I need a better suggestion than just "hire more women!".
April 24, 2019 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm a (cis, female, white) graduate student in engineering at American State School (for hilarity, ASS for short). Our engineering college has very poor gender diversity: ~5% women faculty members across multiple departments, and probably around ~25% women at the graduate student level. Racial diversity at the faculty level is not great either. We just got a new dean, and he's holding a meeting between the administration and the graduate students in a few weeks. The admin holds these "stakeholder" meeting with grad students around once a year, and we've been asked to bring our questions and concerns to discuss. I'm pretty darned concerned about the faculty diversity. However, what are some concrete suggestions to solving the problem?

Note: I have no illusions that there is ONE TRUE WAY(tm) to solve complex issues like these, nor that the ASS administration has any real intent on taking our (the graduate students') opinions seriously. I'm half-sure that their first response will be that they "always hire the best person for the job, regardless of gender, race, etc." But it's still worth a try to have the discussion.

I know about NSF Advance Grants, but as I understand it, pursuing one would require a PI (and thus, a champion for diversity in a faculty position already) - I don't think we have anyone who would take that on in any of the departments. Some approaches discussed here might work (like advertising in a range of places), but I'm not sure how applicable some of the suggestions would be in faculty searches (would a hiring committee be open to a name-anonymized CV/cover letter for initial review?). I've also read about implicit/unconscious bias training for hiring committees, but also know that there's a lot of controversy re: whether this works or not.

Another note is that graduate students aren't really kept in the loop about searches: generally, we are told the day before a candidate is visiting that we'll be meeting with them, and provide e-mail feedback to the search chair afterwards. I'm not sure where on the scale of "normal" this approach falls.

What are some other ideas that I can suggest?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I circulated the below article the last time I was on a faculty search committee. I think there needs to be a concrete commitment to actually following what's advised in the article, but I think reading it and recommending others do so is a good place to start. Memail me if you need a copy.

Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo (2017) “We Are All for Diversity, but . . .”: How Faculty Hiring Committees Reproduce Whiteness and Practical Suggestions for How They Can Change. Harvard Educational Review: Winter 2017, Vol. 87, No. 4, pp. 557-580.

Different departments and schools have different norms around hiring, but in my experience the talks are pretty heavily internally advertised. So no big website announcements, or tweets, but there are always posters around the hallways for about a week prior to every candidates visit and talk. So at least that might be suggested in order to increase attendance at talks. We also generally pay for PhD students to have lunch with the candidate in a group, which gets a good critical mass of doctoral students participating in the search. It doesn't look good to candidates if PhD students aren't around and active during their visit. I can't tell if low PhD attendance is a problem in your department, but it's certainly would be for mine if we only advertised the day before.
posted by sockermom at 2:40 PM on April 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm not an expert, but I was researching something similar last year, and found that one of the few things that seemed to consistently help increase diversity was having more diverse hiring committees. I wonder if you could suggest that every hiring committee have at least X #/% of [group] on it?*

One potential resource: the NIH has spent a lot of money trying to increase the diversity of its grantee pool and is pretty transparent about its strategies and outcomes.

* Of course, you don't want to burden someone by creating a policy that forces them to join to even more committees.
posted by matrixclown at 2:49 PM on April 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

I just want to address this question:

would a hiring committee be open to a name-anonymized CV/cover letter for initial review?

As you no doubt suspect, this will be a nonstarter in an academic context. The CV will have to include a publication list, and there's no way to anonymize that.
posted by number9dream at 3:24 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I feel like I’ve heard an exercise described before where you encourage a group to think about the attributes of their ideal candidate, then kind of deconstruct them point by point, with a focus on what you need this person to do. For example, for a non-academic job, people often reflexively say they think applicants should have at least a bachelor’s degree but that’s not always the case. Could someone with significant work experience be a better candidate than someone with a bachelor’s? Could the ideal candidate have different grants/publications than the ones you typically look for?

How do you consider recommendation letters? Letters often include language that may lead someone to take one candidate more serious than another. Women candidates may be described even in positive terms (sweet, kind) that make them seem unserious.

