Institutions of higher education are increasingly diverse with more women and people of color hired, but there remains much work to be done to ensure that underrepresented faculty feel supported in their careers, evaluated fairly for tenure and/or promotion, and made to feel appreciated and valued in their institutions. This perspective paper will review how interpersonal and institutional prejudice disadvantage women of color in academia in aspects of their professional responsibilities including teaching, mentoring students, research, and service. The combination of these challenges explains why women of color are not rewarded in the same way and do not advance as quickly in their academic careers compared to white men. After considering the subtle and direct ways that biases cause harm to women of color, we present recommendations to better support women of color in faculty roles with the goal of combating prejudice pertaining to both racial/ethnic and gender biases.
“I’m speaking.”—Kamala Harris, 2020.
Women of color arguably face the highest number of challenges in professional settings relative to white men, white women, and men of color. In addition to historically racist and sexist institutional policies, women of color consistently encounter prejudice in interpersonal interactions based on their marginalized status in both race and gender. A prominent example of this is former Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly talking over current Vice President Kamala Harris in an attempt to silence her and take control of the narrative during the vice presidential debate despite moderator Susan Page’s repeated attempts to stop Pence from interrupting.
The recent Black Lives Matters movement has gained momentum in various circles and highlighted the systemic inequities that are present in society. Like many industries, academia has been guilty of systemic racism and undermining the potential career advancement of certain groups (consciously or accidentally) by its choices and policies that have historically favored dominant groups. This perspective paper explores some of the challenges faced by women of color in academia, based on both qualitative and quantitative data that perpetuate inequality and present recommendations to address these issues by bringing equity to the forefront. This paper first provides an overview of inequity in higher education, with a particular focus on individuals of multiple marginalized identities and specifically women of color. Then, we offer recommendations to help increase equity by supporting the success of individuals of marginalized identities in academia with specific focus on teaching and advising, service, and research given that these categories are typically evaluated in tenure and promotion decisions in academia. Within this context, we define equity as taking into consideration the historical context of different social groups’ status to give individuals resources and opportunities that increase the likelihood of equal success across social groups (Gooden 2015).
The lack of equity in higher education
According to the Institute of Education Sciences (2018), women, people of color, and especially women of color are underrepresented in academia. From the 2018–19 data for the USA, we see that although the proportion of white faculty aligned with population demographics (75% in academia, 76.3% of U.S. population). Women of all ethnic/racial backgrounds, however, were underrepresented, holding fewer than 44% of positions in academia despite accounting for 50.8% in the U.S. population. One group was over-represented (Asian/Pacific Islanders individuals made up 12% in academia, but only 6.1% in U.S. population), but most other marginalized ethnic/racial groups were seriously underrepresented in academic roles, including Black individuals (3% in academia, 13.4% in U.S. population); Hispanic individuals (3% in academia, 18.5% in U.S. population); and First Nations/Indigenous individuals (1% in academia, 1.3% in U.S. population). The numbers, taken from the Institute of Education Sciences (2018) and the United States Census (2019), show the under-representation and continued oppression of BIPOC women in academic contexts.
One specific group, which we will focus on for the remainder of this paper is women of color. An individual who belongs to two marginalized identities is more likely to experience cumulative effects on experiences with prejudice and lead to poorer mental health outcomes (Chiang et al. 2017). For example, a Black woman (lacking both white privilege and male privilege) or a white woman with a disability (lacking both male privilege and able-bodied privilege) would both experience greater challenges in contemporary society than a cisgender white man (Crenshaw 1990).
In this paper, we define women of color faculty as those who work as a full-time permanent (or equivalent) instructor in higher education, self-identify as female, and belong to the following racial/ethnic categories: Arab American, Asian American or Pacific Islander, Native American/Indigenous American, Black or African American, and Latina American or Hispanic. We recognize that women of color are not a monolith; rather their experiences and journeys will vary from one person to another and from group to group given the complex history of racism within the USA and differential power dynamics that affect racial groups in both overlapping and distinct ways. We chose, however, to focus this paper on women of color as a collective group as this topic should be given more attention considering that women of all marginalized ethnic/racial groups show achievement gaps in academic careers relative to white men (Nyunt et al. 2022). A second reason we focus on women of color collectively is that much research has documented overlapping experiences and outcomes for this social group in academia, such as lacking white privilege (Arday and Mirza 2018), being held to different standards throughout their careers due to “whiteness” being seen as the default and other races being seen as deviant or deficient (Corrigan and Vats 2020), having to navigate academic culture while always being cognizant of one’s racial/ethnic identity and racial politics (Marshall and Ghazal Read 2003; Reason and Evans 2007), experiencing oppression in the classroom and within the organizational culture at large (Cheshire et al. 2021), and earning tenure at lower rates than white male faculty (Nyunt et al. 2022; Ortega-Liston and Rodriguez Soto 2014). We would like to emphasize, however, that campus leaders in academia should be particularly mindful of how various factors discussed in this paper are especially likely to negatively affect Black women faculty given the long history of oppression toward Black Americans and the continued pervasiveness of anti-Blackness at both national and global levels (Anderson 2017; Eberhardt 2020; Saad 2020).
