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New Search Committee Training Encourages Faculty Diversity to Reflect Student Body

Steven Woods, College of Education

Dr. Steven Woods, professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, used the faculty diversity search training to augment the hiring process as search committee chair.

Erika Henderson wanted to change the way UH hires faculty. “Traditional methods of hiring faculty at the University of Houston had led to little change in diversity and inclusion overall” said Dr. Erika Henderson, assistant provost for faculty recruitment, retention, equity, and diversity. 

While focusing on hiring strong faculty overall, Dr. Henderson has made it her mission to help the faculty at UH reflect the University’s diverse student body, as well as the city of Houston. A Houstonian native, her experience working with President Barack Obama’s White House Fellows Program and as a senior policy advisor for the Department of Labor led her to develop a Powerhouse Faculty Toolkit. “The toolkit has all the resources a search committee could need to conduct a thorough and unbiased search which recruits top candidates” said Henderson.

Henderson is also involved with the Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success, which aims to increase the number and success of women faculty in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and behavioral sciences fields by recruiting more diverse faculty, providing clear opportunities for advancement and career development, and providing an inclusive and balanced work environment.

One way ADVANCE achieves that goal is by providing search committees with the tools they need to successfully recruit and hire diverse faculty. “This program has the opportunity to make a huge impact on the mission of ADVANCE” said Dr. Christiane Spitzmueller, managing director for the Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success. “We’re already seeing faculty successfully implement the tools of the training to their benefit.”

One such faculty member is Dr. Steven P. Woods, director of the Cognitive Neuropsychology of Daily Life Laboratory, director of Clinical Neuropsychology, and professor of psychology. He utilized a faculty candidate evaluation form, part of the Powerhouse Faculty Toolkit, to individually rank each candidate, along with his peers.   

“The search committee training made me think harder and more creatively about ways in which to increase the diversity of the applicant pool” said Dr. Woods. “My search committee colleagues and I ended up reaching out to organizations that serve underrepresented professionals in our field, including women, Hispanics, and African-Americans, rather than simply posting the ad to the usual cast of professional organizations and listservs.”

The training includes candidate rubrics which break down desirable traits in faculty into key areas such as instruction, lecture performance, research, enthusiasm, and communication. “The rubric certainly helped us think more carefully and specifically about the qualities that [the committee] wanted in an ideal candidate. Each of us had our own ideas about the nature (and behavioral evidence for) such qualities, so the rubric was helpful in operationalizing those ideas and weighting them according to departmental and program needs” said Woods.

The search committee training is just one piece of the ADVANCE puzzle. “Hiring greatly affects the feeling of diversity and inclusion at UH” said Dr. Spitzmueller. “By implementing this training, we’re encouraging faculty to look closely at our faculty and make a change that will better reflect our student population.”

“I’m glad that Dr. Woods has embraced the diversity training so readily” said Dr. Erika Henderson. “We can only hope that other faculty take his example and embrace the opportunity to hire new colleagues.”