5 Faculty and FamilyTop3.8 Diversity in leadership4 Search

4 Promoting Fairness and Openness in Search Committees


Eve Riskin (Chair)

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs
College of Engineering
University of Washington
Maria Klawe President
Harvey Mudd College
Jeanne Ferrante Associate Dean
Jacobs School of Engineering
University of California, San Diego

A fair and open search process is crucial to diversifying the faculty, while maintaining excellence. A common excuse for not hiring women and underrepresented minorities is that there is a very small pool of qualified candidates, exacerbated by a pipeline that shrinks at every step from undergraduate to full professor. However, with the right commitment to diversity, especially at the top leadership levels, a university can hire outstanding professors who will help them achieve a faculty that is more representative of our society. It is a common myth that promoting diversity implies lowering standards when instead its key goal is ensuring fairness and openness in generating and evaluating the candidate pool. The bottom line is always that the best candidate should be hired, but it can take a significant effort to ensure that the best candidates are seen.

The faculty search committee is arguably the most important and critical point at which progress on faculty diversity can be made. The strength and independence of faculty governance makes the search committee a point where forces can work for greater diversity.

4.1 Starting with data

Most faculty want to be fair in their hiring processes. To initiate change, start from your own historical data, and compare them to other schools. For example, the percentages of female and underrepresented minority tenure track faculty and PhDs granted in engineering at the top ten U.S. Engineering Schools (MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Illinois, Carnegie Mellon, USC, Michigan, Cornell, Texas Austin, Purdue), as ranked by US News and World Report, are shown below for 2001-2006

Average percentage female faculty in the top 10 Engineering Schools as reported by US News and World Report.
Average percentage underrepresented minority faculty in the top 10 Engineering Schools as reported by US News and World Report.

These schools include MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Illinois, Carnegie, USC, Michigan, Cornell, Texas at Austin, and Purdue, and the data source for them is http://www.asee.org. While both percentages are growing, there is a large gap between the percentage of female faculty at these schools and the number of PhDs granted to females. Underrepresented minorities include African-American, American Indian, and Hispanic faculty. For underrepresented minorities, the percentages at both the faculty and PhD levels appear stagnant, and the size of the pool is dishearteningly small. Clearly, the incredible shrinking pipeline [7] continues.

Such data can be used as the basis of faculty discussion at meetings or retreats, and contrasted with your individual school's or department's data. What is happening? How can we explain these data? Many feel that computer science, for example, suffers because of misperceptions of the field. There is a large industry demand, but many students and parents mistakenly fear that jobs will be outsourced and will no longer be available in the future. Stereotypes relating to technical fields are still being passed along by teachers, parents, and peers, and these stereotypes can discourage students who don't see role models or receive much encouragement. Also, engineering is perceived as not socially relevant, and as isolating; studies such as [16] show that women can be particularly affected by such perceptions. In addition, women and underrepresented minorities may be less confident about their technical skills than their peers.

Other data show that lack of negotiation skills can disadvantage women, and can have an accumulation of effects [28][30][2]. The negative effects of a lack of a critical mass of women and minorities can include a chilly climate and a feeling of isolation, neither of which is conducive to academic success. In short, there appears to be a Law of Educational Diversity: "Everything bad happens worse to members of out-groups"  [17]. This negative atmosphere and perception may be bad for everyone, but women may truly be "canaries in the mine" [4].

4.2 Practices to promote fairness

There are a variety of means for improving the current situation by promoting fairness and excellence in faculty hiring. Several specific techniques and case studies follow in the next section that exemplify variations on these techniques.

Increasing the pool

Perhaps the most critical goal is to increase the candidate pool for searches. A small pool or a very narrow search is not likely to produce excellent or diverse candidates. One of the most fundamental principles of optimization is that the larger the set optimized over, the better the result. The most effective means of accomplishing this is to explicitly state in all searches that exceptional candidates in all areas will be given serious consideration. Some schools emphasize broad searches rather than searches for specific areas.

Increasing awareness of unconscious bias

Schemas are hypotheses we use to interpret the world [28]. Schemas are widely culturally shared. For example, gender schemas prevalent in western society assume that males are independent, task-oriented, and do things for a reason, while women are nurturing, expressive, and cooperative. Of course, both men and women have these characteristics. Research shows that schemas are used by both men and women regarding gender, and that both whites and people of color hold them about race. (A similar idea appears in [10] as "thin slices.") Schemas are often unconscious, and research shows that we apply them more under circumstances involving ambiguity, stress, time pressure, and where there is a lack of critical mass. These are often the circumstances surrounding decision-making in search committees, and the lack of critical mass of women and minorities on engineering faculties put them at risk for being evaluated unfairly by search committees.

