A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who runs a public interest organization. At the time, I gently chided this friend that their organization was not diverse on the gender, race or sexual orientation fronts. This friend is well-intentioned and cares about doing the right thing, but they objected that it was too hard to find people qualified for and also interested in the work. Sigh.
Two of the oldest, most infuriating and otherwise crazy-making excuses for a lack of diversity in teams and organizations are (1) there aren’t enough qualified diverse people in the talent pipeline; and (2) there aren’t enough qualified diverse people who are interested. For shorthand, let’s call these the Pipeline Defense and the Lack of Interest Defense. Both are nonsense. **
Far less diplomatically than is probably ideal, I called bullshit on my friend. I used the firm I was running at the time as an example. Although the legal profession is notoriously bad when it comes to the representation of women and minorities in elite or leadership positions, I had an ace team that fully reflected the diversity of the real world. I explained to my friend that crafting and maintaining diverse teams within a system characterized by widespread misogyny, homophobia, and racism takes purposeful, meaningful commitment and work. Platitudes and good intentions don’t cut it. It takes affirmative effort. And I challenged my friend to do better.
I was reminded of this exchange earlier this week when Professor Marybeth Gasman published in the Washington Post an article about the lack of diversity in academic faculties, explaining “the reason we don’t have more [diversity] is that we don’t want [it]. We simply don’t want [diverse colleagues].” She went on to debunk many of the defenses (including the Pipeline Defense) that are leveled in academia for mediocre to dismal diversity numbers. And she named a key frustration that men and women of color face – not just in workplaces but in life more generally – that people “will bend rules, knock down walls, and build bridges…for those they really want (often white colleagues)” but when it comes to women and minorities everybody has to “play by the rules” or the sky will fall.
It’s a mike-drop kind of piece and is worth a read in its entirety. But the most impressive to me was how she closed out the article.
I’ll close by asking you to think deeply about your role in recruiting and hiring faculty:
- How often do you use the word “quality” when talking about increased diversity? Why do you use it?
- How often do you point to the lack of people of color in the faculty pipeline while doing nothing about the problem?
- How many books, articles, or training sessions have you attended on how to recruit faculty of color?
- How many times have you reached out to departments with great diversity in your field and asked them how they attract and retain a diverse faculty?
- How often do you resist when someone asks you to bend the rules for faculty of color hires but think it’s absolutely necessary when considering a white candidate (you know, so you don’t lose such a wonderful candidate)?
Rather than getting angry at me for pointing out a problem that most of us are aware of, why don’t you change your ways and do something to diversify your department or institution’s faculty?
Swap out “faculty” for whatever word best fits your working environments; the above applies across industries, including those working in social justice and public interest spaces. There is much more to be said about recruiting and retaining diverse teams, but this is an excellent place to start.
Oh. And that friend of mine and the homogenous social justice organization? Flash forward to the present, and the organization reflects true diversity across the metrics. Change can happen. We just have to work at it.
** Whole books have been written and will continue to be written about the absurdity of these defenses in this day and age. In short, though, lots of women and people of color are graduating with college and advanced degrees and have been for a really long time. And nothing in our gender, sexuality or race makes people inherently less ambitious or interested in success.