The following discussion will examine distinct challenges in workload for women of color with particular focus on areas of teaching and advising, research, service, and the unique challenges they face while navigating the white- and male-dominated spaces of academia.
But first, it is important to provide context by describing the reality of the hiring process for marginalized groups. Women and faculty of color are far more likely to be hired in non-tenure track positions, which can partially explain the wage gap in academia. In fact, recent data indicate that women of color constitute the highest proportion of contingent (non-tenure track) faculty compared to white men, white women, and men of color, with women of color accounting for 41% of these positions in the USA (Boss et al. 2019; Finkelstein et al. 2016). Additionally, being in a non-tenure track position makes career advancement more difficult and contributes to the individual holding less power in the workplace, further disadvantaging them (Kezar and Maxey 2014). For example, the opinions of non-tenure track faculty may hold less weight in departmental meetings or on committees, which could perpetuate inequality if marginalized voices are consistently ignored and their concerns are not addressed. A Black woman faculty member stated in a qualitative study “I don’t feel like my opinions are as valued. Sometimes my program director comes to me to inform me of things rather than asking my input” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). Given that both women and faculty of color are underrepresented in academia, women of color are likely to experience feelings of isolation, a lack of support from colleagues and/or administration, and lack of mentorship, all of which can have cumulative harms on productivity and career progress (Duncan 2014; Generett and Cozart 2011; Pittman 2012; Saldana et al. 2013).
Related, Affirmative Action can lead to BIPOC individuals being perceived as a “token” or sole representative for their racial/ethnic group. Tokenism can lead to psychological harm by highlighting one’s visibility (potentially leading to stigma) and increasing pressure to succeed to make one’s social group appear favorably to combat negative stereotypes (Niemann 2016). Further, if a BIPOC individual does not meet the dominant group’s expectations, this can lead to negative internal attributions, which perpetuate the dominant group’s negative stereotypes of BIPOC individuals (Fiske and Nueberg 1990). Those in academia should be especially mindful of how these factors affect Black faculty, considering evidence that those with more prejudiced attitudes are more likely to oppose Affirmative Action, are more likely to think that Black Americans are undeserving of equitable treatment, and are more likely to hold negative attitudes toward Black Americans in higher education (Bridges 2016; Hall 2016; Yi and Todd 2021). Faculty of color, compared to white faculty, are more likely to experience a hostile work environment where they are continuously subjected to both interpersonal (e.g., microaggressions in social interactions) and institutional (ex. racist policies in hiring and tenure/promotion processes) discrimination (Guzman et al. 2010). This is seen in the fact that far fewer women of color receive tenure and/or promotion compared to white men (Ginther and Hayes 2003; Lazos 2012; Perna 2001).
Teaching and advising
In a study analyzing student ratings of faculty teaching ability, researchers compared white, Black, and faculty of other races (Asian, Hispanic, Native American) and found that white faculty had the highest evaluations followed by “other” with Black faculty consistently receiving the lowest scores (Smith and Hawkins 2011). In general, all BIPOC faculty consistently receive lower student evaluations than their white male counterparts. Although white women and men of color receive lower student evaluations than white males (Hamermesh and Parker 2005; Miller and Chamberlain 2000), women of color receive even lower student ratings than members of those two groups (Boring et al. 2016; Dukes and Gay 1989; Hamermesh and Parker 2005). Despite these lower ratings, however, faculty of color dedicate more time and efforts to all aspects of professional development, including teaching, advising students, service to the institution, and administrative tasks (Allen et al. 2000; Astin et al. 1997; Hirshfield and Joseph 2012; Villalpando and Delgado Bernal 2002). Additionally, they are more likely to use innovative teaching methods that enhance students’ learning experiences and academic performance (Knowles and Harleston 1997). These efforts and abilities are simply not reflected in their student ratings.
A study (Harlow 2003) on classroom experiences of Black faculty indicated that 76% of Black professors believed students perceived them as less competent than most professors (compared to 7% of white faculty endorsing this), 55% felt increased pressure to prove their capabilities to their students (compared to 10% of white faculty), and 34% experienced insubordination in the classroom (compared to 7% of white faculty). Further, Black faculty (38% compared to 14% of white faculty) had to more frequently remind students to address them by their professional title, were evaluated by students as lacking interpersonal warmth (28% compared to 7% of white faculty), and reported feeling physically unsafe due to student hostility (14% compared to 3% of white faculty). Additionally, women of color faculty experience higher levels of hostility and rudeness from their students compared to white male faculty (Blackshear and Hollis 2021; Pittman 2018). A qualitative study reported a Black woman faculty member’s reaction to being yelled at by a graduate student as “That really just like took me by surprise…[the student] would not yell at a white male professor, I just know this would not happen to a white male professor…I felt like [the student was] yelling at me because I’m a Black woman’…[The student felt] it is okay to talk to me this way” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021).
