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3 steps, 5 years: How one academic built a racially-diverse team



Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Mayor Ella Jones talks about her new leadership of Ferguson, Missouri, tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the CROWN Act, and a WashU professor shares three tips on building a diverse team. The Broadsheet will be off on Friday ahead of the July 4 holiday. Have a wonderful weekend.

– ‘Not an accident.’ The George Floyd protests unleashed a flood of corporate statements about past negligence on the issue of race and vows to right those wrongs; chief among them were commitments to build more diverse workforces. (See: Estée Lauder, Apple, Google, BlackRock, etc.) Pledges are one thing, taking real action is another.

Firms eager to make that next step could learn a lesson or two from a new case study on building a diverse team courtesy of Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor of sociology and associate dean for faculty development at Washington University in St. Louis.

Her new HBR article outlines how her team, as the title tells it, “built a diverse academic department in five years.”

In that short time, “our department has grown to 13 full-time faculty, nearly half of whom identify as people of color. Not only that, of the eight senior professors in my department, half of us are people of color. Three of these senior faculty are women, and three identify as Black,” she writes. That’s the kind of racial diversity that many in academia say is impossible due to “leaky” pipelines and a dearth of qualified candidates.

Not so, says Wingfield. She outlines three key steps to pulling it off:

Establish support from multiple stakeholders. University leadership, she says, was “emphatic” in supporting the aim of a racially-diverse department, as were Wingfield’s white male colleagues. It wasn’t up to a single person to press the issue, “a phenomenon that often occurs when women or racial minority men are in the minority at work,” she says.

Take intentional action and deploy resources. Wingfield’s team reached beyond social networks and alma maters to find new hires, since such tactics often exclude candidates of color. What’s more, administrators provided financial support to hire and retain top recruits.

Create a culture that welcomes and values all voices. Wingfield’s department includes “the voices and experiences of people of color” in its teaching and research and extends that approach to its own operation and extracurriculars. “[W]e simply refuse to have a ‘colorblind’ organizational culture,” she says.

Her experience is worth reading about in full. It starts with arguably the most important lesson; that what her department achieved “wasn’t an accident.”

Claire Zillman


Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe.

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