Whether you are 17 or 75, the first day of university can be both daunting and thrilling. It offers us a clean slate: a chance to find or build our community, seek new adventures, and expand our minds. It’s also in this very moment of new-beginnings that educational institutions have the opportunity and responsibility to introduce a new class of students to their potential life-long mentors – their professors.
The question at hand is: how do we determine who are ‘the best’ fit to be these mentors, and what ‘the best’ really means when hiring them?
If you were asked to think back through the rolodex of past teachers, professors, and educators in your life, how many of those educators, would you say, represented your demographics? How many were different from you?
This year, I turned 40-something-ish. In those 40-some-odd (still not going to tell you) years, I attended grade school, high school, 2 different universities, 1 graduate school, and any number of tap dance classes along the way.
The majority of the educators I crossed paths with looked just like me, all generally raised in communities just like my own. It’s sad to say that I can count on two hands the number of teachers that racially – ethnically or otherwise – did not look like myself. While my life’s collective of teachers were mostly wonderful, they could only by nature offer me a slimmer scope when it came to learning about life and how the world operates.
According to the AUCC, as of 2010, there was just under 1.2 million students in degree programs in Canada: 755,000 undergraduates; 143,400 full-time graduate students; and an additional 275,800 part-time students. Of those students, 56% of were women, and 10% were international students.
As outlined by The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the Canadian academy remains largely white and male. Canadian census data shows that women, First Nations, and visible minority professors are grossly underrepresented, and this is an ongoing issue.
As of 2006, women represented 20.6% of all Canadian full time professors, while men represented a staggering 79.4%. And of course, we don’t count anything beyond binary cis-gender identities.
Let us make note that women represent 56% of all Canadian university students; yet only 20.6% of their university educators are of the same gender.
According to Statistics Canada via the CAUT, only 16.9% of all Canadian university professors are of a racial or ethnic minority group, leaving 83% of them as Caucasian. Even more dismal, only 2.1% of all university teachers reported having Aboriginal ancestry.
We are also seeing a significant difference in earnings and unemployment gaps for many of these demographics. Full-time female faculty members earn 88.8% of the average salaries of their male counterparts. University teachers who are not Caucasian earn far below the average salaries of all professors. In 2005, all professors earned an average of about $77,000, while non-Caucasian professors earned just under $69,400, an earnings gap of about 10%.
What message does this send to the potential educators of Canada that are not male and Caucasian? By default, what message does the lack of diverse university faculties send to our potential students? Do these statistics provoke encouragement of change? Or are they pushing a broad spectrum of brilliant minds away from becoming educators, causing a major loss in intellectual capital for not only our students, but for Canada as a whole?
There is something to be said for being educated by those who look like you versus those that don’t. It’s up to the hiring professionals at our educational institutions to ensure that there is an equitable split in the provision of diverse educators offered to their student bodies. This creates a trickle-down that has a direct effect on our nation’s prosperity.
When we see ourselves represented in a community, we are left to feel encouraged that it is possible for us to achieve our goals and know that our identity is welcome. A diverse university faculty not only acts as an invitation for a diverse enrollment, it sets up a system of support for a diverse student body. It perpetuates an understanding that embracing difference is not only an asset, but an imperative for success.
Every day, our business markets are becoming increasingly more global. By surrounding our nation’s students with educators of all backgrounds, genders, orientations, and the like, we are preparing them to trust in difference. We are providing them with the tools to navigate a global community, opening doors to economic growth and perhaps unforeseen opportunities.
My post-graduate certificate was in Diversity Management. This was the only time in my 40+ years’ worth of education when all of my professors were of broadly diverse backgrounds. All were either women, racial minorities, LGBTQ, or a combination thereof. This example of a fully diverse faculty roster should not be earmarked only for education around diversity itself. Yes, my work consists of working with other diversity professionals; but what about our nation’s accountants, engineers, scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs? When attending a university don’t we all deserve the most mentally and spiritually expansive experience possible, regardless of our field of study?
We all deserve an education set to prepare us with a global mindset. If we don’t receive and/or seek out this education, we are only hurting Canada as a nation, keeping us saddled in an outdated time of, dare I say it, “Old Stock Canadians.”
So again, I come back to the question: how do we determine who are ‘the best’ fit to be these mentors, and what does ‘the best’ really mean when hiring them?
As a diversity professional, one of the most common arguments I am approached with when it comes to hiring and diversity, is that “the best” person should always be hired, and that trumps anything that has to do with their demographics. I challenge that thinking by offering this: why not consider a person’s demographic as a part of why they are “the best” for the position? If you are to focus on selecting someone who is “the best”, then I encourage you to think of the university as a whole. Who will be “the best” addition to your community of people? Who will be “the best” in assisting your institution by adding to and supporting an atmosphere filled with diversity of thought and experience?
One of the reasons I committed to offering my insights to We Are was because of their mandate:
“We Are is a safe and collaborate space, where dialogue and discussion can occur. We Are is for the passionate, the curious, and anyone looking to join a positive community of people, committed to diversity equity, and Inclusion.”
This mandate is exactly what a university should be; a safe space for inclusion and conversation, while providing an introduction to new ideas, people, and experience. The boldest way for a university to embrace this mandate, is to introduce your students to as many different visions, voices, and tales of life’s adventures as possible. Your professors can be Canada’s change agents. Your professors are creating the next generation of change agents.