Intersectionality demonstrates that faculty who are women of color are more likely to have their authority, status, and knowledgeability challenged by white male students compared to male faculty (both white men and men of color) and white female faculty (Pittman 2010), which could play a role in explaining lower scores that are independent of teaching ability and/or effort. Intersectionality is a theoretical framework commonly used as a lens to examine race-related issues in legal, psychological, sociological, and criminological contexts that identifies how one’s cumulative and interconnected social identities (e.g., race combined with gender) interact to impact privilege (or lack thereof) and the severity of prejudice one encounters due to the sum of one’s identities (Crenshaw 1989). For instance, a white woman (lacking male privilege) is more likely to encounter sexism than a white man, but a white woman (holding white privilege) is less likely to encounter racism than a Black woman (who is more likely to encounter both sexism and racism than a white man). It is important to note that while white individuals do not currently experience institutional racism due to the history of racial structures/hierarchies in the USA and the systemic power which white individuals collectively hold, it is possible for white individuals to experience other forms of prejudice, such as being stereotyped (Harper 2012).
There are also a lack of equity in advising students among social groups. A study by Ali (2009) found that white faculty had advising responsibilities that totaled 0.57 h per week, while it was 0.73 for Hispanic faculty, 0.93 for Black faculty, and 1.09 for Asian faculty. This is likely in part due to students of color being more likely to seek emotional counseling and/or mentoring from faculty of color, especially when experiencing racial trauma as these students feel more comfortable disclosing to faculty of color based on perceptions of shared identities, cultures, and experiences (Brissett 2020). Related to this, research indicated that students have higher expectations of women of color faculty in terms of holding a nurturing attitude toward students, giving higher levels of emotional support, and giving higher levels of care (Griffin et al. 2011; Gutiérrez y Muhs et al. 2012; Hirshfield and Joseph 2012). This added workload of mentoring and emotional labor redirects time that could be dedicated to teaching preparation, which may lead to lower teaching evaluations as well as additional challenges described below.
A Black woman faculty member reported that her additional workload in mentoring and emotional labor had negligible positive impact on her tenure review process. “You don’t have a metric for the type of service that I’m engaging in, like all these students showing up to my office because I’m the only woman of color professor they’ve ever had at this entire university” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). Another Black woman stated that not only were students of color seeking support from her, but colleagues were also placing additional strain on her in this domain. “When it comes to working with minority students in our program, if there’s an issue with them, [colleagues] automatically funnel them to me…another burden is that it is not credited in terms of the tenure process” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021).
Women of color are often spotlighted to take on additional service commitments, especially those related to anti-racism initiatives (Hirshfield and Joseph 2012). Women of color, and especially Black women, report feeling pressured to accept additional service responsibilities, despite lack of time and compensation, due to power dynamics (Rideau 2021). Campus leaders often communicate to women of color faculty that it is expected that they be “team players” and this pressure, combined with the anxiety of not having tenure leads women of color who are contingent or tenure track faculty being more likely to “volunteer” for these service opportunities or being directly told to take on these commitments (McMahon and Green 2008).
Even with spending more time and greater efforts on service, however, women of color are not recognized or appreciated for these contributions, which is especially true for Black women despite putting forth a disproportionate amount of labor (Matthew 2016). In a qualitative study focusing on Black women faculty, one respondent stated “They had me working on a project, in which I did double presentations, coordinated other faculty, and even brought students. But when I asked about my pay, I became a target of intense harassment. They were stealing my labor” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). Regarding her efforts not being appreciated or acknowledged, another Black woman said “I feel like I have been slapped in the face. We’re trying to help and support and it’s frustrating and I’m just very disgusted” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). A third participant remarked about her university’s culture “I have to protect myself in this environment. They will take my labor and not pay [me] like [they pay others]” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021).
A review of research (252 publications) focusing on faculty of color indicated several common themes: their research accomplishments being undervalued, feelings of isolation and lack of support, being stereotyped as less capable/intelligent, and racial spotlighting (Turner et al. 2008). Racial spotlighting places unwanted attention onto individuals of an underrepresented group by heightening their marginalized identity/identities in asking them to act as a spokesperson on behalf of their social group (Carter 2008). In the context of academia, faculty of color are often spotlighted to take on service work, especially related to anti-racism initiatives, based on their increased visibility as a “token” in the hopes that they will bring a “diverse” perspective (Baez 2000). This increased workload in service then takes time away from faculty of color to establish their research agendas and publish.
Women being underrepresented in academic research may be due to a cyclical process (see Fig. 1). Due to prevailing gender stereotypes that men are more capable in research, men are more likely to be awarded research grants, appointed to leadership positions, and given lower workloads, allowing them more time, resources, and flexibility to devote to research (Van den Besselaar and Sandström, 2017). Given these factors, men have fewer obstacles in establishing their research programs and successfully publishing, which perpetuates the stereotype that men are more competent researchers compared to women. Although these findings focused on inequities that are based on gender, similar stereotypes apply to racial/ethnic groups and contribute to the perpetuated inequity in academia that further disadvantage researchers of color. In a qualitative study focusing on four Black women faculty, a common theme that emerged was the denigration of women’s scholarship in contrast to men’s research accomplishments being praised (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). One respondent stated “I have a great national reputation, but I have no reputation in this school” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). Another interviewee said “My work has to be twice as good. One woman colleague gets an international award, and she is ignored in an open meeting. A male colleague gets an institutional windfall, that was literally given to him, it is like he won the Nobel Prize” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021).
