Most colleges and universities have strategic plans that articulate goals to strengthen faculty search procedures to increase the diversity of their staff. While such goals are important, they have come under attack in the past, even needing legal support. For example, Justice Sandra Day O’Conner in her Supreme Court majority opinion clearly communicated that the skills needed in today’s global market can only be developed by exposing students to “widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.”1 The Association of American Universities has long communicated that diversity experiences not only enhance the education quality and outcomes of students from underrepresented populations, but of all students.2

The Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce articulated that the health professions of the United States have not kept pace with changing demographics and may be more directly related to disparities in health access, status, and outcomes than the overall lack of health insurance. With minority populations projected to become the majority by 2050, health disparities may continue to worsen if health care professionals do not become more reflective of the populations they serve.3 The diversity challenge is even greater in the academic settings that educate undergraduate and graduate nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that less than 10% of faculty in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs are from underrepresented groups, with 5.6% African Americans, 1.5% Hispanics, 1.9% Asian, and less than 1% American Indian/Alaskan Native documented.4

The lack of minority nurse educators communicates to students and communities of color that the profession does not value diversity. Lacking mentors and role models to support and enhance their education, students from underrepresented populations may not recognize the professional opportunities that exist for faculty in higher education, and the academic leadership that is needed from a diverse nursing workforce to eliminate health disparities in the 21st century.

The growing multicultural world that all student nurses enter requires exposure to a diverse faculty who bring varying research perspectives, pedagogy, and life experiences to the classroom, the laboratory, health systems, and the surrounding community. A critical need exists to create, implement, and evaluate blueprints for action that will attract, retain, support, and promote the leadership and success of faculty from underrepresented populations in schools of nursing. Action steps to be considered in blueprints should strive to:

    • Increase the applicant/pipeline pool of diverse faculty candidates from underrepresented populations
    • Promote a climate of diversity
    • Market for diversity
    • Prepare search committees to review diverse candidates
    • Retain diverse faculty

Increase the applicant pool

U.S. colleges and universities are educating a larger and more diverse group of students than ever before. According to the Educational Testing Service, student diversity will increasingly evolve over the next decade, with 80% of the anticipated 2.6 million new college students from underrepresented populations, including African Americans, Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders, or American Indians. Undergraduate minority students enrolled in colleges and universities will increase from 29.4%–37.2%.5,6 Most recently, the report on the future of nursing acknowledged the need to respond to the under-representation of racial and ethnic minority groups, including men, in the nursing workforce.7

While a steady increase in the minority university student population has occurred, similar diversification among university faculty has not happened.8 Faculty diversification not only attracts diverse students, thus increasing the applicant pool and supporting academic program growth, but it also contributes directly to the quality of student education. Diverse faculty expose students to a wider range of scholarly perspectives and ideas that build on a variety of life experiences, create intellectual stimulation with new research questions, and foster fresh perspectives in the academic enterprise. Diversification is also the right action, not only from a social justice perspective, but based on business.9 The corporate world has long accepted a mandate that they must expand markets to serve diverse communities to survive in a competitive environment.

Action steps

    • A number of changes are needed to increase the applicant pool, such as developing partnerships with minority-serving institutions and establishing alumni directories of doctorally prepared minority graduates for consideration in post-doctoral or visiting scholar appointments. This action will promote scholarship and research of mutual interest to the scholar, the school, and the community.
    • Metrics should include memorandums of understanding with individual colleges or universities with results measured by the number of candidates identified from partnering institutions for recommendation to search committees. To assure the success of these partnerships with minority-serving institutions, ambassador programs could be developed by assigning faculty members to communicate and represent their respective schools of nursing at designated partner institutions.
    • Faculty who teach at these institutions could be invited to do a presentation and talk about promising students for post-doctoral consideration through a faculty exchange initiative. Schools of nursing must set aside resources to support minority scholars in residence as well. Finally, an academic faculty network should be considered so introductions can be made through the network to administrators from underrepresented populations at member institutions.

