Dr. Fiona Rawle is currently the Associate Dean, Undergraduate and an associate professor of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Rawle is also a member of U of T’s Toronto Initiative Diversity and Excellence (TIDE) group which strives to increase the diversity and excellence of the school’s faculty and leadership. For this issue, The Medium had the pleasure of interviewing Rawle regarding her take on why hiring a diverse faculty is so crucial.
Rawle recently tweeted about a session she conducted on how to increase the diversity of faculty hires. A statement that frequently comes up in these sessions is a concern which was once again raised by a senior faculty member, a concern about how “if we take these steps to increase diversity, then we are now discriminating against white men.”
Rawle responds to this statement by explaining that “it’s not about placing restrictions on people, it’s about removing restrictions that are already there.” The goal of diversity is not to promote discrimination against those who are not being discriminated against, but instead remove it from those who are facing unjust treatment.
It is crucial to employ a diversified workforce, which, according to Rawle, can be achieved by having diverse committees who are trained in recognizing and tackling bias. “You need to make a conservative effort to be inclusive in terms of people who get invited for interviews,” she says. Furthermore, institutions must have open discussions about diversity when hiring. “It can’t be just a checklist,” she says.
Another valuable approach to promote diversity is to use an inclusion strategy rather than an exclusion strategy. Rawle asserts that individuals who are on committees should think in a way where they are open to hiring applicants based on what skills they can contribute rather than eliminating an individual from a list because they fail to meet a certain portion of the criteria.
As an esteemed professor and a researcher who is also a woman, we asked Rawle whether she has ever faced discrimination based on her gender. “I think every woman in science has,” she responds. Rawle also admits that she has been told by others throughout her career to smile more often and expresses that this is in fact a frequent comment women hear.
Why is appointing a faculty comprised of different cultures and genders important? Rawle discusses six key reasons regarding why diversity is important and how it can be achieved when hiring a faculty.
“First, as a teaching stream focused professor, I [am] really concerned about the educational experience that my students have. [A] diverse environment…enriches their educational experience.” By belonging to a diverse environment, students are able to learn from others’ different experiences and perspectives which results in enhancing the students’ educational involvement.
Secondly, Rawle stresses that it is important for students to see their character in their professors rather than just their peers. “It’s really important to me that students see themselves in their professors,” she states. For instance, having a female professor or a female teaching assistant can inspire a female student to see herself as a teacher. It is important to have a diverse array of teaching figures as it encourages students to have confidence in themselves and their future. Rawle herself still remembers her “very first biology teacher [and] the lecture that she gave.”
Diversity also encourages individuals to acquire critical thinking and creative skills. Rawle states that there is a large amount of evidence which proves that a diverse environment improves these skills. She explains that it is important for students to graduate with these skills than to simply have knowledge of facts pertaining to their field.
A fourth reason why diversity is key is that it helps to reduce stereotypes. Rawle states that “the more [individuals] get exposed to diverse communities, [the more] stereotypes [are] challenged.” Diverse environments encourage self-awareness and critical thinking by presenting an alternative perspective on common stereotypes.
Diversity also results in the enhancement of social development. Students must be exposed to other students and teaching figures that come from different cultures and genders as it improves social cohesion and development. According to Rawle, having diverse classrooms encourages social development in students and allows them to become global citizens.
Finally, diversity furthers and allows for creative and innovative solutions. “There’s so much evidence that diverse teams come up with more creative ideas and are more innovative,” Rawle explains. As a society, we are facing huge challenges such as climate change and the recent novel coronavirus outbreak. Diverse teams have the potential to come up with creative solutions to solve the difficulties the world is currently facing.
All in all, Rawle is always cognizant of the above six reasons, in academia and outside of it as well. The reasons often remind her why diversity needs to be present in all aspects, including faculties at post-secondary institutions. Diversity is something that hiring staff and we as individuals must continue to think about, not solely as a necessity but more importantly, for the benefits and growth it will bring to a community as a whole.