An analysis of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that, while white women and white men were equally likely to obtain the R01 grant, women of color (despite having comparable qualifications to white applicants) were significantly less likely to receive other funding through this organization (Ginther et al. 2016). Faculty of color are less likely to receive external funding due to their research interests, which are often related to diversity/inclusion and less valued in academia (Settles et al. 2019). Similarly, because faculty of color who conduct scholarship on diversity/inclusion are more likely to publish in “specialty” journals, their accomplishments are further overlooked or devalued when undergoing personnel action reviews (Settles et al. 2019). Top-tier journals often focus on niche topics in the field (e.g., social neuroscience) but may ignore other important topics within the field, such as diversity/inclusion, making it more difficult for faculty of color to establish themselves as well-known researchers (Diaz and Bergman 2013). This, then, further perpetuates the cycle of inequality and prejudice such that, despite working just as diligently as or even more so than their white counterparts, faculty of color are consistently “behind” their peers due to double standards evaluating them more harshly. The consequence of this is the continued false perceptions that white faculty are more capable than faculty of color. Consistent with this, analyses show that while Affirmative Action was created to combat racial/ethnic discrimination and diversify the workforce, the social group that has benefited most from Affirmative Action is actually white women (Crenshaw 2006).
Women of color are also often given the least desirable teaching assignments (related to workload, scheduling, and courses with higher enrollment) such that they experience higher levels of stress and have less time to devote to other professional obligations, such as research (Allen et al. 2002; Turner 2003). Another reason that women of color have less time to develop their research programs is that they are more likely to be spotlighted by campus leaders to engage in service, especially tasks related to anti-racism (Brayboy 2003; Hirshfield and Joseph 2012).
Navigating the academic spaces dominated by non-BIPOC groups
A 17-year longitudinal study found that across 24 institutions of higher education, male faculty on average earned $20,520 per year more than female faculty (Freund et al. 2016). Additionally, gendered salary differences are evident when comparing predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and historically Black colleges and universities (HCBUs). At both types of institutions, male faculty out-earn female faculty, although the difference is smaller at HCBUs ($2781) than at PWIs ($5349), indicating that, although predominantly BIPOC institutions are more equitable than predominantly white institutions, women are still at a disadvantage (Renzulli et al. 2006). Further, women faculty at HCBUs continue to report lack of equity in salary such as discrepant offers related to starting salary compared to equally qualified male applicants, discrepant pay raises compared to equally accomplished male faculty, and not being considered for or being removed from additional projects that offered stipends (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). Overall, salaries do appear to differ by ethnicity. Data indicated the following average salaries for ethnic groups: Asian/Pacific Islander $58,098, white $41,762, Hispanic $40,247, Black/African American $38,012, and First Nations/Indigenous $33,932 (Ali 2009). Similarly, Li and Koedel (2017) found that across 40 public higher education institutions, professors’ salary data of 4047 faculty in six disciplines (biology, chemistry, economics, English literature, sociology, and education) indicated that Black faculty earned $10,000–15,000 less per year in comparison to white faculty. A related analysis of salary in higher education has indicated that for every $1 earned by a white man, white women earn $0.81, men of color earn $0.72, and women of color earn $0.67 (McChesney 2018), providing evidence that individuals with multiple marginalized identities (women of color) are further disadvantaged than individuals with one marginalized identity (white women or men of color), consistent with the framework of intersectionality.
A survey by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (2020) has also indicated that white faculty reported greater job satisfaction (69%) than faculty of color (67% for Asian faculty and 62% for both Black and Hispanic faculty). The same survey found that white faculty (73%) were more likely than Black faculty (55%) to agree that campus leaders actively promote diversity and 38% of Black faculty indicated “disagree.” Similarly, white faculty (78%) were more likely than Black faculty (58%) to believe that their departmental colleagues actively promoted diversity, with 28% of Black faculty indicating “disagree.”
Related, women of color often report experiencing a “chilly climate,” in which they do not feel welcome or valued (Sandler and Hall 1986). A Black woman faculty member spoke of her institutional culture, emphasizing that her teaching, advising, research, and service accomplishments were consistently ignored or denigrated, saying “It’s obvious they don’t respect me or what I do” (Blackshear and Hollis 2021).
Another source of mental distress is white resistance to diversity initiatives. Oftentimes, white privilege protects white individuals from engaging in race-related dialogue, allowing them to maintain their comfort and perpetuate white supremacy (DiAngelo 2018). This avoidance of race-related conversations and the diminishment of their importance denies people of color their identities and experiences, leading to feelings of loneliness, frustration, resentment, and anger (Sue et al. 2009).
