The Big Picture: Relationships Matter
For universities, the lesson is to “focus on worker-to-worker relationships and well-being,” says Mackey, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Simply promoting minority faculty may not be enough to retain them.
It’s true that formal policies committed to aiding employees — generous parental leave, for example, or an established mentorship program — can be attractive to new hires and appreciated by long-term workers. But, says Mackey, the longer a faculty member has been at her school, the more likely she is to see strategic initiatives that have succeeded — and the ones that have failed.
A supportive work environment, on the other hand, is not quite so capricious. When an employee feels genuinely comfortable and happy around her colleagues, she feels genuinely comfortable and happy at work. “It could be the case that strategic aspects get you in the door, but the supportive aspects are what keeps you,” says Mackey. For example, while it’s important to implement a flexible parental leave program, a university should also strive to accommodate new parents back in the office. Supervisors can take care not to schedule early morning meetings, and colleagues can offer to help out with a new parent’s projects.
Still, “it’s hard to mandate people to be nice,” notes Mackey. He has two suggestions for university leaders to build a supportive environment:
- Consistently model authentic and collegial connections, and recognize colleagues who do the same. When campus deans get to know faculty and take an interest in their personal lives, professors see that this behavior is valued at their university, and will be more likely to do the same for their peers.
- Provide a small fund for activities that allow colleagues to get to know each other outside of the office. Administrators can set aside time and resources for faculty to volunteer together, participate in a sports league, or take each other out for coffee.
Above all else, says Mackey, “it’s very important to listen to individual feedback.” Administrators often assess workplace morale based on averages in organization-wide surveys — but if there are few minority professors, then it’s easy to miss those perspectives. Universities leaders should take care to listen to the concerns and wishes of individual faculty in deciding where to concentrate their reform efforts.