Last year, I served on a panel sponsored by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington DC to discuss best practices for minority faculty recruitment and retention in the academy. An issue of concern raised by many attendees, particularly those interested in recruiting underrepresented minorities at their institutions, was how to connect and engage with faculty of color at all ranks. With women of color professionals in academia often being mistaken for custodial workers and with many people of color choosing not to pursue academic careers or leaving science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields after earning Ph.D.s, concerns about recruitment and retention of faculty of color are real.
Via the panel, reflections, interactions, and conversations with numerous stakeholders, I decided to provide a few suggestions to inform potential interactions between majority and minority faculty in the academy. Although many such conversations may never occur openly, I hope that my perspective will offer new suggestions for engagement with current and future faculty of color.
Photo courtesy of www.i2e2a.org (Raul Mosley, photographer)
Although this sounds like a no-brainer, many people don’t take the time to shut their mouths and to listen to the (honest) perspectives of others. Since we all represent diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, it is vital to listen actively to what others have to say, even when the conversations are uncomfortable or difficult.
Proactivity Tip: If you are leading a meeting or committee, allow all voices to be heard. Although it takes practice, listening actively and responding sensitively to what has been said will open you and your organization to new perspectives. If you allow a minority voice to receive as much attention as a majority voice, you are on your way to promoting inclusivity.
(2) Assume the best, not the worst.
In the same way that minority professionals are often mistaken for custodial workers, other assumptions are also often made about their titles, credentials, etc. Examples include calling a minority faculty member with a doctorate “Mr.” or “Mrs.” instead of “Professor” or “Dr.” Although many individuals mean no harm when they engage with minority faculty casually, the sum of many negative experiences in which minorities are not respected may lead to misunderstandings within your exchanges.
Proactivity Tip: Think about how you would want to be treated when deciding how to engage with faculty of color, and make sure that you are implementing the golden rule. Also reflect on ways that you automatically receive respect from students and colleagues (e.g., being included in decision-making meetings or having access to resources that are not offered to everyone), and use any privileges that you have to include people of color in a culture’s inner circle. Remember, in the end, the entire team wins!
(3) Develop thick skin.
When you open yourself up to the perceptions that POC have about an environment, you must be thick-skinned. This means that you may hear a viewpoint that conflicts with your own. To promote changes, however, such honesty is needed within an environment.
Proactivity Tip: Engage with facilitators and tools that promote open discussion among majority and minority faculty. You may contact someone in your Human Resources department, a private consulting firm, or a consultant (see my services)to discuss ways to facilitate this conversation and to ensure that no personal or professional boundaries are crossed during exchanges. The leader must be vulnerable and humble enough to admit that he/she is open to feedback that will make an environment a better place for everyone.
In conclusion, these three tips are only a few that might remove any barriers that faculty of color are or will experience in your organization. Even if your organization has a history of negativity among faculty of color, celebrate the fact that you are making positive strides toward making it a better place for all.
BONUS: Download this FREE guide for faculty who want insider tips about what to look for and ask in a job interview!