The most severe effects of discrimination on women of color can be explained through the framework of intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989), which we described earlier. It argues that cumulative effects of prejudice inflict more harm on those with a multiple marginalized identities, such that a woman of color encounters more challenges than a man of color, a white woman, or a white man due to the combined effects of systemic sexism and systemic racism. This has been documented in both social situations and in academia (TuSmith and Reddy 2002).
Faculty of marginalized identities (and more so those with two or more marginalized identities) face unique challenges in academia. Experts maintain that institutions of higher education continue to maintain and operate under the system of white supremacy (Andersen et al. 2014; Feagin 2013), which perpetuates inequality by favoring those with white privilege by offering unearned advantages and an easier path to success (Watson 2013; Winkle-Wagner 2009). Further, faculty of color are often judged based on “white standards,” which perpetuates inequality based on the lack of cultural acceptance if white faculty are seen as the “standard” while faculty of color are seen as the “other” (Leonardo 2013). This is evidenced in faculty of color receiving lower student evaluations despite investing just as much (if not more) time and effort into teaching to develop and implement better and/or more progressive teaching techniques that improve student learning outcomes, their research accomplishments being overlooked or devalued based on their scholarly interests, and spotlighting them to engage in more service commitments that are uncompensated and reallocate the time they have available to fulfill other professional responsibilities.
Women, people of color, and especially women of color are also at a disadvantage due to implicit biases that they are less competent than white males (Hendrix 1998) and false perceptions that they were hired to meet an affirmative action quota, and thus are often perceived as less deserving of their academic positions (Agathangelou and Ling 2002; Balderrama et al. 2004; Pritlove et al. 2019).
Faculty of color also experience higher levels of stress and anxiety due to having higher workloads than their white colleagues (Johnson-Bailey and Cervero 2008). In addition, they are more likely to experience racial battle fatigue, which is emotional strain as a result of repeated experiences of prejudice and symptoms may include distress, anger, frustration, depression, disrupted sleep patterns, and feeling discouraged (Smith et al. 2007). As a result of whiteness and white experiences dominating the institutional culture and narrative, people of color are likely to feel unwelcome, alienated, and anxious in predominantly white spaces in addition to experiencing prejudice. This heavier cognitive load will likely lead to impaired performance, which can hinder work performance and career progress. Classic research (as well as more recent works) shows that additional cognitive resources are required when adding a secondary task, which can then hinder performance (Baddeley and Hitch 1974). Academia needs to address these issues as long-term experiences with race-related stressors and racial battle fatigue can lead to detrimental health outcomes, including fatigue, depression, hypertension, and chronic pain (Clark et al. 1999; Smith et al. 2006).
All of these are unique challenges faced by BIPOC faculty which add additional burden and can impede productivity and advancement in ways that do not afflict their white counterparts. Further, these factors cause psychological harm, which may explain lower job satisfaction for faculty of color and can lead to higher rates of employee attrition for BIPOC faculty, exacerbating inequities in academia.
Challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic
Beginning in 2020, there was a noticeable shift in the social, economic, political, and cultural climate of the USA brought on by a health pandemic, exacerbating inequity and racism, a rise in publicly documented hate crimes, and civil unrest (Garcia et al. 2021; Njoku and Evans 2022; Laster Pirtle and Wright 2021). In academia, the aforementioned challenges were particularly burdensome to women of color (especially Black women), who were more likely to take on additional responsibilities including being the main caretaker for family members with health issues, coping with death in the family, having increased risk of experiencing domestic violence, a greater concern and preoccupation with housing needs, experiencing trauma in response to seeing members of one’s social group affected by severe health issues and/or police brutality, discussing racism tied to police brutality with their children, and educational responsibilities extending to providing both social support to students and supporting their own children’s education (Alang et al. 2017; Connor et al. 2020; Hepburn et al. 2020; Malone Gonzalez 2019; Mickey et al. 2020; Sneed et al. 2020). Further, these same factors can have traumatizing effects on students of color, which may lead to women of color faculty feeling greater obligation to provide emotional counseling to their students (Landertinger et al. 2021). Based on these factors, it is not surprising that this has increased the discrepancy in research activity and productivity between white male faculty and women of color faculty during the pandemic based on analyses of manuscript submissions, statistics from preprint services, and scholarly repositories (Oleschuk 2020). Thus, committees and campus leaders who oversee the tenure process should be especially mindful of these extraneous variables when reviewing tenure portfolios for women of color faculty.
Recommendations to better support BIPOC faculty
As we have described, faculty of color encounter in their careers: increased feelings of isolation, less opportunity to develop a mentoring relationship with a senior colleague, higher levels of occupational stress, their research accomplishments being devalued (especially if their scholarship focuses on diversity/inclusion), being perceived as less competent due to negative stereotypes and misconceptions that they were only hired to fulfill a quota related to Affirmative Action, institutional policies that perpetuate inequality, and implicit biases in the tenure/promotion process (Turner et al. 1999).
