Common Fallacies about Hiring for Diversity

Some common fallacies when hiring for diversity
    1. “We’ve already done all we can.”

Often when colleges have not been able to diversity, they are only performing the required, traditional compliance activities, e.g., data gathering for record keeping, national advertising, wide-net mailings, etc. Achieving faculty diversity requires extraordinary efforts. Successful recruiters emphasize results rather than process: they are positive rather than defensive and negative; aggressive and visible rather than bureaucratic and passive; flexible and innovative rather than mechanical and predictable. Above all, they are enthusiastic and convinced that good things can happen. They are true believers, and they have the support of strong leaders.

One Affirmative Action Program Director suggested that “Universities have to stop thinking like lawyers about equal opportunity guidelines and start thinking like coaches. Coaches go out and find the talent they need. Coaches don’t put ads in the Chronicle and then sit back and wait”.

    1. “Faculty of color wouldn’t want to live here.”

Colleges in predominantly white communities worry about their capacity to attract minority faculty candidates. While this may be true for some faculty of color, other faculty may prefer smaller communities to large urban ones. In fact, it is quite possible that a minority candidate grew up in and/or was educated in small, white communities.  Successful institutions promote their assets enthusiastically such as close access to a large metropolitan area, beauty of the region, quality of the school district, etc.  Committed institutions build on their strengths and “outsmart” their limitations, to the greatest possible extent.

    1. “They’ll want astronomical salaries.”

Clearly the issue of faculty salary is tied to market supply and demand. Research has suggested, however, that the fears about unreasonable salary demands are overblown. Vernon Lattin from the University of Wisconsin states: “I think it’s a fact that salaries are pretty much the same for non-minority faculty as for minority faculty. You may need an incentive for a particular minority faculty member at a particular time, but I think if you made good and decent offers, minorities won’t cost more. The key is to make the offers.” Research substantiates this statement. In a research project conducted with 393 white and minority PhDs who were recipients of prestigious fellowships, none of the minority faculty found bidding wars to be their experience.

“Although the pool of minority faculty is underdeveloped,
studies have also shown that it is underutilized.”
Diversifying the Faculty (2002)

    1. “There aren’t any faculty of color out there.”

The pool of available minority faculty candidates is small and concentrated in certain fields. This is an objective limitation. However, most colleges have not yet made faculty diversity a major issue so that demand is a problem as well. Highly committed institutions create demand by recruiting aggressively and continuously, with the positive expectation of success. They also work very hard to expand the pool of potential applicants.

Some small institutions are reluctant to pursue faculty of color who graduated from prestigious institutions, thinking that they would only be interested in working in the most prestigious schools. Research has demonstrated that this is not the case; the graduates expressed interest in working in a wide variety of settings (Vicker and Royer, 2006).

  1. “They aren’t the best qualified.”

The most persistent and damaging of the obstacles is the belief that educational standards of excellence are compromised by pressures to hire minority faculty. Veiled racism, narrow standards of judgment, inexperience with cultural differences and a failure to fully accept responsibility for identifying and nurturing talent often lie at the bottom of this belief.  This myth can have an insidious effect on the search process and should be addressed as part of preparing search committee members for their work.

 All steps taken during the search process can contribute to a solid
foundation for the successful retention of faculty of color hired as well
as to successful recruitment in the future.”

From Diversifying the Faculty (2002).

 Most of the material for this section has been taken from Achieving Faculty Diversity: A Sourcebook of Ideas and Success Stories(1988) by Jeri Spann. It has been supplemented with more up-to-date resources such as
The Complete Academic Search Manual: A Systematic Approach to Successful and Inclusive Hiring (2006) by Lauren Vicker and Harriette Royer and Diversifying the Faculty: A Guidebook for Search Committees (2002) by Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner.


Principles for Increasing Faculty Diversity

  • Recruitment goes on all the time.

It is important for deans and chairs, as well as other faculty to understand that recruitment needs to go on all the time and is very much a part of day-to-day teaching, research, and mentoring activities. “Faculty must always be conscious of the fact that actions they take in relation to [students and colleagues] all affect the pipeline and its ability to attract, prepare and promote minorities and women along an academic career trajectory” (UC Berkeley document). Recruitment is best seen as on-going in another sense as well. One-shot outreach efforts do not build sustained networks of good minority referral resources. Such networks require a substantial investment of time and energy. A school’s own faculty, staff and support groups are excellent additions to the network because they are inevitably tied into a rich grapevine of information about who’s immediately available and who’s “movable.”

