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Reducing Pipeline Leaks: Faculty Development for Advancing and Retaining a Diverse Faculty

Faculty Development Leadership and Management

Reducing Pipeline Leaks: Faculty Development for Advancing and Retaining a Diverse Faculty

A diverse faculty is beneficial for enhancing institutional innovation and creativity, and cultivating culturally competent students who are prepared to solve global problems from diverse perspectives. While many universities are taking steps to increase the presence of diverse faculty on their campuses (structural diversity), they still lag when it comes to promoting and retaining women and faculty in underrepresented groups. The leaky pipeline metaphor, originally applied to the attrition of women in STEM (Pell, 1996), applies to all underrepresented groups in all disciplines, and for many underrepresented faculty members, the path to success has many barriers. Faculty development professionals can make an important contribution to reducing pipeline leaks and ensuring that the path to promotion and success for faculty at their institution is paved with equity.

The leaky pipeline

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics on the demographics of full-time faculty at degree granting institutions indicates that women and nonwhite (all genders) academics are leaking from the pipeline in most if not all disciplines. Although female assistant professors across disciplines outnumbered their male counterparts by 8 percent in 2021, male full professors outnumbered female full professors by 28 percent (Table 1). Similarly, while white assistant professors outnumbered nonwhite assistant professors by 26 percent, white full professors outnumbered nonwhite full professors by 54 percent (Table 1). The implication is clear: women and other underrepresented groups are not attaining promotion at the same rate as white men, which in turn affects their retention. Minimal data exists on LGBT faculty by rank; however, a 2013 report indicated that 42 percent of self-declared LGBT faculty had considered leaving their positions due to campus climate (AFT Higher Education, 2013).

RANK%Women%Men%White (all genders)%Nonwhite (all genders)
Assistant Professor54466135
% Difference Assistant Professor+8 women+26 white
Full Professor36647622
% Difference Full Professor+28 men+54 white
Table 1. Ranks of full-time faculty by gender and race at degree-granting US accredited institutions in 2021 (data for undeclared gender/race not shown). (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021)

The need for faculty diversity

Faculty demographics currently don’t reflect student demographics in most US institutions of higher education, resulting in a lack of role models and mentors for students from underrepresented groups. Students in underrepresented groups learn better from faculty with backgrounds like theirs. Moreover, when an institution lacks a diverse faculty, it sends a message to underrepresented students that they are unlikely to succeed in academic careers. In addition to serving students from underrepresented groups, a diverse faculty enhances all students’ learning by increasing the diversity of course content, broadening the scope of classroom discussion, and exposing students to new concepts and ideas. Having worked in an international university in China, I witnessed firsthand the benefits that a diverse, international faculty had for students — in particular, in fostering culturally competent, broad-thinking entrepreneurs. Faculty diversity is essential to cultivating future leaders who can solve global problems from diverse perspectives and to delivering a world-class, modern education.

The need for formative research

Improving structural diversity is necessary but insufficient for fostering a positive campus climate (Hurtado et al., 2008). To improve campus climate with a view to supporting and retaining underrepresented faculty, it is important to first understand the climate that faculty perceive (faculty climate) and how it influences their professional development. Leaders should initiate efforts to address the success and retention of underrepresented faculty with an honest assessment of faculty climate and potential barriers to success. Such an assessment will be most informative if an evaluation of faculty success accompanies it. While climate assessment methods are well documented (Hurtado et al., 2008) and leaders can easily customize them to address faculty needs, assessment of faculty success is less well described. Leaders should design a good set of measurable outcomes that align well with institutional expectations (see Table 2 for examples). Further analysis may reveal whether specific groups (e.g., white men) more successfully meet those outcomes than others. Leaders should take care not to make assumptions about the data. For example, if on average more white men have successful tenure reviews than women and underrepresented groups, it may indicate not that the latter are of lower quality but that they are subject to more scrutiny and must achieve more to receive tenure. Similarly, lower course evaluation scores for women and underrepresented groups may reflect unconscious student bias rather than teaching quality. Analyzing faculty climate concurrently with faculty success measures will reveal barriers to success and point toward further helpful research.

Measurable outcomesUnits measured (average per faculty member)
Successful tenure reviewTotal number
Peer-reviewed articles per yearAverage number; average journal impact factor
Books per five yearsAverage number
Book chapters per yearAverage number
Grants per yearAverage number applied for per faculty member; average number received; average funding amount
Patents per five yearsAverage number
Quality of teachingAverage overall score on course evaluations; average score on peer-review reports
Service contributionAverage number of committees per year; average number of students mentored per year; average number of external service roles (e.g., journal editor, society chair) per year
Recommendations by reappointment, midterm, and tenure review committeesNumber and nature of positive recommendations (e.g., about scholarly productivity or teaching); number and nature of negative recommendations (e.g., about scholarly productivity or teaching)
Self-evaluationSelf-report of success on a Likert scale in teaching, scholarship and service, and sub-areas such as publication rate
Table 2. Examples of measurable outcomes (applicable to the faculty as a whole or different demographic groups of the faculty or both

Example barriers to faculty success and advancement

While intentional prejudice is uncommon at academic institutions, unintended or unconscious bias commonly produces barriers to faculty success (Moody, 2012), resulting in chronic marginalization, tokenism, and exclusion that often cause faculty to consider leaving their positions (Settles et al., 2022). Student evaluations are just one example. External biases toward women and underrepresented groups can also impede faculty success. For instance, research conducted mostly in STEM and the social sciences indicates that reviewers are less likely to recommend articles for publication if the authors are women or underrepresented groups (Silbiger & Stubler 2019) and that men are less likely to cite articles that have female authors (Dion et al., 2018). Additionally, epistemic exclusion (devaluing certain types of scholarship because of disciplinary biases) affects how promotion review committees judge scholarly excellence and which scholarship internal and external colleagues choose to recognize (Settles et al., 2022).