Although there are systemic barriers in place that affect the success of some groups of faculty in academia, we are hopeful that the system can change in ways to better support these groups. To this end, we conclude our paper with recommendations on better supporting the success of underrepresented groups in academia, especially women of color.
Some of the inequities described here could be relatively easy to remedy, as indicated by practices which have already been implemented at various institutions after thorough policy review (Bias education and resource team 2022; Bias education response team 2019; Cardenas and Davis 2021; Huff 2021; O’Malley 2022; Southern Illinois University, 2021; Tufts University; 2022). Take salary discrepancies as an example. It would be quite feasible to conduct an internal review to examine average salary and representation in work positions across different racial/ethnic groups to determine the institution’s position relative to equity. If systemic inequities exist for faculty with comparable skills and experiences, salary adjustments are possible.
One reason that women of color faculty make less than white men is that they are less likely to negotiate initial salary offers (white men are more likely to be confident and/or entitled) and are evaluated less favorably if they do negotiate, being seen as violating social norms (Bowles et al. 2007; Kolb 2009). If men start at a higher level, they accumulate more based on this and pay raises. To remedy this, changes in institutional policies can be made so that job offers with initial salary are calculated based only on experience/qualifications and salary offers are non-negotiable. Additionally, schools can consider offering higher starting salaries relative to comparable schools to better recruit applicants of marginalized identities and reduce the wage gap and also give higher consideration to women and employees of color during the personnel actions review process to elevate faculty of marginalized groups to more prestigious work positions (McChesney 2018). We recommend that two divisions oversee changing structural policies to implement new practices: human resources (HR) and a specific committee within the division of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. If such a committee or office does not yet exist at an institution we propose, as have others, that they be structured based on already existing committees (Bias education response team 2019). Members are selected to ensure representation at every level such that there are student representatives, staff representatives (with at least one being from HR to act as a liaison and facilitate communication between the committee and HR), faculty representatives, and representatives in administrative positions. Considering that there is so much time and labor involved in the committee’s ongoing contributions, it is also recommended that members be compensated for this service to their institution.
Since women of color are given less favorable teaching assignments that lead to greater time commitments, department chairs should be mindful of this and prioritize teaching requests of marginalized faculty, especially if they are not yet tenured. This would implement equity such that marginalized faculty can advocate for themselves, choose teaching assignments that are favorable to them, increase student evaluations if they are passionate about and knowledgeable in the courses they teach, and give greater flexibility in distributing their time between teaching, research, and service. This is especially important for junior faculty as they are likely experiencing higher stress levels associated with working toward tenure. Prioritizing the needs of marginalized faculty reduces their stress and anxiety, will likely increase job satisfaction, and provides them a less challenging path to success as they work toward tenure and/or promotion. Additionally, giving women of color faculty greater autonomy and flexibility in their work schedules can lead to increased self-care, which may decrease discrepancies in health outcomes between faculty members of different racial/ethnic backgrounds (Njoku and Evans 2022).
It is also important to remove bias from all professional opportunities on campus. For example, if one faculty member needs to be selected to move into a larger office space, attend a conference for free, or to sit on a particular committee, don’t approach a specific person, but rather, open it up to everyone who could be interested. In this way, marginalized faculty are not shielded from opportunities. Similarly, if there is an opportunity to be part of a diversity initiative, the commitment should be presented to all faculty to volunteer in the interest of equality and division of labor.
At some institutions, a committee within the division of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism is responsible for maintaining an online system through which community members can report acts of bias (Bias education response team 2019). This same committee can then review reports, mediate conflict as a third party in an attempt to rectify injustices, contact HR if disciplinary actions are warranted, and compile both qualitative and quantitative data to make recommendations to specific departments if repeated incidents from the same division are reported. It is also recommended (Bias education response team 2019) that campus leaders disseminate information about this committee at the beginning of each semester so that campus members are aware of how to report an incident of bias if they witness or experience discrimination. For instance, the university president can send an informational email to all community members, department chairs can reiterate the announcement during meetings, managers can announce the information to staff members, and faculty can add the information to their syllabi so that students are aware of the procedure for reporting incidents. Forming and maintaining an active committee dedicated to anti-racism communicates to the campus community that the institution is equity-minded and takes actionable steps to implement fair policies as well as remedy injustices when they occur. Due to both gender and racial stereotypes, women of color may be hesitant to speak against injustices they personally experience for fear of being seen as causing problems (Blackshear and Hollis 2021). A Black woman faculty member stated “I was torn between which image to portray to which audience and who would or would not be offended…I was tired. Tired of explaining myself…tired of being called angry; tired of being the only one to speak up and show up when there was a racist situation on campus” (Boss et al. 2019). Further, they may worry about job security if they anticipate that those with more authority may affect their tenure outcomes if they were to speak out. If, however, information about the reporting system, along with a statement of commitment to equity, were widely distributed and accessible, those of marginalized identities may more readily report experiences with discrimination, knowing that the cultural norm of the institution is to actively counter bias rather than simply ignoring these incidents. Further, the institution should publicize outcomes of reported incidents to make it clear to the campus community that those who perpetuate acts of bias will be held responsible and those who report the incidents will not experience negative outcomes associated with speaking against another person.
