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A Visible Difference: Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Faculty and Staff

By Net Assets posted 01-02-2019 10:40 AM

  
Teaching and learning

Human Resources |

High performance teams of independent school faculty and staff don't merely reflect the increasing diversity of the students they serve. They also bring a greater diversity of experiences, perspectives and ideas. 

Article by Donna Davis

From the January/February 2019 Net Assets magazine

All photos courtesy of The Children's School in Atlanta. 

The numbers aren’t encouraging. Racially and ethnically diverse faculty and staff are underrepresented in K-12 schools, especially as compared to the increasingly diverse students in their classrooms. During the 2015-16 school year, the ratio was 20 percent to 51 percent, respectively, in public K-12 schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In independent schools, only around a third of heads of school are women, about the same as in 2000, while people of color represent just 7 percent of heads, up from 3 percent, according to NAIS’ Data and Analysis for School Leadership.

This lack of progress is occurring at a time of dramatically changing demographics nationwide, including growth among Hispanic, African-American and Asian populations; a decline in the non-Hispanic white population; and greater visibility among the LGBTQ community.

Why should independent schools care whether their teaching force reflects their students? One very simple reason: Schools can’t do the important job of educating students without a culture of diversity, according to Warren Reid, founder and CEO of Nemnet Minority Recruitment, which works with educational institutions. “Academic excellence is impossible without a diversity of thought, experiences, perspectives and people,” he said. “If we are committed to educating the next generation of leaders, we would be doing them a disservice if we did not provide them with a diversity of perspectives, ideas and people.”

 Diverse faculty and staff also provide the variety of perspectives needed for a team-centered approach to educational goals, said Nishant N. Mehta, head of school at The Children’s School in Atlanta. “We can no longer function in silos. We need to be focused on high-performance teams, and the diversity of the team is critical,” he said. “I can’t do my job as head of school on my own. To be effective I need a diversity of people around me to make as inclusive a decision as possible.”

Further, the Brookings Institution in 2017 published an analysis of several studies confirming that a demographic match between faculty and students positively affects outcomes such as test scores, attendance and suspension rates. “While the jury’s still out regarding the mechanisms at play here, the emerging evidence suggests that a diverse teaching force has the promising potential to help minority students attain greater educational success.”

Beyond the Numbers

The Children’s School, with 390 students age 3 through grade 8, has 48 percent students of color, 23 faculty of color and 50 percent staff members of color. But statistics never tell the whole story, according to Mehta.

“Race and ethnicity are simply one measure,” he said. “Those are whole-school statistics — we have to ask what is the right mix for all the teams? You could still have a lack of diversity in one grade or community. Don’t get too comfortable if your numbers look better than your peers’.”


Students, faculty, staff and parents at The Children’s School share
their perspectives on diversity and inclusion.

Still, Mehta said he is often asked how he has managed to hire such a diverse group of people.

The answer: “People realize when they come on our campus they will be seen for who they are,” he explained. “It’s that feeling you get when suddenly you are made visible.” Getting to that point did not happen overnight, but he believes that “visibility is at the heart of diversity and inclusion efforts. It’s really about creating a community — creating a sense of belonging for every person.”

The Children’s School and others like it have succeeded by embedding a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion into their cultures, taking advantage of innovative ways to attract new hires, jettisoning unconscious biases and providing support, from professional development to affinity groups, to keep diverse staff on board.

Accountability, Top to Bottom

Expand your team, educate your team and empower them with the time and capacity to do the work.

Warren Reid
Nemnet Minority Recruitment

Involvement at all levels is essential. “The schools that are winning at this have a team versus an individual model,” Reid said. “Expand your team, educate your team and empower them with the time and capacity to do the work.” That team includes the board of trustees, who can challenge the head of school to produce results. “The head of school whose board is not evaluating him or her on some metric is not compelled to act or perform.”

Mehta likens that type of accountability to a capital campaign. “If you have a goal of 10 million dollars, you would never stop before you raise your 10 million.” Yet often schools set a hiring goal and when they fall short, they give up. “We put the responsibility on the people who don’t show up instead of placing it on ourselves,” he said.

children's school diversity


The work to attract and support diverse staff and faculty flows to the rest of the school. Jamie Asaka, director of equity and inclusion at Lakeside School in Seattle, a grades 5-12 day school with 850 students, said integrating responsibility throughout the school community means “the more people, the more inclusive” everyone must be.