Promote a climate of diversity

While organizational climate has a range of definitions, Baird suggests common descriptors include friendliness, hostility, or acceptance.10 Organizational climate includes the current attitudes, behaviors, and standards/practices that concern the access to, inclusion of, and level of respect for individual and group needs, abilities, and potential. This definition includes all groups, not just those who have been traditionally excluded or underserved by colleges and universities.5

If a school of nursing is to succeed in terms of the retention and recruitment of faculty of color, it must embrace diversity. Turner and Myers report that faculty of color leave for many reasons, including hostile environments—a major factor discouraging potential applicants.6 In contrast, a school of nursing that provides an environment that supports the success of diverse faculty is attractive and facilitates recruitment and retention. Research has shown that endorsement from leaders provides credibility for such programs.11 It’s important that administrative support is reflected by publicly rewarding departments, divisions, and units who demonstrate measurable improvement. Support from the top and rewards for increasing diversity have been shown to be the two key factors that determine the success of diversity programs.12

Action Steps

    • Fostering assessment and accountability must begin with a faculty diversity climate survey and should include an exit survey for those that leave. Faculty surveys should include both quantitative and qualitative data that measures the diversity climate within the school of nursing. Results should be reported through school departments and discussed in faculty meetings with recommendations to the faculty at large, as well as search committees, specifically.
    • Activities that promote a supportive climate should be identified through departments and the faculty panel discussion. The PBS film Shattering the Silences: Minority Professors Break Into the Ivory Tower could be shown at department meetings, followed by faculty discussions led by a diversity expert. A panel discussion focused on faculty diversity should be a yearly faculty event. It is also recommended that faculty who have led and created activities that support a climate of diversity receive merit recognition from those administrators held accountable for achieving faculty diversity in their departments.
    • Resources should be established to conduct climate surveys and maintain an office of diversity to assure that planning, implementation, and evaluation occur. Ideally, a faculty leader who is also a member of the dean’s leadership team would coordinate these activities. This nurse faculty leader should provide a vision and structure for faculty initiatives that will not only support the inclusive climate needed for recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse underrepresented faculty but that will involve the entire school in a program that sets achievable and measurable goals with a business plan.
    • As research is needed to investigate diversity, equity, and climate beyond race and ethnicity to include differentials in power and privilege, external research support through federal, foundational, and private grant mechanism should be explored. The diversity office should address the need to continue to support and develop academic programs that focus on issues of diversity, underserved populations, and societal disparities, which will attract diverse faculty and scholars. Pilot research on faculty climate could also be supported through these mechanisms; then a larger study could be launched with funds sought through the National Institute of General Medical Science, an NIH program.

Marketing for diversity

Communicating a school’s commitment to diversity, whether through conferences, national meetings, publications, posters, brochures, and/or official websites, ensures the transparency of the school’s diversity recruitment goals. Business research shows diversity marketing reduces turnover costs and inspires a desire to be part of a dynamic and responsive team. It also helps institutions win the competition for talent by attracting, retaining, and promoting faculty and leadership from underrepresented populations. Organizations cited as the best places for employment by diverse underrepresented groups also experience an increase in applications.13 Furthermore, research has shown endorsement from the organization’s leadership brings credibility to diversity programs and influences attitude change.11

Sullivan (2007) underlined the critical role academic leaders play in successful diversity programs. These leaders must create a culture within their academic units that supports the implementation of a strategic plan—one that establishes goals, defines success, and fosters accountability, best practices, and financial resources.14

Action steps

    • Schools of nursing can maintain a diversity website that links to the school’s departmental sites. This site must communicate that diversity in the organization is critical to the recruitment of faculty from underrepresented groups. It should also showcase the successes of faculty from underrepresented populations in research, teaching a diverse student body, collaborating with university faculty and diverse communities, and scholarly achievements.
    • An interactive school of nursing Facebook page reflecting the diversity of the school’s leadership team, faculty, and students is also needed for effective marketing. It should be updated on a regular basis and evaluated by the number of hits and links made by browsers. A member of the school’s leadership team should be designated to work with appropriate media resources to maintain and update an interactive website that showcases the school’s successful recruitment, retention, and promotion of diversity.