If faculty of color are specifically approached to lead diversity initiatives, they should be compensated for their labor (stipend, course release, etc.) to ensure fairness across all faculty. It is especially important to be mindful of the amount of service BIPOC women are doing relative to the amount of service expected of faculty at their respective institutions. If BIPOC women faculty are engaging in service-related labor above expectations, it is particularly important to remedy this through equitable practices. At some schools, for example, there is standardization in workload assignment so that every faculty member is working equally. Contractual responsibilities fulfilled by a faculty member (advising, committee work, research, teaching, etc.) are captured and documented to ensure fairness. Faculty who are assigned “too much” work (more than 44 h) are paid overtime for their additional commitments. Related, workplaces can consider “banking” this overtime to build up to a course release. Some faculty may prefer greater flexibility in their work schedule rather than overpay, so institutions could consider offering a choice between the two options as well. Further, when writing performance reviews, campus leaders should emphasize the faculty member’s commitment to anti-racism work for purposes of personnel actions related to tenure and/or promotion. Taking these approaches amplifies the contributions of faculty of color as well as sends a clear message that the institution recognizes that anti-racism work is necessary and this work is valued.
Similarly, it is important to evaluate service work similarly to or equal to research accomplishments so that women of color are not disadvantaged in the tenure/promotion process (Njoku and Evans 2022). Institutions need to recognize that, although service is often not compensated, it is vital and necessary for any institution to function. In this way, setting an organizational culture where male/white faculty are expected to engage in emotional labor and/or organizational citizenship behaviors that are typically expected of women and women of color (taking minutes at meetings, giving emotional support to students experiencing hardships, organizing social events, service to the university such as committee work, etc.) can ensure a more even playing field for all groups. Men are more likely than women to be promoted when they exhibit organizational citizenship behaviors (Allen 2006), defined as prosocial behaviors not specified in one’s work contract, such as making coffee for co-workers before a meeting. This may be due to gender roles of women where they are “expected” to engage in communal behaviors whereas men are not and therefore men are seen as going above and beyond their duties when they initiate these tasks. Further, women are likely to be negatively evaluated if they do not engage in these tasks due to the double bind, which perceives women who support their self-interests above others’ needs as violating gender norms (Bowles et al. 2007). Therefore, campus leaders should be especially mindful of who is doing service and redistribute these responsibilities if there are gender and/or racial inequities.
An important consideration is to be aware of our own biases, such as the implicit associations that exist within us as they relate to various group membership categories. This begins with the hiring process. Using blind reviews in the hiring/personnel actions process reduces the likelihood that factors related to identity do not activate implicit bias and affect decisions. Further, having faculty and staff take the Implicit Association Test (IAT, Greenwald et al. 1998) as part of a new hire’s on-board or annual professional development, followed by a dialogue to reflect on their results and the overall topic of implicit bias could increase awareness of our own biases (see Project Implicit at www.implicit.harvard.edu for further information). Similarly, schools can hold anti-racism trainings, workshops, and campus-wide discussions to better educate white individuals on the challenges faced by people of color and to teach faculty how to avoid microaggressions, spotlighting, and other forms of prejudice. This is especially vital for campus leaders so that they are mindful of workload distribution, can motivate them to better promote diversity, set a social norm within their institution of social justice, and help them advocate for marginalized faculty when they are treated unfairly in cases where marginalized faculty are not fully comfortable doing so due to power dynamics.
In 2021, the Southern Illinois University system hired their first Vice President for Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer (O’Malley 2022). Under her leadership, students, staff, and faculty underwent anti-racism training to create a more inclusive atmosphere that would better support people of color. A notable outcome of their commitment to anti-racism through structural policies is diversification of their student body (Southern Illinois University 2021). The institution created the Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois Program to better support students who plan to teach at the college level and which provides financial assistance as well as professional mentoring to these students so that they can thrive, facilitating their success, and in turn, diversifying the workforce in higher education. In 2020, Tufts University reaffirmed their commitment to anti-racism and reviewed 180 recommendations on how to make their institution more inclusive (O’Malley 2022). Under this initiative, the institution formed a task force committed to anti-racism (Bias education and resource team 2022) and the campus has diversified their community at the undergraduate student level, graduate student level, and faculty level (Tufts University 2022).
Trinity College recently created an accelerated diversification initiative to recruit more faculty of color, with much success: the number of Black faculty members in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math increased by 5% in one year, compared to a national average of 1% growth in 20 years (Cardenas and Davis 2021). To restructure their hiring policies, Trinity College first reviewed their own statistics related to faculty race/ethnicity, reallocated resources to focus on faculty recruitment and mentoring, restructured their curriculum upon hiring the new faculty member to integrate the new department member, and paired the new hire with a suitable mentor (Cardenas and Davis 2021).
