Why Staff Diversity Matters in Higher Education

Posted by Josh Young on 11 July 2017 |

staff diversity higher educationFor decades, institutes of higher learning have placed increased focus on promoting diversity on their campuses. And while there's still room to grow, tremendous inroads have been made.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, between 1993 and 2013 the percentage of Asian and Hispanic faculty nearly doubled, while the number of black professors increased by roughly half. Similarly, enrollment and graduation rates for Hispanic, black, and Asian citizens in the United States has steadily increased over the past 40 years, with 52 percent of Asian, 22 percent of black, and 15 percent of Hispanic adults in the country having graduated with bachelor's degrees.

However one area that is often overlooked in these discussions of the successes and failures of campus diversity is the realm of non-academic staff -- financial aid counselors, office managers, student advisors. In many cases, these positions work closely with students throughout their academic career, discussing personal topics and helping them plan their future.

And a lack of diversity among these highly-visible positions can send the wrong message to your students about your campus and about the level of opportunity available in their future.

One University Takes Action

A study of the employment demographics of the University of California (UC), Berkeley along with 10 other public colleges found that minority staff comprised only 35 percent of management-level non-teaching positions, which is surprising considering the fact that minority students made up about 58 percent of the student body.

Given these figures, the administrator behind the research identified that "[m]inority staff members were overrepresented in the lowest job classifications and underrepresented in the highest" at these universities.

Concerned by these findings, UC Berkeley decided to act and began developing a new training and mentorship program that will match lower-level minority staffers with senior-level executive administrators, creating relationships and learning opportunities that will help these workers advance in their fields.

The training sessions, in turn, will be focused on career development and cover such topics as strategic networking, how the university works, and how to negotiate.

What Can Your Campus Do?

Beyond establishing a mentorship program similar to UC Berkeley, there are a number of actions your school can take:

Recognize unconscious bias

More than likely your campus already has in place diversity policies that prohibit discrimination or intolerant behavior, particularly when it comes to staffing issues. However, discriminatory acts are not always focused or intentional.

Provide your staff with the tools and training to identify and accommodate any unconscious biases that they may hold. At the same time, evaluate existing processes and policies with an eye towards diversity. Are there any barriers in place that might unintentionally discourage or prevent minority applicants from seeking out positions at your school?

Conscript your Math department or bring in outside experts to analyze your university's staff and salary distributions, using this information to determine underlying factors that drive any pay or position disparities on your campus.

Focus on education

Most schools now include an element of diversity training in their student orientation programs, and while these efforts are laudable, don't let them stop there. Provide all of your employees -- from the tenured professor to the groundskeeper to the school chancellor -- with diversity training.

By empowering your staff to create a more inclusive campus, you can provide your students with a real-world example of a welcoming, tolerant environment.

Rethink hiring

According to one study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, applicants with "ethnic-sounding" names face increased difficulty in finding positions, often needing to send out 50 percent more resumes to receive the same number of interview requests as job seekers with "white-sounding" names.

Given this trend, try "blinding" your application process, removing identifying details (e.g., names, gender, race) from resumes and cover letters before they are passed along to whomever is responsible for evaluating candidates.

Similarly, consider removing the responsibility for hiring and promotion decisions from the shoulders of a single individual. When these decisions are made by group consensus, the chance for unconscious bias or prejudice to influence the outcome is severely reduced.

Conclusion

By reaffirming your school's commitment to diversity and eliminating any employment barriers for your non-teaching staff -- positions that frequently interact with students on a regular basis -- your campus can better encourage success for these often under-represented groups and provide your students with a healthier, more varied academic experience.

If you would like to learn more about how Campus Answers can help your school to create a more diverse and inclusive space for everyone -- staff, faculty, and students -- request a demo of our services.

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