The relevance of schemas to search committee decision-making is that schemas affect evaluation. We give a few examples here:

These and similar results have prompted the National Academies to state the following:

"Although scientists like to believe that they 'choose the best' based on objective criteria, decisions are influenced by factors including biases about race, sex, geographic location of a university, and age that have nothing to do with the quality of the person or work being evaluated."  [19]

What can we all do to counteract such bias? We must educate ourselves to be aware of schemas, and learn to question our assumptions. An excellent review of bias literature is available on-line from the University of Wisconsin ADVANCE program at

Clarifying evaluation metrics

When evaluating candidates, above all we should use clear metrics. As part of the NSF ADVANCE program, the University of Michigan STRIDE Committee "provides information and advice about practices that will maximize the likelihood that diverse, well-qualified candidates will be identified, and if selected for offers, recruited, retained, and promoted." As part of their mission, this committee has developed a form to evaluate candidates based on potential for

More information (including the form) can be found at

There are multiple thrusts to the ADVANCE program at Michigan, so positive outcomes cannot be attributed to any one component. However, the percentage of women hired in science and engineering went from 15.7% in 2001 to 31.3% in 2003. Again, it is imperative that positive outcomes in hiring must go hand in hand with strategies for retention.

Amplifying successful search committee methods

Positive deviance (www.positivedeviance.org) is a strategy that is based on finding already successful groups or individuals in a culture, determining how they operate successfully, and then supporting the spread of these successful practices. In applying these ideas to search committees, ask the following questions:

It is important to continue to monitor and evaluate progress of successful practices. Examples of successful search practices include

Adding change agents

Another recruitment success story from the NSF ADVANCE program is the establishment of Equity Advisors at the University of California, Irvine. Equity advisors are appointed to "participate in faculty recruiting by approving search strategies and raising awareness of Best Practices; organize faculty development programs, with both formal and informal mentoring; as well as address individual issues raised by women faculty." (See http://advance.uci.edu/ for more information.)

At UCI, Equity Advisors are senior faculty members in each school who are appointed by and report to the Dean for a 2-year term with stipend. As indicated, the Equity Advisors participate directly in departmental recruitment processes, meeting directly with search committees, and addressing problems and issues that arise. Equity advisors also implement mentoring and faculty development programs tailored to their school. In addition, they work toward eliminating faculty inequities.

Again, there are multiple components to the UCI ADVANCE program, but it has had successful outcomes. The percentage of women hired at UCI went from 27.5% in 2002 to 57% in 2006. The results in different schools varied, with Information and Computer Science experiencing a large gain, while Engineering did not.

What could be behind the success of Equity Advisors? An intriguing insight is given by recent work on mock juries [25]. In this work, mixed ethnicity and all Caucasian juries separately viewed a video trial of a black defendant. Surveys were given to each jury before discussion, but after the juries were constituted. The juries were then left to deliberate the case, with the proceedings recorded and analyzed afterward.

The results of this analysis showed that mixed groups performed better in their decision-making. Caucasians on mixed juries cited more facts, made fewer mistakes, and were more willing to discuss race during the deliberation than they were on all-Caucasian juries. In the pre-trial survey and before discussion, Caucasians on mixed juries were more open-minded toward the defendant. Information exchange alone was not the factor that led to better performance.

These results suggest that "reminders" to avoid prejudice can lead to more systematic decision-making. Perhaps constituting a more diverse group, or the presence of an equity advisor at a search committee to remind people of diversity issues, can lead to more effective and more fair decision-making.

Proactive senior administrators

Deans can enhance and promote fairness in search committees by incorporating the goal of a diverse faculty into school strategic planning and ensuring the sharing of statistics and successful methods among departments. Deans can provide leadership and information on how to identify and recruit outstanding female candidates.


Universities and schools can provide incentives in the form of new FTEs ("full time equivalents," faculty billets for tenured or tenure-track positions) for outstanding women or underrepresented minority candidates.

4.3 Case studies

University of California, San Diego

Since 2004, the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering faculty job postings have included explicit language to the effect that exceptional candidates in all areas will be given serious consideration. In addition, all applicants are asked to include a personal statement summarizing teaching experience and interests, leadership efforts, and contributions to diversity. The Dean's office gives departments flexibility in adapting such language in their advertisements, but also checks each ad to make sure it is included. In addition, the Dean also holds back 1-2 FTEs each year for use for targets of opportunity. The outcome has been 7 new women faculty hired in engineering from 2004-2008. This contrasts well with hiring data for the years 1995-2003, which had a net gain of 55 new male faculty and a net loss of 2 women. It is of course important to recognize that positive outcomes in hiring must also be accompanied by positive outcomes in retention.

Princeton University

In January 2003, 12 of the approximately 125 faculty in the Princeton Engineering School were female. During Maria Klawe's three and half years as Dean of Engineering at Princeton, January 2003 to June 2006, half of the eighteen faculty hired in engineering were women. Many factors contributed to this increase in the hiring of women, including changes within the engineering School and at the university level.

The first step within the Engineering School was a strategic planning process that helped the faculty conclude that diversity should be a core value/goal. The Engineering School held a series of eleven one-day workshops with Engineering School faculty, staff, alumni, students, faculty from the rest of the university, and faculty from outside the university. Previously, the six engineering departments did not talk to each other because there were no school-wide meetings. The workshop process enabled everyone to hear each other, and empowered individuals who felt undervalued to become engaged and contribute to the reform. Because each workshop was planned and led by a separate steering committee with a large faculty component, over 60% of the engineering faculty served on a steering committee. This gave the engineering faculty members ownership of the process and of the resulting strategic vision, which included diversity as one of its six themes.