In 2016, the University of Michigan implemented a new strategic plan to diversify their faculty and expanded their recruitment strategies as well as modified their support programs for faculty of color (Huff 2021). The institution’s chief diversity officer created the Collegiate Fellows Program with the purpose of recruiting hires with a record of anti-racism teaching and/or scholarship, building a network so that faculty of color could collaborate professionally, develop mentoring relationships, and support one another (Huff 2021). Using these strategies, the institution has been able to successfully recruit more diverse applicant pools, thus hiring more faculty of color (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Michigan 2022).
Another way to better support faculty of color is to hire more full-time mental health professionals of color on college campuses. On a predominantly white campus, students and faculty of color may hesitate to seek support from a white counselor over fear that the counselor may lack understanding of race-related issues, which can lead to further racial trauma. If more counselors of color are present, they would be better able to provide emotional and psychological support to students/faculty of color based on similarities in identities, backgrounds, experiences, and needs. By providing greater mental health care and psychological support to both students and faculty of color, the institution reinforces a community of caring for its members and its dedication to anti-racist practices (Wynard et al. 2020). Further, if more counselors of color are available to provide students of color with support, this will divert time and labor away from faculty of color who had previously been providing counsel to these students. Given that a counselor’s job description includes therapy sessions while a faculty member’s contract does not, it increases equity to shift some of students’ emotional needs away from a faculty member and onto a qualified mental health professional, which is also more beneficial to students considering that the faculty member may not have a background in psychology or counseling.
Given that faculty of color face unique challenges in the tenure process relative to white faculty (such as their authority or credentials being questioned or challenged, being spotlighted to take on greater service responsibilities, receiving lower teaching evaluations due to various factors, etc.), several institutions have recently implemented a new practice such that a task force will develop a more equitable review process when evaluating faculty portfolios (Huff 2021). This task force can then highlight the invisible/emotional labor of faculty of color, reiterate their service contributions, and address challenges related to teaching and scholarship that lead to discrepant outcomes compared to white faculty in order to amplify the contributions of women of color faculty and advocate for them.
One final suggestion is to create spaces on campus dedicated only to faculty of color in order to provide networking opportunities, more varied social networks, and mentorship opportunities. Doing so gives faculty of color greater opportunities to form meaningful connections with colleagues from across the campus, which can reduce feelings of isolation in the workplace, especially on a predominantly white campus. Additionally, this may be especially important for mentorship as a better match in mentor/mentee dyads leads to more positive outcomes (Marx et al. 2009). Providing a “safe space” for faculty of color means that they will not have to deal with navigating predominantly white spaces/white culture, and they can take a mental break from white faculty centering themselves in conversations. Further, white colleagues and white campus leaders can support BIPOC women faculty by being mindful that, when BIPOC women voice concerns, they are criticizing structural inequalities that perpetuate unequal treatment. Thus, it is important that white individuals are not dismissive of BIPOC individuals by attributing challenges to lack of character or effort, but instead acknowledging that the lack of equity that remains in higher education leads to disproportionate labor for BIPOC women faculty compared to other social groups.
Why seek out ways to better support marginalized faculty and increase the representation of marginalized groups such as women of color in our faculty members? Benefits of diversity at the faculty level include reduced levels of prejudice at both the interpersonal and institutional levels, improved learning outcomes and higher graduation rates for students, greater likelihood of students obtaining a postgraduate degree, greater acceptance of those of different identities/backgrounds, and increased activism in social justice (Bowen and Bok 1998; Chang et al. 1999; Gurin et al. 2002; Hurtado 1999, 2001; Pascarella et al. 1996; Springer et al. 1996; Terenzini et al. 2001). Another benefit of a diverse faculty is the increased recruitment and retention of a diverse student body (Blackwell 1981; Reyes and Halcon 1991). Faculty of color could also provide more supportive mentoring to students of color based on shared identities and/or experiences to offer greater encouragement and advice in pursuing their long-term career goals. However, as we have already mentioned, this additional workload needs to be recognized by reducing their workload elsewhere or offering compensation in the form of a course release or overtime pay. Studies have shown that individuals are more likely to be successful if they identify closely with their role models based on race/ethnicity (Marx et al. 2009) and gender identity (Marx and Roman 2002); this can motivate more students of color to pursue graduate school, further diversifying the workforce at the professional level.
Given all of the additional hardships we have described herein, attempts to reduce the burden on marginalized faculty, especially women of color should be made a priority in all institutions. For too long, it has been the burden of BIPOC individuals to advocate for themselves, but doing so is an uphill battle when combating institutional policies that were deliberately established to perpetuate white male supremacy. Further, it is hypocritical that society too often places the responsibility on people of color to advocate for equality and engage in anti-racism work when historically, it was white individuals who created, implemented, and continue to perpetuate racial structures that maintain white privilege. The world is changing, and society is recognizing the continuing injustices of the past. We all need to be part of the movement and part of the solution.
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Lin, P.S., Kennette, L.N. Creating an inclusive community for BIPOC faculty: women of color in academia. SN Soc Sci 2, 246 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43545-022-00555-w
- Women of color
- BIPOC faculty