Recognize that hiring the best candidate regardless of race, gender, etc can further a feedback loop that privileges white male candidates over others. Also, sometimes the second-best candidate brings intangibles to the table that aren’t apparent. Hiring a researcher with experience in a society of professionals who have been underrepresented historically may encourage their colleagues to apply for jobs. Seeing an early career woman researcher from your organization speaking at a conference may subconsciously raise the profile of your organization among attendees.

Finally, if you want to hire applicants from underrepresented groups, sometimes you have to just hire applicants from underrepresented groups, even if they’re the second best applicant. If diversity is a value, sometimes that’s how it works.
posted by kat518 at 3:29 PM on April 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

In my experience, difficulties hiring diverse candidates (often) boil down to a pipeline problem more than anything else. In fields like mine, there aren't enough minority/female candidates to go around, because so many talented, productive minority candidates hop out of the academia pipeline at the PhD and post-PhD stages. Universities pay a lot of lip service to recruiting minorities at the PhD and faculty levels, but the fact of the matter is very few do a good job of supporting them once they're actually inside the system.

I'm sure a many more of my fellow female and minority STEM PhD cohortmates from a few years ago would be on the market for your department to hire today if our (wealthy, resource rich) department had done anything other than a piss-poor job of making them feel welcome , supported, and valued. This doens't really answer your question, but one issuse your Dean can make immediate progress on is to set up programs that promote inclusion of the students, postdocs, and young faculty who so commonly feel alienated from their peers.

One of my very best memories of grad school was an all-weekend conference set up my our Women in Engineering Chapter that brought dissertation-stage women from different departments together to chat about our struggles (often with anger or tears), and discuss the book Women Don't Ask.
posted by shaademaan at 3:31 PM on April 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

Sometimes it helps to look at the other end of the pipeline. Do more men/white people/etc. stick around than other groups? It is not super hard for engineers to count the demographics that enroll vs those that graduate.

If ASS' female students are five times likelier than males to transfer or drop out within two years, and fewer than 5% of applicants are women, the reasons are probably related. And you can survey the people who left or are thinking about leaving with less difficulty than people who have never interacted with your organization.

Good luck.
posted by bagel at 3:53 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Do you have connections with women in your field outside your department that you could sound out about the reputation of ASS? The department where I did my PhD had approximate gender parity among graduate students (virtually unheard of in my subject), but a single female faculty member. It wasn't so much that they never hired women, it was that the women they did hire invariably left. This abruptly changed partway through my degree with more than half of tenure-track hires being women, who all appear to still be there 5+ years later. One suspects that one of the men who departed the department either by retiring or dying was the problem. If every candidate has to meet the Dean of Whatever and he's the problem, well...

I work outside of academia and one approach that has some success in shutting down the "we always hire the most qualified people" is to talk about the advantages of diversity of work experience or diversity of training, which lo and behold results in hiring people besides men with carbon copy CVs. In academia that's harder because you're (often) looking for people who align with the department's research interests, but there are still people who complement the department's interests whose advisor someone on the search committee didn't go to grad school with.
posted by hoyland at 4:05 PM on April 24, 2019

As a grad student, it's not your role to solve this problem and you have no authority to change hiring practices. However, you do have influence. You can and should advocate chage. Raise the fact that the lack of women and diversity in faculty is problematic and something the student body cares about. Are there any student-led seminar series? Invite women and POC as speakers. Are the female/minority postdocs in your department adequately supported in their career development? Are there internal grants and travel funds they can apply for? Is there a mentoring program?
It actually is as simple as "hire more women". In my STEM field, there is a large pool of female postdocs but very few advance to the faculty stage. A lot of this has to do with systemic bias in funding, publishing, awards etc- in an extremely competitive environment those little disadvantages add up to a track record that's good but not stellar. Advocating for policies that reduce those gaps at the postdoc stage will lead to positive changes at the faculty level (I hope!)
posted by emd3737 at 5:10 PM on April 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

It is absolutely not as simple as just hiring more women. The pipeline problem isn't just happening at one end. The short piece This is Your Pipeline Problem over at Inside Higher Ed is a good one to read for more about this.

