told the regents. She praised the U’s C.L.E.A.R. initiative, which attracts more diverse pools of outstanding faculty. A partnership between the Office for Equity & Diversity and the Provost’s Office, the initiative’s acronym highlights five factors key in hiring faculty of color: campus climate where faculty of color are attracted and can thrive, access and diversity as central to land-grant mission, the need to examine position descriptions to signal openness to diverse ideas and experiences, the importance of advertising creatively, and the importance of building relationships in faculty recruitment and hiring.

Specific initiatives aimed at diversifying the faculty cover multiple bases that often overlap, Hanson said. Examples include college- and department-specific recruiting guides, support for cluster hiring, reviewing compensation and hiring incentives needed to be competitive in various fields, and initiatives to strengthen department mentoring and other practices that help new faculty feel valued and supported.

Hanson noted that cluster hiring can also be very helpful in creating supportive environments that may span multiple disciplines—simultaneously advancing goals of diversity, interdisciplinary, collaboration, and expanded campus-community engagement.

Albert also praised the Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA), an inter-collegiate effort to recruit and retain faculty of color on the Twin Cities campus through by building scholarly collaborations, mentoring, and personal and professional connections across disciplines. IDEA drew its inspiration from efforts begun by the College of Liberal Arts. In addition to supporting innovative scholarship, IDEA helps to foster a sustaining community.

But the push for greater diversity must be a multi-pronged and collaborative effort across the institution. To increase staff diversity, OHR, working with the Office for Equity and Diversity (OED), has launched an effort to boost the diversity of hiring pools for student-facing positions. OHR and OED are also leading a pilot program with University Services and the Office of Information Technology to diversify applicant pools for entry-level and other positions.

Another OHR initiative, with OED and the Provost’s office, supports training faculty and staff search committees on how to recognize and reduce any implicit bias they may have. This is a system-wide initiative; Albert reported that OED is piloting implicit bias workshops and has already taken it to the Duluth campus. And Brown said her office is using this program to improve the U’s success when the hiring process reaches the finalist stage.

Also with OED, OHR is building relationships with staff and faculty affinity groups to address efforts to recruit, retain, and engage new hires.

And how will we know when we’ve arrived as a diverse university?

“When we have a critical mass of faculty of diverse backgrounds and perspectives as well as data clearly showing we have an environment that makes Minnesota a desirable place,” said Albert. “The closer-aligned the metrics of white students and students of color, the closer we’ll be to [our goal.]”




"Perspectives" stories are the views and opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the University of Minnesota.