Strengthen the search committee’s success

Nationally, hundreds of campuses are engaged in competitive efforts to diversify their faculties in response to external and internal pressures. Yet, according to Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner, in her book Diversifying the Faculty: A Guidebook for Search Committees, five prevalent myths have hindered the hiring process of ethnically, racially, and gender underrepresented diverse faculty.15

  1. Good minority faculty only go to the best universities.
  2. To hire minorities, standards must be lowered.
  3. Minorities prefer the private sector.
  4. Espousing equal opportunity doctrine is sufficient.
  5. Minorities will not go to predominantly white institutions. 

Research published in the Journal of Higher Education in 2004 showed that among institutions with predominantly white populations, the hiring of faculty from underrepresented groups occurs when at least one of the following three conditions are met. First, the job description explicitly engages diversity at the department level. Second, an institutional “special hire” strategy is used, such as waiver of a search, target of opportunity hire, or spousal hire. Third, the search is conducted by an ethnically/racially diverse search committee.16 Search committees often approach their charge in a passive, routine way (i.e., advertise the position in publications, evaluate résumés, invite three to five candidates for campus interviews, and then make an offer).

To address the need to recruit faculty from underrepresented racial/ethnic or gender diverse populations in a school of nursing, the search committee must take a more proactive approach to finding candidates from such populations. All steps taken during the search process can contribute to a solid foundation for the successful retention of diverse faculty hired as well as ongoing successful recruitment into the future.

Viernes Turner writes that schools of nursing should focus on eight action steps to form successful hiring committees:15

  1. Diversify the search committee itself.
  2. Educate the search committee on personnel issues and prepare the members through an annual retreat.
  3. Debunk the myths listed above.
  4. Create tailored position descriptions.
  5. Attract diverse candidate pools.
  6. Examine hiring biases.
  7. Host campus visits
  8. Make the offer.

The campus visit is also a critical moment of opportunity that allows the candidate to make a well-informed decision on whether the position and the school of nursing is a right fit. Evaluation forms should be provided to all campus parties involved in the visit and discussed by the committee. Asking the candidate to comment on the process will also provide the school’s search committee with information to improve the process for subsequent campus visits. It is important to not only evaluate the candidate, but also the search committee process, in order to improve the chances of reaching the desired outcome.

Action Steps

    • First, assuring that the composition of the search committee has different points of view is critical to its success. Members who represent diverse populations must be appointed.
    • Next, preparing the committee through a yearly retreat that addresses unconscious hiring bias and debunking of myths must be used in conjunction with current university guidelines to prepare new members and refresh returning members for the year’s goals. An annual search committee evaluation plan should be implemented to review the effectiveness of the diversity recruitment process. Metrics should include a percentage increase of the diversity applications and a percentage increase in hires.
    • Departments then need to conduct their own hiring patterns audit, examining the tenure track and associated clinical and research faculty patterns. At the annual evaluation discussion of department recruitment needs, a diversity recruitment plan must be developed and sent to the search committee prior at the beginning of the academic year.
    • Finally, a departmental diversity awards program will need to be established to acknowledge excellence in diversity recruitment and support of a climate of diversity that recruits and retains racially/ethnically and gender diverse faculty.

