Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2015

Resources and Strategies for Recruiting a Diverse Faculty

David Mogk, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Montana State University

The goal of attaining a diverse faculty that is representative of our students (and of society) has yet to be achieved in the geosciences, despite gains made in recruiting and training of qualified women and students from underrepresented groups. While grounded in the geosciences, Dr. Mogk provides some practical tips and resources to help you broaden your candidate pool for your next faculty hire regardless of your discipline.


The American Geological Institute Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2011 reports:

"Since 2008, the percentage of geoscience faculty positions held by women has increased by an average of two percent. In 2010, women held 16 percent of tenured and tenure-track geoscience faculty positions and 20 percent of non-tenure track geoscience faculty positions.
Participation rates of women in geoscience faculty positions still lag broader science and engineering trends where women hold 28 percent of tenured and tenure-track positions in all science and engineering fields."

What is the root cause of this disparity in hiring patterns? Why are we not recruiting, and hiring, women to the professoriate?

A recent article published in PNAS reported on Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students (Acrobat (PDF) 649kB Oct24 12) (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012):

"In a randomized double-blind study(n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant."

Is it possible that your searches for new faculty are possibly promoting the same type of gender bias reported in the PNAS article?

The situation for underrepresented groups is even worse. With respect to participation of underrepresented groups in the geosciences, AGI reports (Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2011):

Compared to the progress made towards gender parity in the geoscience student population, the participation of underrepresented minorities in geoscience university programs remains extremely poor. As of 2008, the proportion underrepresented minorities comprised 23 percent of all enrolled students and 16 percent of all graduates at four-year universities. Yet, in geoscience university programs, less than 10 percent of geoscience graduates at all degree levels are underrepresented minorities. Compared with other science and engineering fields, the geosciences confer the lowest percentage of Bachelor's and Master's degrees to underrepresented minorities. However, at the doctoral level, the geosciences confer a slightly higher percentage of degrees to underrepresented minorities than do mathematics, engineering, and computer science.

AGI does not provide data for underrepresented groups in the geoscience professoriate, but presumably it is below statistical significance.

Strategies and Approaches

The resources and strategies listed below will hopefully help you attract a diverse pool of candidates for your faculty searches, and lead to a successful hire.

Here is a starting list of strategies to expand your candidate pool and improve your chances of a successful hire: Recruiting Diverse and Excellent New Faculty--Abigail Stewart and Virginia Valian, from INside Higher Education, posted onJuly 19, 2018.

Inclusive Advertising

Cast your net broadly. Even in a competitive job market this is not necessarily a case of "advertise and they will come." Take the time to find professional societies and listservs that are dedicated to women and underrepresented groups (see list below). Highly qualified scholars can occasionally be found in unexpected places. Do not limit your search to a limited number of high visibility institutions--qualified candidates may emerge from a wide array of institutions with varied missions, student populations, disciplinary emphases, etc. Advertise or otherwise announce openings in publications or other venues which might attract the special attention of minority or female scholars. Advertise in fields that may not be related to your main discipline of interest; you may just find someone who has not only the required qualifications, but perhaps other complementary interests and skills as a benefit.

Inclusive Language for the Advertisement

All federally funded institutions are required to state they are an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. But, this language can be expanded to proactively affirm a commitment to a diverse faculty. Here is an example from the University of Washington:

"The University of Washington is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer. The University is dedicated to the goal of building a culturally diverse and pluralistic faculty and staff committed to teaching and working in a multicultural environment and strongly encourages applications from women, minorities, individuals with disabilities and covered veterans."

Implicit or Unconscious Bias

Check out these guidelines on Raising Awareness of Unconscious Assumptions and Biases and Their Influence on Evaluation of Candidates from Boston University. The University of Arizona also has a great list of resources about Unconscious Bias. The Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a great bibliography on Research on Bias. You may want to take the Implicit Association Test that was developed at Harvard University as an indicator.

Required Qualifications and Preferred Attributes

Proactive language can be included as a specific job qualification or as a summary statement at the end of job announcements. Examples of specific job qualifications and summary statements include the following (University of Washington):

  • Candidates should describe how multicultural issues have been or will be brought into courses.
  • Candidates should describe previous activities mentoring women or members of underrepresented groups.
  • Women, minorities, individuals with disabilities and veterans are encouraged to apply.
  • Successful candidates must be committed to working with diverse student and community populations.
  • Applicants are expected to describe in their letter of intent how their scholarship contributes to diverse communities.
  • The University is responsive to the needs of dual career couples.
  • The University is committed to building a culturally diverse educational environment. Applicants are requested to include in their cover letter information about how they will further this goal.
  • The campus is especially interested in candidates who can contribute to the diversity and excellence of the academic community through their research, teaching and/or service.