As an academic, one thing that I have found that works very well in situations where I am trying to convince my administration of something is: cite the literature about it. Draw on academic experts when you are trying to convince academics to do something.

As such, I suggest that you read what the academic experts are saying about this. In addition to the readings I've already suggested, you might want to try Sara Ahmed's (a polarizing but brilliant thinker) recent Living a Feminist Life, which is largely devoted to the topic of diversity work in higher education.

Another good one, although not hiring-specific, is Applebaum, Barbara (2019). Remediating Campus Climate: Implicit Bias Training is Not Enough. Studies in Philosophy and Education 38 (2):129-141. doi:10.1007/s11217-018-9644-1.

The entire collection of Conditionally Accepted posts on Inside Higher Ed (of which the pipeline article mentioned above is one) is also a really good resource here.
posted by sockermom at 5:34 PM on April 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

A concrete suggestion you could bring forward is to start a Search Advocate program in the engineering college (they have a page on bringing it to one's own institution).

The program involves training several people at your institution to be search advocates, people who sit on search committees with the sole aim of minimizing bias and fostering an inclusive search. The advocates will learn about a variety of strategies, tools, and techniques, including some mentioned above in this thread. The college would have to pay a relatively small amount for the training, and they would probably need to institute a policy that all faculty searches must have a search advocate (normally in an advisory, non-voting role).

I've been through the training myself, and I found it incredibly informative and helpful, full of concrete strategies and useful ideas. And in a curb-cuts/universal-design kind of way, it also just helped me run searches more effectively in general. I've also chaired a search with a search advocate on the committee, and I found it a beneficial addition.

To create any program like that at your college would require a dean or someone else in power who believes that your search process itself can contribute to the lack of diversity on the faculty. If no one in power is familiar with implicit bias, systemic bias, and other such concepts, then some awareness-building and education may have to happen first. Citing the literature, as suggested above, sounds like a reasonable way to attempt that. You may be able to make the case that regardless of any diversity benefits, giving your faculty any training at all on how to run an effective search might be useful (I'm assuming there is little to no such training already), but I don't know if that would be an easier sell.

And you may not need to convince the dean directly, if they are not amenable to the idea themselves. You could find a faculty champion or two interested in pushing the program, attending the workshop at OSU, and pushing for it from their level.

Feel free to memail me if you have questions or want to know more about how it has worked on my campus (very different from your own, fwiw).
posted by whatnotever at 7:53 PM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been on SCs and we all had to go through the implicit bias training. I'm not sure if it helped.

Do you even know if your department put in for a line next year? At my U, this time has already passed, just fyi. We also tend to have 5 year hiring plans, so making changes is hard.

I'm with others that this may be above your pay grade but a general sense of "the grad students want more diversity" is good, although might make a difference.

Other things worth knowing - there is often additional funds for "diverse" candidates. Having a diverse SC helps a lot. Pipeline issues are real. If your U isn't awesome (reputation, pay, etc.), the few "diverse" candidates will go elsewhere.
posted by k8t at 8:05 PM on April 24, 2019

"always hire the best person for the job, regardless of gender, race, etc."

I put together the panels for job interviews. I also attend them myself.

I cannot stress enough the need for a diverse interview panel. For example, if we are interviewing a migrant from Brazil, who is looking for their first job in Australia, I would like to have a South American or even better a Brazilian on the panel. Otherwise, how do we know which universities are considered top tier in Brazil? Which companies are top tier and reputable? What are the job responsibilities and progression typically like? I don't even know how the job titles on their CV translate into how we understand job titles in Australia. That's not even going into cultural presentation, language, etc. As a migrant from Asia, I have low confidence in my ability to accurately assess a candidate from Brazil - the idea that I can offer an unbiased view on whether they are the "best person for the job, regardless of gender, race, etc" is laughable.

So, the first step is to ensure your interview panel is balanced (male / female) and has the necessarily cultural background to interview the candidate. You should be able to do this even if your faculty is 5% female.

