Diversity Lags in University Science Faculties; Is Accountability the Answer?

Diversity Lags in University Science Faculties; Is Accountability the Answer?

At the Atlantic last week, Ed Yong looked into a troubling trend in academic science, where more and more people from underrepresented groups are earning PhDs, but the representation of minorities on university science faculties is not improving at anything near the same rate:

Kenneth Gibbs Jr., an immunologist and science-policy expert at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, … gathered figures on the numbers of Ph.D. graduates and assistant professors in the science departments of medical schools throughout the country, from 1980 to 2014. The data were stark. During that time, the number of newly minted Ph.D. holders from underrepresented groups grew by nine times, but the number of assistant professors from those groups grew by just 2.6 times. No such gulf existed for well-represented groups like whites and Asians; there, the Ph.D. graduate pool grew by 2.2 times while the assistant professor pool rose proportionally, by 1.7 times. …

But why does the gap exist? Donna Ginther from the University of Kansas wonders if it’s partly because Gibbs focused on medical schools, most of which do not guarantee salary with tenure, and so might be unattractive when compared to other alternatives. Perhaps scientists from minority groups are just seeking employment elsewhere. Gibbs counters that this is unlikely, since almost every sector of academia struggles with faculty diversity. Hiring practices are a likelier culprit.

University science departments not only fail to hire underrepresented minorities; they also do a poor job of retaining them; Gibbs’ research shows that even if these departments were to become substantially better at recruiting minority professors, their diversity won’t improve unless those professors get the support they need to stay.

The problem here may be one of accountability. Are these universities holding themselves and their peers accountable for having a diverse workforce that represents the population they serve? If not, how can they do so?

In our research at CEB, we have found that there are several ways organizations can create accountability for diversity and inclusion outcomes, such as tying D&I goals to leader performance and compensation or having managers share their personal experiences with diverse or inclusive environments to foster and emotional commitment. One example is how Cardinal Health helped managers understand and become champions of D&I change in their daily work by emphasizing multiple ways to accomplish their D&I goals.

Cardinal Health did this by connecting D&I metrics to the managers’ daily work, including internal people strategies, supplier strategies, customer strategies, and community strategies. In the case of university science programs, for example, it seems like diversity metrics are improving in the area of customer strategy (i.e., student enrollment), but not so much in internal people strategy (i.e., recruitment of assistant professors).

Like other organizations struggling to improve D&I outcomes, these universities might benefit from holding themselves accountable for increasing diversity in hiring and tracking the retention and promotion of minority employees. CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can explore our resource on how to advance D&I metrics and drive accountability here.