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Research, including our own work funded by the National Science Foundation, shows that faculty workloads often differ by race and gender in ways that particularly disadvantage women of color. Those workload imbalances matter for faculty diversity, inclusion and retention. Faculty members facing workload inequities report lower satisfaction, less engagement and increased burnout. Moreover, when the efforts of faculty are not credited in tenure and promotion criteria, it encourages those faculty members to leave, reducing retention.
For example, in a recent study, our research team found women of color were the least likely to say that the work important to them was valued in their department’s credit system. Often, this devalued work was aimed at supporting students of color or creating more equitable programs or universities.
One obvious way to reduce this inequality is to divert diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) work away from women of color and toward other faculty members. Indeed, some observers call for white faculty members to “do the work” for the institution instead of faculty members of color. While well-meaning, we think that solution is too simplistic, echoing the sentiments of the well-intentioned colleagues who encourage faculty members to “just say no” to service requests. It reduces the agency and engagement of faculty of color while also potentially foreclosing opportunities for them to combine research, advising and leadership work.
Here, we offer four strategies, based on our research, for ensuring the meaningful engagement and voice, credit and recognition of the DEIJ work of women of color. We also bring our perspectives as an Asian American woman (Joya), a multiracial woman (Dawn) and a white woman (KerryAnn), who have each studied workload issues on a number of campuses.
Take collective responsibility for DEIJ. Many institutional policies now require admissions, search and evaluation committees to be composed of “diverse members.” Often that means that faculty of color will be called upon again and again to serve and will be expected to be the expert or voice of diversity in those contexts. We see diversity work—whether in service, mentoring, teaching or research—as a collective project that people should consistently share.
For example, one faculty member of color should not be responsible for bringing up diversity issues on faculty recruitment committees. Rather, the institution should have a system whereby everyone is held responsible and accountable. When everyone is actively engaged and takes ownership over being an ally, it reduces the taxation associated with being the “diverse” person in the room, while still ensuring that faculty members of color are involved in departmental or institutional decision-making.
Elicit meaningful feedback and buy-in. Without doubt, colleges and universities benefit when a wide array of leaders and faculty members, including both faculty of color and white folx, are committed to creating an equitable and inclusive institution. At the same time, it is hard to identify solutions for problems that you cannot see.
Higher education Institutions, therefore, need to recognize that the insights of faculty of color can be particularly helpful in solving diversity issues. Faculty members of color often have lived experience of the inclusion challenges confronting the college or university and are also more likely to consider the unintended consequences of proposed solutions.
Thus, any group working on, for example, racial diversity on campuses needs to ensure buy-in from faculty members, administrators and students of color, and that requires meaningful and sustained engagement with those groups. Such engagement does not necessarily require adding representatives of every possible constituency to every committee or task force. But it does demand outreach and engagement with the wider community, via shared documents or community forums, for any policy being considered.
Give credit where it’s due. While many faculty members of color are doing too much service relative to their colleagues, it is possible to rebalance the workload so that everyone feels as if their work is recognized and credited—even if members of the department are contributing in different ways and different areas. Indeed, our research showed that in departments that have fair policies to assign teaching and service, as well as greater clarity about workload expectations, women of color were more likely to see their work recognized.
For example, departments can put in place credit systems, so that faculty members who are going above and beyond in areas like mentoring or service for a sustained period receive teaching relief or service sabbaticals. Departments can also revise annual and merit review criteria so that faculty members who engage in diversity-related teaching and service can be rewarded for those efforts. The point here is not to impel all faculty members to spend significant time on DEIJ work but rather to ensure that those faculty members who are engaged are given credit and rewarded for it.
Change what’s important. Implicit in models that aim to steer women of color away from engaging in diversity work is also the assumption that they need more time to do the truly important work: publishing or writing grants. But our research has shown the opposite: women of color have been engaged in work that is important; it just has not been recognized as such in formal workload or rewards system. Thus, we also need a cultural shift that recognizes that diversity work—and service and teaching more broadly—are truly vital.
For example, departments can put in place differentiated workload policies or recognize multiple pathways for promotion that enable diversity work to be counted in evaluation and advancement. The goal of solving workload inequities should not be taking the work that is most meaningful or important for faculty members away from them. Instead, it should be valuing faculty members’ work while recognizing that their interests and strengths may change over the course of a career.
We are excited to see many higher education institutions and disciplines implementing some of the equity-minded workload policies we found to make a difference. At the University of Massachusetts, for example, the provost’s office and the faculty union bargained a process for each department to develop workload equity policies that address their department’s needs. We know of other examples of institutional efforts at the University of Denver, George Mason University, Georgia Southern University, Loyola University Chicago and Wayne State University.
We are also encouraged by conversations happening nationally exploring how DEIJ work might be integrated into annual reviews and faculty evaluation policies. We are pleased to see, as well, more training being provided to evaluation committees on how to use rubrics and deliberative criteria and processes to meaningfully recognize DEIJ work. Yet it is critical for more institutions to get on board, even as we worry about DEIJ work being outlawed in some states.
There is more than enough diversity work to go around if we want to create meaningful change. Valuing the work is the first step.