Women and underrepresented faculty face disadvantages that their peers, who benefit from affinity bias (the tendency to favor people from like backgrounds), do not. Examples of affinity bias include informal mentorship and promotion of a colleague’s scholarship in the form of invitations to collaborate or present at seminars and conferences or by highlighting their work in written reviews.

Suggestions for improving climate, success, and retention of underrepresented faculty

Most universities and colleges have a diversity office whose job is to investigate and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and climate on campus. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that other departments and offices don’t feel responsible for DEI, and diversity offices struggle to maintain a campus culture of inclusion. In addition, such offices often hold a primary responsibility for students and may not always have the time or resources to extend their efforts to faculty. DEI is everyone’s responsibility, and everyone can contribute. Faculty development can and should be a lot more than just offering workshops, and faculty development personnel can contribute a lot to removing barriers to faculty success for women and other underrepresented groups. Here are some possible interventions:

  • Take steps to avoid structural diversity without adequate support; talk to leadership about the institution’s mission and how diversity supports it. Talk to them about how to articulate the mission to all members of the community and how to promote the mission through curriculum and other programing. If one of your institution’s educational goals is to cultivate cultural competency in students, talk to faculty, department chairs, and your office of assessment about how the curriculum achieves that goal and how diverse faculty members can contribute.
  • Guard against tokenism and overcommitment of women and underrepresented faculty on committees and in other service roles. Ask them where their interests lie, and which committees will enhance their professional development.
  • Involve your chief diversity officer in policy review—especially policy that pertains to faculty reappointment, tenure, and promotion; workload; and teaching assessment.
  • Get involved in recruitment, reappointment, tenure, and promotion reviews. This is a good way to stay informed about what institutional expectations are and what review committees look for; it is also a way to encourage equitable practices. Develop a training program in collaboration with your diversity officer for faculty volunteers to serve as equity consultants to such committees or as bias response team members to address complaints about inequity. Better still, offer faculty a professional certificate program in educational diversity and inclusion and advocate for reduced course loads to allow them to take it.
  • Establish a confidential reporting system for faculty to report incidences of inequity.
  • Reevaluate your mentorship programs; consider establishing peer mentoring for underrepresented groups. Consider inviting other colleges and universities to join the initiative. Advocate for funds so the group can organize a monthly seminar or social event to encourage collaboration and mentorship.
  • Promote faculty scholarship through your website, a newsletter, internal seminars and awards, or a combination thereof; make sure that everyone’s scholarship receives recognition. If the opportunity arises, recommend women or underrepresented faculty (or both) for external seminars, presentations, and other promotional events.
  • Facilitate social events that encourage collaboration among faculty. For example, invite small groups of faculty members with similar interests to regular lunches.
  • Advocate for funds to support diverse hiring practices—for example, to assist with travel costs for international candidates.
  • Advocate for funds to incentivize and support faculty-driven diversity and inclusion efforts. These could be anything from curricular diversity initiatives to community service projects to faculty development programs.
  • Advocate for funds to support an internal faculty development award that supports research in areas of diversity, disparity, justice, and equity.
  • Organize DEI workshops in collaboration with your office of diversity and facilitate follow-up socials, retreats, or discussion groups so that faculty can get to know each other and one another’s scholarship.

Reducing pipeline leaks will be an ongoing effort, but the more people take responsibility to get involved, the faster we will be able to offer underrepresented faculty and students a brighter future.


AFT Higher Education. (2013). Creating a positive work environment for LGBT faculty: What higher education unions can do. https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/media/2014/genderdiversity_lgbt0413.pdf

Hurtado, S., Griffin, K. A., Arellano, L., & Cuellar, M. (2008). Assessing the value of climate assessments: Progress and future directions. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 1(4), 204–221. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014009

Moody, J. (2012). Faculty diversity: Removing the barriers (2nd ed.). Routledge.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Digest of education statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=61

Pell, A. N. (1996). Fixing the leaky pipeline: Women scientists in academia. Journal of Animal Science, 74(11), 2843–2848. https://doi.org/10.2527/1996.74112843x

Settles, I. H., Jones, M. K., Buchanan, N. T., & Brassel, S. T. (2022). Epistemic exclusion of women faculty and faculty of color: Understanding scholar(ly) devaluation as a predictor of turnover intentions. Journal of Higher Education, 93(1), 31–55. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2021.1914494

Silbiger, N. J., & Stubler, A. D. (2019). Unprofessional peer reviews disproportionately harm underrepresented groups in STEM. Peer J, 7, e8247. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.8247

Katherine Robertson, PhD, is the former director of faculty advancement at Duke Kunshan University (Kunshan, Jiangsu, China). Prior to becoming an administrator, Robertson was an associate professor of biology, and she has served in several faculty development roles. Robertson recently returned to the US and currently works in the School of Science and Engineering at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.


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