Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Diversity Tax (@OxideChem)

At NDEW2013, I described the now oft told refrain about the overburdening of female and URM* faculty. In fact, this affects anyone in a department who is different in some way that adds to the faculty's strength. For example, in Georgia Tech's chemistry department, Mostafa El-Sayed is presently the only member of the National Academy of Sciences. So everyone wants him to be on their committee. But even he cannot be on every committee. Similarly, a female or URM faculty member is invariably asked to be on far too many committees. Let's call this the diversity tax as it adds an extra layer of work to such faculty. The existence of the diversity tax is not without good intentions. After all, everyone wants university and professional committees to be diverse. The trouble is that there are necessarily too few such faculty and hence they are asked to participate much more often than their colleagues. Moreover, only a few of those committees are actually useful to them at a given stage of their career.

Meanwhile the diversity tax goes further because female and URM faculty are invariably taxed in several other service roles. There's no doubt that said faculty are willing and interested to help. The trouble is that it's difficult to say no (for a number of reasons) and even the mental tax of doing so is part of the problem. Good intentions to limit the requests often fall on individuals not being invited to the tasks that are most in demand (because it's easy to fill those slots, and it apparently avoids further taxing female and URM faculty.) Thus the solution for the diversity side is too tricky to solve on the demand side. Instead, I advocate for correcting it on the supply side. Namely, if you see a faculty member being limited by the diversity tax, then give them more support—e.g., administrative assistants, teaching relief, research scientists, etc. This will put them on an equal playing field with their colleagues, and will help your department in the long run.

*URM stands for under-represented minority

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