And you know what? Say your company doesn't have anyone from South America. Maybe it's time you get one... so that the next time around a star candidate from South America comes along, you'll be able to assess them properly, and get a leg up on your competition, who can't...
posted by xdvesper at 8:15 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interview more women. Specifically, aim for two or more female candidates to be considered by the hiring committee for each position. (Or two+ POC candidates, or other minority group - but one woman and one black guy does not count).

This is a nice quantifiable metric, there is research showing that it makes a difference in hiring behavior, and even people who already think they are totally unbiased can be convinced to do this.

No specific recommendations from this, but here is some guidance from UW on hiring diverse candidates.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:55 AM on April 25, 2019

You could suggest a formal mechanism for grad student participation in school governance, and use this mechanism to advocate for diversity.

In my department, the grad students elect a representative who attends faculty meetings and brings grad student issues to the attention of the department. The grad rep can--depending on who is elected--be a good advocate for diversity. I've noticed that my colleagues are more inclined to listen to their own grad students than to the assistant professors we've hired.

Also, we put a grad student rep (usually the same person) on every search committee. All grad students read the shortlist and collectively, through the rep, have an advisory vote on who we should bring to campus. That vote is usually counted. So requesting grad student involvement in the search process is another option. Finally, if there's a diversity officer on campus, you could ask the dean to organize a meeting with that person for all faculty and staff.
posted by Morpeth at 5:38 AM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

The company I work for has published resources on this topic directed toward departmental hiring and diversity committees. Since you're at an American State School, the chances are pretty high that you have access to what we've written. If you're interested, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by capricorn at 6:10 AM on April 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

@Emd3737 nails it: your job as a grad student is to sound the alarm, not provide equity consulting for your uni. Even if your only contribution is to NOT SHUT UP about more equitable hiring of students and faculty and BRING IT UP ALL THE TIME that's huge (cf Sara Ahmed on complaint work).

That said, I would follow this up with a request for a more formal mentorship process for women /poc at ASS-- membership at the Centre for Faculty Diversity? A invited brown bag lunch series where you can interact with senior colleagues who aren't white men?
posted by athirstforsalt at 7:06 AM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

It's great that you're doing this job. But, this isn't really your job.

Finding an ally on the faculty would be my suggestion. Soon you are likely to be that person. But, it's going to be hard to make a real difference right now without compromising yourself. If the dean doesn't care and nobody in your department cares. . . there's not really much you can do except make angry old white men think of you as a troublemaker. Which is shitty, but worth thinking about strategically.

In my department, we fought very hard - and won - to make improving the diversity of new faculty hires a specific, listed priority. We can now point to the line in our strategic plan and say, "this awesome person isn't working in a subfield we've targeted, but they will make our department more diverse, and that is one of our specific goals." There's a lot of evidence that a diverse faculty is key to an inclusive department, and outreach before selection is the way you recruit a diverse faculty. That means tabling at conferences focused on under-represented minorities, phoning up people of good will at other institutions to ask them about their postdocs and students who are looking for jobs, and also working to make the department less hostile to visiting candidates and new faculty. (The last is the hard part, and probably the part you can't actually contribute much to until you get a faculty job.)

The American Astronomical Society has some pretty good resources, though I don't know if they'll be convincing to people in your specific field.

Depending on the field, name anonymization might sound silly. If you work in any field adjacent to mine and have a chance at a faculty job, there's an 80% liklyhood I know who you are after glancing at your anonymized CV. The idea has been brought up a few times at faculty meetings here and overwhelmingly defeated. It might be different in a broader field.

Edit: Also, best wishes and good luck! This is a genuinly hard problem, but eventually it will be solved.
posted by eotvos at 1:13 PM on April 25, 2019

The Haas Business School has been doing this recently but with a focus on student admissions, not faculty hiring. The initiative was in response to pressure from students. Maybe some of what they're doing would be useful for you to look at. In particular, they're being very public with what specific actions they have planned and whether they have been implemented. See their latest status report and also the initial action plan.
posted by expialidocious at 12:21 PM on April 26, 2019

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