Campus & Community

Progress in diversifying faculty

4 min read

Percentages of women and minorities reach new highs, study says

Harvard University has made steady progress in diversifying its faculty over the past decade, with the percentages of women and minorities who are tenured and tenure-track professors at all-time highs, according to the annual report of the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity.

The proportion of female ladder faculty has increased by 13 percent since 2008, from 26 to 30 percent this year, the report said. In that same period, the proportion of underrepresented minorities has increased by 25 percent, from 7 to almost 9 percent.

“Because tenured faculty tend to stay here a long time, change is necessarily incremental,” said Judith D. Singer, senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity. “However, if you look at how the percentages have changed over the last decade, we can see that our efforts are having a meaningful impact on diversity. Much remains to be done in developing a diverse faculty, but it is worth taking stock of what we have accomplished to date.”

For the first time, the office’s report parsed demographic data by gender and race/ethnicity simultaneously, providing greater insight as Harvard seeks to diversify across both these dimensions while continuing to enhance academic excellence.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” Singer said. “Enhancing diversity is a strategy to enhancing excellence.”

The proportion of minority men and women on the faculty saw the largest increases over the past decade. Among tenure-track faculty, the proportion of minority men increased to 18 percent, and the proportion of minority women to 14 percent. While these proportions among tenured faculty were lower, the increases were more even dramatic — by 29 percent and 126 percent respectively — to 13 percent and 5 percent.

“In 2008, for example, there were just nine tenured underrepresented minority women on the faculty,” Singer said. “Today, this has tripled, to 27. This is how change in the faculty happens, one person at a time.”

Since 2008, the total number of ladder faculty has been virtually unchanged, increasing by less than 1 percent. In that time, the number of tenured faculty has increased by 110 to 1,076, while the number of tenure-track faculty has decreased by 97 to 407, a change due to Harvard’s shift to a tenure track in 2005. The shift to a tenure track has also reduced faculty turnover, slowing the University’s rate of change.

“An estimated 95 percent of faculty stay the same year to year,” Singer said.

By working with deans and departments to develop best practices and provide guidance on topics such as how to conduct searches and reduce implicit bias, Harvard’s faculty recruiting process is more robust and more diverse, Singer said. Among the 91 individuals who were hired as tenure-track faculty or newly tenured this year (67 percent of whom were promoted from within), 19 percent are minority men, 15 percent are minority women, and 23 percent are white women.

“This reflects a real push on the part of the leadership of the University, the deans, all of whom have a deep commitment to diversity, and, frankly, faculty who run all faculty searches and many of whom are now learning that active recruitment, careful reading of candidates’ work, and engagement with the process can help identify more diverse pools of applicants that can lead to recruiting more diverse candidates,” Singer said.

As Harvard’s central faculty affairs office, the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity works with all of the Schools to guide and coordinate policies and practices in every area of faculty affairs, with the aim of increasing accountability and measurable progress in diversifying the faculty.

The office’s main mission is to develop, implement, and evaluate University-wide programs designed to improve faculty life and diversity and to collect, analyze, and disseminate data on faculty appointments. The office also sponsors programs to support faculty, including mentoring initiatives, childcare programs, and enrichment activities that introduce faculty members to their peers.

The full diversity report can be found here.