For institutions of higher education (IHEs), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a top priority. DEI is achieved through a culture and policies that recognize the value of the unique abilities and perspectives of every individual. The benefits to prioritizing the development and integration of a diverse workforce include a more dynamic and culturally responsive academic environment; a better understanding of the needs of IHEs’ students, employees, and surrounding community; a supportive and inclusive campus for underrepresented students and employees; and, of course, a reputation as a committed and responsible IHE, which will lead to attracting and retaining diverse students and employees. There is a greater call to action nationwide—from students, parents, and community stakeholders—for IHEs to diversify their workforce. This article will highlight some of the high-level actions that your IHE can take to recruit, hire, and retain diverse employees while remaining compliant with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
- Conduct an Audit of Your IHE’s Existing Recruitment and Hiring Processes: To get an accurate picture of where your IHE stands with recruiting, hiring, and retaining diverse employee candidates, conduct an audit of your current related practices to identify any potential areas for improvement. The audit can be conducted internally or by partnering with an external organization that specializes in such assessments. The audit should gather data and take a critical and focused look at the various systems and structures that impact your IHE’s ability to recruit diverse employees, such as the tools used to identify potential candidates, templates for job descriptions, hiring metrics, educational and work experience prerequisites, and the candidate screening process. A thoughtful audit will reveal the ways in which your IHE’s hiring practices are likely to lead to or hinder diverse hiring decisions, and will enable an IHE to focus on areas needing minor or significant improvement.
- Form a DEI Committee: One way for your IHE to increase diversity among its workforce is to form a dedicated DEI committee. This committee can be helpful in evaluating the results of the audit, actively participating in the recruitment and hiring process, and developing and implementing the IHE’s DEI initiatives, including training (for employees and students), community outreach, and other internal programming that celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion. The DEI committee should include leaders on campus and faculty and staff from across the academic and operational departments and operate under the mandate of continually improving the effectiveness of programs to attract, mentor, retain, and assist in the advancement of diverse employees.
- Improve the Existing Recruiting Strategy and Hiring Process Based on the Audit Results: Once you conduct an audit, use its results to inform and plan your next steps. If your audit reveals that your IHE is struggling to attract diverse candidates, this is a sign that you need to revamp your current recruiting strategy. To do so, focus on key features of the process, including the targeted applicant base, where and how you advertise for open positions, and revising job descriptions to demonstrate the IHE’s commitment to DEI on campus. IHEs may also see a meaningful impact on their recruitment efforts if they conduct interview, implicit bias, and DEI training for those individuals involved in the hiring process, and ensure that supervisors and other decision makers are using objective criteria in the selection process. Finally, consider your IHE’s budget when contemplating how to reallocate existing resources, if necessary, to satisfy your recruitment, hiring, and retention goals for diverse candidates.
- Prioritize Retention Initiatives: When executing a new hiring process, it is important to also consider strategic retention efforts to keep new and existing employees motivated and engaged with the IHE. Prior to extending any employment offers, your IHE should confirm that it has adequate resources to support candidates upon hiring them and throughout their employment (i.e., workplace flexibility, mentorship opportunities, and equitable pay). It is helpful to take stock of your coaching and mentoring programs and employee resource groups so that diverse employees continually feel valued and supported. If not already in place, consider establishing affinity groups, which can enhance an inclusive environment and facilitate the professional development and advancement of their members. Examples of affinity groups include, but are not limited to, Asian Employees Network, LGBTQ+ Network, Network of Black Employees, Network of Latinx Employees, and Women’s Committee.
- Conduct DEI Trainings: IHEs should conduct regular DEI training programs for all employees beginning at the onboarding stage to encourage the inclusion and respectful treatment of all campus community members. These trainings should be aimed at addressing workplace issues such as implicit bias, workplace discrimination and harassment, cultural competency, bystander intervention, inclusive leadership, and allyship. Consult with counsel to ensure that your IHE’s trainings are compliant with federal, state, and local laws, and align with the DEI goals of the institution.
- Avoid Legal Risks: It is crucial that IHEs engage with counsel before embarking on these efforts to develop a deliberate approach that may also be subject to the protections of attorney-client privilege. When making decisions regarding increasing diversity among the workforce, IHEs must keep in mind potential discrimination issues under applicable federal, state, and local laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws generally prohibit public and private IHE employers from taking explicit actions on the basis of a protected trait. Even if well intended, explicit preferences and firm quota systems for underrepresented groups can lead to reverse discrimination claims and should be avoided. Reach out to your counsel to discuss the legal boundaries within which these types of programs must operate.
When implementing new recruiting, hiring, and retention plans, it is important to measure success along the way and adjust as needed, while remaining compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. Should your IHE have any additional questions regarding how to incorporate effective strategies for recruiting, hiring, and retaining diverse talent, please contact the authors of this article or any other member of Venable’s Higher Education or Labor and Employment Groups.
*The authors of this article thank Samantha Furman, law clerk, for her assistance in its preparation.