Consider including "experience working with/teaching diverse groups/diverse students" in your advertisement. In our recent job advertisements we included: "Demonstrated ability or potential for working in interdisciplinary teams and contributing to a diverse department of earth scientists", and a preferred qualification: "Evidence of effective engagement with diverse audiences within and outside the University".

Define and advertise searches broadly enough so that outstanding female and minority prospects can be fully considered, even though they may not be in the precise sub-discipline envisioned in the search. Language that is overly specific about a position tends to be a deterrent to female and minority applications.

In Anticipation of a New Hire, Cultivate Relationships

Effective recruitment is often a multi-year process. Try to identify outstanding graduate students in the midst of their graduate study – not only when they are "on the market." This can be accomplished through contact with colleagues at other institutions, participation in targeted conferences, and visits to sister schools for seminars. In some fields there are organizations and conferences that specifically serve women and minorities, and it can be useful for our faculty to participate in them. Invite such graduate students to visit campus periodically, to attend conferences, etc. It is commonly the case that hiring graduates from your own institution is not good practice. But in some cases, it may be worthwhile to consider hiring one of your own to meet diversity goals. Keep the lines of communication open! They may pay great rewards in the long run.

Proactive Informational Outreach

Beyond broadcast advertising, consider the personal touch.

  • Let applicants know you will be available to meet at professional society meetings. Schedule personal appointments to meet informally.
  • Contact colleagues and department chairs personally to make sure they are aware of the job opportunities. Target colleagues with likely recent graduates, departments that are known to have strengths in the area of your job search. Let your colleagues know you are particularly interested in promising women and minority candidates.
  • Attend meetings attended primarily by women and minorities in the field (e.g. SACNAS)
  • Ask women and minority faculty to assist with your recruitment campaign.
  • Target professional societies that are dedicated to women and minority populations (AWG, SACNAS, NABGG), and many professional societies have sub-committees or working groups that address these populations.
  • Consult directories of minority and/or female recipients of terminal degrees. Various such directories are published, including those by the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) and by scholarly organizations in many disciplines.
  • Use your alumni to help scout out diverse talent. They will have spheres of influence beyond the immediate draw of the department.
  • Don't assume that qualified candidates will necessarily apply; often they must be convinced. Some candidates may think their credentials don't fit, that they are too junior, or that they won't be a good fit for the department. Remind them that without knowing who will be in the pool, you can't predict how any given candidate will compare and ask them to postpone making judgments themselves until a later time in the process. Once they are in the pool, either side can always decide that ithe fit isn't a good one, but if the candidates don't enter the pool, the committee will lose the opportunity to consider them. Another argument to use with junior candidates is that the application process will provide valuable experience if their application is unsuccessful in this search.

Encouragement to apply

Your search committee may receive queries about the position from applicants (female and male) who were not sure whether or not they met the stated qualifications and should apply. You may want to encourage these candidates to submit their applications to expand the diversity of the applicant pool. The responsibility then fell to the search committee to evaluate and prioritize the applications. You just may find a "diamond in the rough".

Composition of the Search Committee

To the extent possible, make sure there is a balance of male and female members and faculty from underrepresented groups on the search committee to demonstrate commitment to diversity. This may place an undue burden on faculty from these groups as they are asked to take on greater service responsibilities for the department and university. But, it's a service that is essential. (Try to give released time or other rewards for this additional work). Consider including an undergraduate or graduate student on the search committee; again, this shows commitment to your educational mission if that is a priority for your job posting.

