WU ranked 65th best American employer for diversity in Forbes ranking

Aiden Blinn | Staff Reporter

Washington University was ranked the 65th best American employer for diversity in a Forbes ranking published in January.

The list—which includes Harvard University, Emory University, Stanford University and other peer institutions—takes into account race and gender demographics in addition to respondents’ assessments of their workplace environment.

Vice Provost Adrienne Davis was pleased to see the impact of the University’s efforts to increase diversity in its faculty and staff.

“This is something we’ve been working on as a University for many years,” Davis said. “ Because this is based on responses from employees who work here, it was really heartening to see that all of the work that our colleagues have been doing was beginning to make a difference.”

According to Davis, the increase in faculty and staff diversity is part of a campus-wide trend toward more inclusion.

“Our admissions office has been doing extraordinary work in diversifying the student population, especially along the lines of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status,” Davis said. “In addition, human resources has built a really great infrastructure on both campuses—the Medical Campus and the Danforth Campus—to identify and aggressively recruit diverse candidates to hire.”

Davis noted that the University’s recent efforts have yielded a more active and critical student body, ultimately nudging it toward change.

“I think the students feel more and more empowered to hold our feet to the fire,” Davis said. “Now, that’s tough as an administrator. But every time they do that, it pushes us in the right direction.”

Though encouraged by the University’s inclusion on the Forbes list, junior Joy Korley, Diversity Affairs Council chair, said that the ranking does not line up with her experience as a student.

“I didn’t have my first black teacher at Wash. U. until my junior year, and I think—even though that’s a pretty good ranking for us—I think diversity of our faculty is being overrepresented by that statistic,” Korley said.

Korley emphasized that the University needs to turn its focus toward increasing diversity in its tenured professors.

“Having more tenured minority professors would be a great thing for the University, for students to get a more well-rounded education and also a great thing for our diverse students to see more professors that look like them teaching their classes,” she said.

Christi Smith, assistant dean for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion, also noted the lack of tenured faculty both at Washington University and other American institutions.

“We’re seeing increasing numbers of African-American faculty in campuses across the U.S., but a lot of those hires are actually into positions that are not on the tenure ladder,” Smith said.

According to Smith, tenured faculty have more of an influence on campus and have the power to challenge and critique University policy, making diversity an important factor in recruiting tenure-track faculty.

“Tenured faculty have much greater power to help the University move forward in meaningful ways, so they can be more critical, that voice that checks what’s going on on campus a little bit more,” Smith said.

Additionally, Smith mentioned that a diverse workforce is important in establishing a diversity of thought and background, which she believes will benefit the University.

“If you have a pretty narrow background of people who come from similar educational backgrounds or social backgrounds, you’re not getting that full array of questions that leads to the best kind of research that we can produce,” Smith said. “Especially in a place like St. Louis, with very deep inequalities, both racial and economic, we want to have people who can ask questions from very different backgrounds.”

Smith referenced the physics department, which has faced criticism for its lack of female faculty and students, as a department which lacks minority representation but has embraced diversity in recent years.

“Physics on campus is a place where you can see that they recognize that’s a deficiency. They recognize that’s an area they can do better in, and they’re trying to make things more diverse in their own house,” Smith said.

While Korley called for increased representation for minorities on campus, she added that hiring a more diverse faculty and staff is not about numbers but about how to make the University the best it can be.

“The University and our administration need to be brutally honest with themselves. Increasing our diversity percentages is not about meeting a quota,” Korley said. “It’s really about making this University well-rounded and having a diversity of life experience and teaching styles.”