A second factor at the university level was the creation of Target of Opportunity (ToO) faculty slots. Each year Princeton provides a small number of 0.5 FTE slots to give to departments that want to hire excellent candidates who would help diversify the faculty. A university-wide ToO committee considers formal applications from individual departments for these slots. The departments provide the ToO committee with a CV and the reason why the candidate should be recruited to Princeton. Candidates for ToO slots are required to be significantly stronger than the already high threshold set for regular positions. This ensures that faculty hired with ToO slots are not perceived as token diversity appointments. The departments cannot game the system and save their regular slots for Caucasian males because the Dean of the Faculty, who chairs the ToO committee, also monitors how each department fills its regular openings. Of the nine women hired in the Engineering School during Maria Klawe's time as Dean, ToO slots were obtained for four of them. The existence of ToO slots encouraged departments to be constantly on the lookout for outstanding women who might be recruited to Princeton. In at least one case a department used its regular opening to hire a woman originally identified as a potential ToO candidate.

Another helpful change at the university level was the appointment of a special assistant to the Faculty Dean's Office to monitor and support the hiring of female faculty as well as other gender equity issues. When the engineering department chairs were informed that during the period of a year, all ten assistant professor offers made by the engineering departments had been made to white males, the chairs agreed that changes in departmental search processes were needed in order to achieve the strategic vision diversity goals. The Engineering School created an FTE diversity task force to gather and disseminate best practices on diversifying candidate pools and ensuring fair searches. The result was a significant increase in the number of assistant professor offers made to women in the following year, from zero to four.

University of British Columbia

From 1988 to 1998 the number of women faculty in science at UBC went from 11 (3.9%) to 22 (7.7%). By 2002 the number had again doubled to 44 (15.4%). These increases were the result of several efforts specifically targeted to increase the number of women faculty.

At the university level the Provost provided support for spousal recruitment. By 2002, 16 of 44 female faculty were part of a faculty couple in science. The most common form of support for spousal recruitment was as follows. The provost provided 1/3 of a faculty slot for the "trailing spouse," the department hiring the "leading spouse" paid for 1/3 of a faculty slot for the trailing spouse for a number of years (usually 3 to 5), and the department hiring the trailing spouse covered the remainder. Similar arrangements were also made available for same-sex and common-law couples.

At the Faculty of Science level, the Dean provided top-up funding for recipients of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) University Faculty Awards (UFA), making such a hire free to the department during the recipient's first 3 to 5 years. The UFA awards are specifically addressed to increase the representation of women and Aboriginals in the natural sciences and engineering faculty. Applicants for UFA awards must not have held a prior academic position in Canada, and the selection is made by a national committee. Of the 25 women hired in science over the 4 years from 1998 to 2002, at least 9 were recipients of UFA awards.

At the department level, proactive steps were taken to identify and recruit outstanding female candidates, and the number of women in every science department significantly increased. For example in 1988 the Mathematics Department had 55 faculty with only 2 women while over 1/3 of its students were women. It had been fourteen years since the appointment of a woman faculty member. The Dean asked the math faculty to identify women faculty of any level anywhere in the world that the faculty would most like to see join their department. The department then agreed on their top candidates, a list of about ten women. These women were contacted and asked if they would seriously consider a suitable offer to come to UBC. Five expressed interest, and five broad searches were launched with criteria including these "dream" candidates. It was understood that if someone else (e.g., a man) won the search by being clearly the best candidate, then the search committee decision would stand. Initially this process resulted in hiring only one of the dream candidates. However, the work that had been done in identifying stellar possibilities at all levels, including graduate students and postdocs, resulted in several more women being hired in math over the next few years. By 2002, there were seven women faculty in math, and by 2007 math had its first female department head, one of the initial dream candidates.

4.4 What can a single faculty person do?

Individual faculty members can obviously promote good search practices through service on search committees. They can have an even greater effect by participating in the selection of academic administrators, those who appoint the search committees and lead the evaluation and decision efforts. This can mean serving on search committees to fill dean, chair, and director positions, or relaying concerns regarding these issues to those making the decisions. Individual faculty should ask questions of academic administrators regarding the goals and policies for faculty search and how the actual statistics measure up. If the goals are lofty but the results abysmal, then something is broken and the existing structure needs to be reconsidered. It often helps to invite speakers involved with success stories elsewhere to address faculty meetings. Lastly, surveys of the faculty climate towards diversity such as those conducted at MIT and Princeton can shed light on the actual situation as well as the perceived situation.

4.5 Conclusions

The faculty search committee is an institutional fault line, where energy can be released toward positive academic cultural change. The good news is that most faculty want to be fair. To further this end, the following initiatives can be put in place:

November 15, 2007

5 Faculty and FamilyTop3.8 Diversity in leadership4 Search