Are You an Equal Opportunity Employer?

Many higher education institutions have historically demonstrated their commitment to equal opportunity employment by filling faculty positions with persons of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.  Their key stakeholders were diverse, even when it was unpopular among their peers and not mandated by federal statute.    When advertising university positions, the phrase “equal opportunity employer” is commonly used.  The civil rights legislation that emerged from the racial tensions of the 1960s and 1970s was the genesis of the phrase.  Now that most colleges and universities have “acceptable” racially and ethnically diverse  faculty, staff, and students,  colleges and universities still promote themselves as  “equal opportunity employers,” but the phrase does not carry the verifiable significance of its heyday.   

The practice of equal opportunity employment is still important for persons that recruit, select, and appoint persons to university positions, but the persons responsible for the daily supervision of those employees should also provide equal employment opportunities.   Supervisors must provide equal opportunities for personal and professional development.   As a supervisor:  Have you provided or shared with each faculty or staff member opportunities to improve or enhance their skill set?  Have you assigned special projects equally and fairly amongst employees?  Have you created a friendly, supportive, interactive and unbiased work environment?  Do you acknowledge the good work of all employees?  Have you communicated, verbally and non-verbally, that every employee is important to the successful operation and for the accomplishments of the unit?   

If your response to either of these reflective questions is “no,” you might not be an equal opportunity university employer.

Debra A. Buchanan is a 30+-year higher education administrator and a member of the educational leadership graduate faculty of a historically black university in the southeast United States.

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