  • We need you and we really mean it.

Recruiting faculty of color is not like recruiting non-minority candidates. It takes very dramatic intervention and personal attention as well as an aggressive stance to recruit minorities. Assumptions people make about not really being valued or wanted are hard to break through. Minority faculty candidates are only going to deal with you if you become a voice to them and later a face to them. They have to sense your sincerity.

The problem with wide-net distribution of position descriptions and letters inviting applications is that they subtly convey a negative message. It communicates: You should be interested in us. More reaching out is necessary. Honest, repeated expressions of genuine interest, sincerity, and enthusiasm may be the most important factors in the recruitment and selection process. Some departments orchestrate a group-recruitment approach. Four or five faculty call the candidate at regular intervals to reinforce the institution’s interest. Deans, chancellors, and provosts often get involved in reaching out to the candidate as well.

  • Target Efforts.

Schools with serious intent do planning before they recruit. They decide on their skill and diversity needs, and then they focus their lists, phone calls, campus visits and other tools toward these specific needs. Because targeting and personal contact are so important, it is critical that departments develop their own lists and do not depend exclusively on the more general lists of the Human Resources Office. Once the planning is completed, it is essential that deans, chairs, and other senior faculty members get involved in identifying, recruiting, and selling faculty of color on the institution.

  • Pay attention to position descriptions.

Care must be taken in how the language of the position description is structured. The two most important things are to define positions in a reasonably broad way so that the institution is being inclusive rather than exclusive and to include an open invitation, when possible, to scholars with ethnic/third world research concerns. When possible, experts suggest that qualifications be labeled as preferred rather than required; use should instead of must. Additionally it is helpful to ask applicants to describe their experience with diversity issues, diverse students, and working in multicultural environments.

Pitfalls in Hiring for Diversity

  • Posting the position using the same sources that you’ve always used.

Diversifying the sources and activating contacts through networking with colleagues expand the reach of your opening and increase the possibility of attracting diverse, highly talented candidates with little increase in cost.

  • Putting all your advertising dollars into one or two resources.

Expand into other media. They may cost relatively little in comparison to the payoff in the applicant pool.

  • Exhibiting neutrality or indifference regarding diversity.

It is crucial that academic institutions prepare for the dramatic demographic shift that is occurring  by attracting faculty who better represent the diversity of the student body.

  • Being pressured to conform to the majority perspective.

Search committee members may feel pressure to conform to the opinions of others, especially members with higher status. The search committee chair has an obligation to create a climate of trust and mutual respect so that all opinions are valued

  • Allowing inappropriate questions or unseemly behavior from stakeholders.

Any individual who participates in the interview process has the potential to influence the candidates’ impression of the institution. Their inappropriate behavior may be the tipping point for a desired candidate.

  • Ignoring basic principles of hospitality and hosting.

Candidates should always be treated as respected guests, which would include allowing the candidates some down time, escort services for appointments, concern for their basic needs, etc. The entire process influences how welcomed a minority faculty member feels on the campus.

How Faculty Can Become Involved:
Non-Traditional Places to Look

All successful institutions are looking in new places to find their faculty candidates. They suggest that the following places and people be considered:

  • Your own alumnae as a “grow your own” source of referral networks and potential candidates;
  • Your own minority administrators, part-time and adjunct faculty and staff;
  • PhD researchers in public and private employment;
  • Special departmental vitae banks and informal and formal lists of minority prospects;
  • Historically Black colleges and universities as well as institutions in the south, southwest, and west where concentrations of American Indians and Hispanics are higher than average; 6
  • Published minority writers and artists;
  • Speakers at academic forums and professional meetings;
  • Specialized directories of minority PhD holders;
  • Black Issues in Higher Education for information about minority grant, fellowship and award recipients who would be good prospects;
  • Public interest groups;
  • Publishers’ announcements of new minority authors;
  • PhD-holding consultants to state and local government;
  • Automated and informal lists of minority graduate students with special promise;
  • Lists of top minority teachers in your discipline who may be ready to move on;
  • Ask on-line forums to post your opening for members;
  • Use web-based resources of identifying potential candidates. 7

 “Efforts to diversify the faculty continue to be among the least successful elements
of campus commitments to diversity.” Diversifying the Faculty (2002)

6  See the Appendix in Diversifying the Faculty: A Guidebook for Search Committees (2002) by Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner. Association of American Colleges and Universities

7 See above footnote.