Retain a diverse faculty

The most successful universities have both a strong commitment and action plans that support faculty diversity.17 An important and overlooked strategy to retain professors from underrepresented populations is to create a critical mass to prevent feelings of isolation and alienation that result in leaving.15

Action steps

    • Mentorship programs should be established that help guide diverse faculty through promotions and tenure tracks. These programs should be advertised on school of nursing websites and shared with potential candidates. Diverse faculty should also be mentored in their achievement of awards that recognize excellence in research and teaching. Finally, ongoing mentorship will be needed to develop the leadership potential of diverse faculty, with recognition given for such leadership.
    • Resources must be designated to support family policies as needed by candidates; these should be marketed through the search committee process and the website. Funds will be needed for startup packages that will support pilot work and presentations of scientific findings at national or international meetings. Support may be needed for the development of untenured new faculty hires as well. Finally, exit interviews should be considered for tenured and untenured diverse faculty at departure to explore reasons for leaving the university.

Using a blueprint to transform an institution to reflect a pluralistic society requires the collective evaluation of attitudes, the behaviors they generate, and the unconscious bias that shape faculty actions.18 Critical to this process is a vigilant and widespread diversity campaign that promotes individual ownership of the blueprint for change and is advocated and supported by both the faculty and school leadership.

A need exists for schools of nursing to showcase a vision and strategy for recruitment, retention, and promotion of a faculty that reflects the diversity of the United States and the world whose health they plan to promote. And as Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

References

  1. Barbara Grutter v. Lee Bollinger, et al. 124 U.S. 35 (2003).
  2. Association of American Universities (1997, April 24). “On the Importance of Diversity in University Admissions.” The New York Times, p. 27.
  3. Sullivan, Louis W. (2004). Missing Persons: Minorities in the Health Professions, A Report of the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Health Care Workforce. Sullivan Commission, p. 66
  4. Berlin, L., E., Stennett, J., and Bednash, G.D. (2004). 2003–2004 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing. American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
  5. Rankin, S. & Reason, R. (2008). “Transformational Tapestry Model: A comprehensive approach to transforming campus climate,” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 1:4, 262–274.
  6. Turner, C., S.V. & Myers, S.L. (2000). Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success.
  7. Institute of Medicine (2010). The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.
  8. Sullivan, C.W., & Bristow, L.R. (2007). “Summary Proceedings of the National Leadership Symposium on Increasing Diversity in the Health Professions.” Sullivan Alliance, 1–12.
  9. Correll, S. J. & Benard, S. (2006). “Biased Estimators? Comparing Status and Statistical Theories of Gender Discrimination.Social Psychology of the Workplace (Advances in Group Processes, Shane R. Thye and Edward J. Lawler eds.) Vol. 23, 89–116.
  10. Baird, L. L. (2005) College Environments and Climates: Assessments and Their Theoretical Assumptions. In J.C. Smart (ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, Vol. 20, 507–538.
  11. Fiske, S. & Taylor, S.E. (1999). Social Cognition, 2nd edition.
  12. Rynes, S. & Rosen, B. (1995). “A Field Survey of Factors Affecting Adopting and Perceived Success of Diversity Training.” Personnel Psychology, Vol. 48, 247–270.
  13. Robinson, G., & Dechant, K. (2007). “Building a Business Case for Diversity.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 11:3, 21–31.
  14. Siantz, de Leon, M.L (May – June 2008). “Leading Change in Diversity and Cultural Competence.” Journal of Professional Nursing, 24:3, 167–171.
  15. Viernes Turner, C.S. (2002). Diversifying the Faculty: A Guidebook for Search Committees, Association of American Colleges and Universities.
  16. Smith , D.G., Turner, C.S., Osei-Kofi, N., Richards, S. (2004). “Interrupting the Usual: Successful Strategies for Hiring Diverse Faculty. The Journal of Higher Education, 75:2, 133–160.
  17. Piercy, F.; Giddings, V.; Allen, K.; Dixon, B.; Meszaros, P.; & Joest, K. (2005). “Improving Campus Climate to Support Faculty Diversity and Retention: A Pilot Program for New Faculty.” Innovative Higher Education, 30:1, 53–66.
  18. Handelsman, et al. (2005). “More Women in Science.” Science, 309:5738, 1190–1191.
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