The problem, challenges, or issues related to diversity in higher education ranges from ethnic and cultural differences, racism, gender discrimination, physical and mental disabilities, sexual orientation, political beliefs, religious beliefs, age, social-economic status and much more. Diversity and multiculturalism are two concepts that I have always used interchangeably while on the contrary, depicts different meanings. To me, diversity means the provision of equal opportunities for everyone regardless of their skin color, race, gender, national origin, and religion. Multiculturalism, on the other hand, promotes tolerance and equality that fosters acceptance of different cultures within a multi-ethnic society by respecting individual differences. According to Bell (as cited in Davis & Harrison, 2013), stated that social justice is the “full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs” (p.22). Social justice actions are actions that are designed to remove hurdles to equal opportunity, equal rights, and human liberty (Davis & Harrison, 2013).
Inclusion and the fight against discrimination and racism are what comes to mind when I hear of diversity, multiculturalism and social justice because these three concepts encompass acceptance, respect, and creation of equal opportunities for all regardless of our skin color or background (“Definition for Diversity,” 2018). They all try to encourage a more inclusive environment that does not only improve the economic and educational opportunities for students of color or minorities, but for all the social, academic, and societal benefits it presents for all students and campus community (Otten, 2013).
Gender discrimination is one of the challenges of diversity in higher education that I feel more comfortable tackling because I have experienced the gender discrimination that once denied me of a position in higher education because I am a woman. Women of color often face gender bias, which usually comes with racial discrimination that comes from white men and women. In the United States and around the world, women continue to be underrepresented in high-level, highly paid positions and overrepresented in low-paying jobs (“Inequality across Gender Diversity,” n.d). The practice of gender discrimination against women not only play out in higher education but in every other industry.
I used to work in this institution where there was an open position in one of the departments. A colleague informed me of this vacancy and asked if I would like to put in for it. I was on the verge of telling her to let me go through the job description and requirements when she mentioned that I should not bother to apply because the head of the department already indicated that he does not want to hire a woman. I asked my colleague why and to my surprise, she responded saying that he is just one of those men that is of the opinion that because he has similar characteristics with men, he will be more comfortable interacting and working with them. According to him, he feels more comfortable communicating with men, he tends to understand them better, they do not have mood swings, their actions are predictable, and they do not gossip. I did my research afterwards, and I found out that the only women in that department are the ones who have been in that position before the man resumed the job as the head of the department. This experience made me realize that this man will keep denying the department of hiring great potentials because they are of a particular gender and he does not feel comfortable working with them.
According to a research carried out by female faculty at Anderson School, Suddah (as cited in Trevino, Balkin, & Gomez-Mejia, 2017), reported that when it comes to promotion and tenure, evaluation of women is stricter than men, and they do not get as much credit on their work as compared to male faculty. Other faculty at Anderson School also mentioned that during tenure and promotion meetings, male faculty who coauthored research papers with a senior coauthor were credited for doing high-quality work, while female faculty who did the same received far less credit for contributing to the research (Korn, as cited in Trevino, Balkin, & Gomez-Mejia, 2017).
A study that was carried out reveals that formal student evaluations and informal online ratings support the claim that students do evaluate their professors differently based on whether they are women or men (Flaherty, 2018). “Women are referred to as ‘teacher’ as opposed to professor more often than men, which indicates that students generally may have less professional respect for their female professors” (Flaherty, 2018, para. 2). It is not just fair that women are still woefully underrepresented in leadership positions and this practice has been going on for so long, and it is almost becoming a norm (Kazi, 2017).
The challenge of gender discrimination/bias against women in higher education can best be tackled by institutions becoming self-aware that these conscious/unconscious biases do exist in higher institutions, and the effect this may have on decision making when it comes to hiring, promotion, and tenure (Lenckos, 2018). Self-awareness is the first step in the right direction, but this will not be effective in fixing the problem of gender bias if there is no reform of the human resource processes and practices correcting this bias. Higher institutions should embrace training talent-acquisition and search committees to recognise the need for hires of any gender based on their qualifications, experience, and potentials because this will better equip the institution to serve all students (Lenckos, 2018). Solving the issue of gender bias can be achieved by reviewing the selection and hiring process, evaluating leadership, management, and promotional roles to ensure women have equal opportunities (Kazi, 2017).
Understanding individual uniqueness, recognising our differences and knowing how best to relate with other people and embrace them regarding their identity, qualities, and their cultures which is different from ours is what diversity is about (“Definition for Diversity,” 2018). The problems and issues with diversity, multiculturalism and social justice can best be solved by having colleges and universities integrate diversity and inclusion into campus life, curriculum, and activities for students, faculty, and staff (Lenckos, 2018). Sending out surveys and creating forums for employees and students to express concerns will allow institutions to adequately evaluate diversity and inclusion initiatives by giving employees and students the opportunity to voice constructive criticism and tips for improvement (Lenckos, 2018). Study indicated that an institution with a more significant commitment to diversity reports less discrimination on campus community.
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