“Different disciplines have expertise in different areas,” she said. “The academic department focuses on content knowledge and hiring for diversity in pedagogy, HR focuses on ensuring hiring teams are trained to recognize filters and providing consistent hiring practices, and the diversity, equity and inclusion team focuses on attracting, supporting and retaining a diverse population. The more aligned and collaborative we are, the more the inclusive the process can be.”

Committing the Resources

“I think all our schools are concerned about a diverse faculty, but I’m not sure that all of them are committed,” Reid said. Commitment requires the allocation of people, time and financial resources. Yet in a survey he conducted, Reid found that 92 percent of schools did not have a line item in their budget for diversity recruitment. Earmarking money not only gives schools the means to recruit diverse faculty and staff, but it also allows them to monitor the results and calculate return on investment, he said.

Reid’s study of 345 schools (public and private grades K-12, along with 205 minority educators and administrators) also found these areas where schools are falling short in committing resources:

    • 76 percent of private schools leverage “exclusive retained searches,” meaning they hire one search firm to find job candidates. “This practice runs counter to increasing your exposure and access to the largest, most diverse pool possible,” Reid said.
    • 71 percent of schools spend $2,000 or less on diversity-specific recruiting.
    • 83 percent of the people responsible for recruitment could not identify four diversity-specific resources to assist their efforts.
    • 91 percent of the people responsible for recruitment could not name 10 HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).

Mehta said that he has seen a disconnect at schools that have both a line item in their budget for diversity programs and a staff member with the title of diversity director. Often, that diversity director does not oversee the money budgeted for diversity programs. “Wouldn’t it make sense, if you have a line item in your budget, that the person whose title it is would oversee that budget?”

Hard Questions

The first step is to take an unafraid, honest look at your school — both “the beauty and imperfections,” said Lorre Allen, director of human resources at St. Mark’s School of Texas, in Dallas. Allen, who joined the grades 1-12 boys’ school as a 20-year-plus veteran of HR and diversity, equity and inclusion work in the private and higher education sectors, wants schools to ask the “hard, reflective questions.”

“You are putting a mirror up to your organization and saying, ‘Tell me, what do we look like to someone on the outside looking in?’ When you put a mirror up, you’re looking at your organization from a different perspective. You see your imperfections.”

Those imperfections could include the absence of a comprehensive plan to increase the diversity of the applicant pool, failure to implement that plan aggressively, a lack of diversity among senior staff and trustees, or a tendency to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” Instead, ask, “Are we doing it the right way? Are we matching the needs of our students with our faculty and staff?” Allen said. “Are we creating an inclusive culture that will support diversity?”

Uncovering Bias

Unconscious bias — also known as implicit bias or implicit social cognition — can hinder diversity efforts. The Kirwan Institute defines these biases as encompassing “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner” and causing “feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age and appearance.” Biases develop through exposure to direct and indirect messages beginning early in life, and they continue to form — but they can be unlearned.

children's school diverse faculty

In previous roles, Allen worked to help organizations identify barriers to progress. Often, those barriers result from unconscious bias. She would encourage people to ask: “Am I making this decision based on the information I have in front of me, or am I basing it on an experience I have had or something someone told me? Because that’s what unconscious bias is.”

Those biases can come in the form of making judgments based on the name on a candidate’s resume, where that person lives, or even why a potential employee has decided to leave a certain school. Sometimes biases can be more overt, like when decision makers assume that a diverse candidate would not want to work at their school because of its location.

Educating the members of hiring committees about unconscious bias is essential to promoting inclusion and diversity. “[Education] is an opportunity to expand our thought process and our self-awareness,” Allen said.

Questioning Assumptions

Schools sometimes miss opportunities around assumptions and misconceptions, according to Reid’s research.

He asks administrators to name the biggest factors that contribute to whether or not a job seeker, particularly a job seeker of color, will accept an employment offer. “Our research shows that 72 percent of the schools surveyed listed salary and benefits and location as the primary factors” influencing their decision, Reid said. “This is the exact opposite of what candidates are saying.” Their main concern? The interview process.

Know how your town is seen by an outsider, and help them understand your location and how it will feel to someone new, based upon their interests, range of identities. Engage in that conversation so that there are no unspoken hesitations.

Penny B. Evins
St. Paul’s School for Girls

“Schools that we serve and the people responsible for this work are projecting onto candidates what they think is important,” Reid said. “It gives them a crutch for inaction. They don’t have to go through the normal recruiting procedures because they’ve already decided that a candidate of color is not going to want to live or work there.”