Charge, Training and Conduct of the Search Committee

It is essential that your search committee be fully compliant with the rules and protocols established by hour Affirmative Action Office/Human Resources Department. Schedule a meeting of the search committee with your AAO/HRD officer well before the application deadline. Discuss the need to adhere to all privacy and confidentiality guidelines. Make sure that procedures are in place to ensure that all candidates receive equitable (not necessarily equal) treatment in the review process. Develop criteria for evaluation and apply them consistently to all; structured criteria for decision making, and a structured process for recording observations lead to more accurate evaluations. Record both negative and positive comments on individuals and justify opinions (University of Arizona). Keep complete records of your deliberations--to help with future decision-making, and to justify these decisions should the process or outcomes be challenged. Develop scoring rubrics for applications, and interview protocols for candidates and their referees, before the review begins (numerous resources for "Hiring Toolkits" are listed below). Review the literature on unconscious bias (cited above) and make sure that you avoid the appearance of bias in your written and spoken communications with candidates. Make sure there is a clear charge to the committee and the expected outcome of the initial stages of the review process: e.g. number of candidates expected to be invited for campus interviews; a short list of candidates, with pros and cons listed; a ranked list of candidates....You can't change the rules of the review in mid-course so be sure that all procedures and guidelines are firmly established, and that they are applied uniformly by all committee members. Committee members must be committed to the task, and must participate in review of all candidates.

The important role of the Search Committee Chair: set the agenda and timetable for the committee's work, articulate expectations for committee conduct, ensure compliance with all university procedures and guidelines, keep the committee's work on track, establish the decision-making process, communicate with the Department Head/Chair or other hiring authorities.

Reading the Meaning of Letters of Recommendation and Solicitations - Gendered Wording

In reviewing (and writing) letters of recommendation, be aware of nuances in wording that may influence the perception of candidates. Check out this list of nuanced terms that may introduce bias from the American Women in Science website (and scroll down to the list of terms they present).

Interview Protocols

Quite often a barrier for women and underrepresented groups is not "what" is asked, but "how" it is asked. For example, Provide applicants with the opportunity to describe non-traditional career paths (which may particularly apply to women). Consider the first question in the phone interview might ask the applicant: "Please describe your research history and trajectory", which gave the applicants the ability to describe and put in context all significant life experiences that have contributed to their professional development

  • Be careful to place a suitable value on non-traditional career paths. Take into account time spent raising children or getting particular kinds of training, unusual undergraduate degrees, and different job experiences. There is considerable evidence that evaluations of men frequently go up when they have such work experience, while evaluations of women with the same kinds of experience go down.
  • Make sure that the committee's system of evaluation does not inadvertently screen out well-qualified applicants from historically Black colleges and universities, or other institutions that historically have high rates of graduate of underrepresented students.

Campus Visits

Provide a diverse view of your department and campus that includes: time with the search committee; meetings with students, faculty (including faculty from allied departments) and the administration; a seminar presentation; hosted lunch and/or dinner with a cross section of departmental representatives; time to explore campus and your community.

Ensure that on visits prospects meet with female/minority faculty in cognate departments: In accepting a position, a faculty member is making a decision based partly on a judgment as to whether (s)he will feel part of a congenial community of scholars. Especially when a potential colleague is recruited into a department thinly populated by women or under-represented minorities, it is important to introduce the prospect to faculty members beyond the hiring department

Two-Career Faculty Couples

When you are recruiting new faculty, make sure they are aware of rights and opportunities afforded through university hiring policies. Here are some resources for addressing faculty hires with dual career families Dual-Science Career Couples-- College of William and Mary, Dept. of Physics Dual Career Couples from the On the Cutting Edge Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences website. From the University of Washington: Sample Recommendations to Chairs for Facilitating Dual Career Hires (Acrobat (PDF) 214kB Oct24 12)

Institutional Climate: Is Your Campus/Department "Family Friendly"?

In a timely article in the April 2012 volume of American Scientist (Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, "When Scientists Choose Motherhood"), the authors report:

"Gender inequities in science, technology, mathematics and engineering have long been a subject of concern. Some advances—more women than ever are working in the biological sciences—along with broad societal changes have improved the outlook. Still, women are significantly underrepresented in many fields. These changes require a reassessment of the reasons for such disparities. Recent work suggests that former causes, such as gender-based discrimination in such areas as hiring and grant allocation, are not as central now. Instead, the hurdles women face often stem from a combination of several factors, including the decision to have children and cultural norms that place the burden of raising children and managing households disproportionately on women."

Here is an example from Boston University where Personal Life Policies are clearly identified for the entire campus community. Having these policies presented in an open and accessible place makes it a lot easier to assure job candidates about support for personal life styles afforded by the institution.

Advertising Professional Societies Where you Could Advertise to Reach a Diverse Candidate Pool

Other Resources for Recruiting a Diverse Faculty

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Randy Richardson, Wes Ward, Suzanne O'Connell, Carol Frost, and Heather Houlton for critical review of this page and for providing additional resources.