Schools can be proactive about how their community is perceived. “It is important to make sure you speak about your geographic location, as the candidates are possibly relocating to a new city,” said Penny B. Evins, head of school at St. Paul’s School for Girls in Brooklandville, Maryland, with 446 students in grades 5-12. “Know how your town is seen by an outsider, and help them understand your location and how it will feel to someone new, based upon their interests, range of identities. Engage in that conversation so that there are no unspoken hesitations.” Local businesses and civic leaders can become important allies in promoting a community or advocating for change.

Consider also how you advertise for open positions, said Jen Cort, a former middle school head and founder of Jen Cort Educational Consulting, which helps schools incorporate equity, diversity, inclusion and justice into their programs. She suggests using inclusive language — for instance, “Inclusive School celebrates the diversity of our school and local communities including race, color, religion, national and ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Search Experience

You may also need to diversify the resources you use to find diverse candidates. “When we ask schools to list four diversity-specific resources, the majority of them can’t,” Reid said. One idea — draw a two- to four-hour radius around your school, and in that radius identify the diversity-specific resources that could provide leads. Minority-targeted hiring or career fairs are possible examples, as are diversity conferences, professional development workshops, civic and social organizations, churches and higher education institutions.

“Many schools are continuing to use the same sources [to find candidates], but they are not diverse to begin with,” Reid said. “Simply identifying resources that can assist you in the process, and leveraging them, is strategic and will lead to a different result.” Nemnet and other organizations, including the Eastern Educational Resource Collaborative (East Ed), sponsor diversity career and hiring fairs.

Allen believes that independent schools are “hidden gems” that would be attractive to educators and staff in higher education, based on her experience working at several universities.

Allen believes that independent schools are “hidden gems” that would be attractive to educators and staff in higher education, based on her experience working at several universities. “As college prep schools, we have the opportunity to tap some of the same great minds,” she said. “I’m not sure schools have made that connection, and I’m not sure we are visible in that space.”

Closer to home, schools can sometimes find “unexpected” sources for connections simply by asking colleagues, said Sara Skinner, director of human resources at Lakeside School. A teacher, in fact, told her about POCIS (People of Color in Independent Schools of Northern California). “It immediately opened doors for us,” she said.

Lakeside School is also focusing on the candidate experience during the interview process. “Are we asking questions that really get at what we are trying to learn about people?” she said. “Are we presenting a diverse search committee so that the candidates, no matter what background or where they are from, see themselves in the committee?”

Skinner also makes sure that anyone involved in hiring adheres to consistent, inclusive practices, including the interview process. “The training is ongoing,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re asking all candidates the same questions so that we’re fair and we’re consistent.” A checklist of consistent questions can be helpful in this regard — with candidates as well as reference checks.

Better Onboarding, Better Retention

Better employee retention means less time and money spent recruiting replacements. Yet schools often act as though the work is over once the new hire comes on board. In fact, retention can be as difficult as recruitment.

“We begin the hiring process with a job description and then end onboarding within a few months,” said Cort. “Welcoming and retention is a three-year process. The first year, new hires are checking out the school, the second they are deciding whether they belong there. By the third year, they are deciding whether to stay or leave.”

children's school diversity


Cort’s conclusions come from the results of a diversity-related survey she conducted in 2017 of 200 people who applied to work or were involved in hiring at public, private and independent schools. In emails separate from the survey, respondents revealed their frustrations.

“[Candidates] were experiencing schools that said they wanted diversity but were not living it out,” Cort said. “They said they wished they had been told, ‘You are going to be the only one of two people like you, and here is how we are going to support you.’”

That support is especially important for brand-new teachers. At St. Paul’s, those teachers get help with “firsts” like the first parent night or the first parent-teacher conference. “As comfortable as they might feel in your school, chances are if they are a minority, that makes them most likely a minority to your parents,” Evins said. “That’s a huge bridge to walk on and build together.”

Cort’s survey also revealed some retention best practices, including not assuming that new hires will lead or even engage in diversity work for the school. She also recommends mentoring new diverse hires and providing professional development funds so that those who are among the few in their school can participate in affinity groups.

Don’t Stop the Work

Mehta makes diversity, equity and inclusion a “constant focus,” whether it’s a faculty meeting or a discussion about curriculum changes. “Whatever table we are at, questions are asked because I have trained my staff in recognizing what voices are present, what voices are not present,” he said. “We are constantly looking at our processes. We don’t expect that just because we are doing it well today, that that is the best way to do it.”

Reid said he is encouraged about the future, based on what he has seen in recent years, including growth in Nemnet members, and an increase in placements and retention rates for faculty and staff of color. “More schools are having this conversation and owning where they are and that they need help,” he said.

Donna Davis is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado. A contributor to Net Assets since 2008, she specializes in education-related topics.
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