Is Your Department Hiring Faculty? Tips and Tricks for Promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

By: Autumn Kujawa, Lisa Fazio, Duane Watson, and Kris Preacher, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University

SSCP Diversity Committee
9 min readMay 25, 2022
Photo Credit: Anh Dao

Across the 2019–2020 academic year, representatives from each area of the Department of Psychology and Human Development in Peabody College at Vanderbilt University (i.e., clinical science, cognitive, developmental science, and quantitative methods) met to develop a strategic plan for the years to come. In October 2020, faculty across areas voted to adopt the plan, which included enhancing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) as a top priority. One specific short-term plan included an open area search for new faculty to advance EDI initiatives through their research, teaching, service and/or lived experience. With the support of our Dean and department chair, we launched this search in fall 2021 and were thrilled to recruit 3 stellar junior faculty across areas of psychology who each bring unique EDI contributions.

As anyone who has participated in a faculty search knows, there are challenges with ensuring that all faculty are on the same page about priorities and selecting among many very impressive candidates. Our cluster search was particularly challenging in that we had three positions to fill, and it was open area, which attracted attention from scholars with a broad range of expertise and required negotiating between the areas of our department. Further, we aimed to develop a process that was equitable and transparent, ensuring that all applicants received careful consideration. Here we share our process and recommendations for others considering similar searches.

Our Process

First, we decided on a cluster hire focused on EDI initiatives based on evidence that the cluster hire approach had been successful at other institutions for recruiting faculty from underrepresented backgrounds, offering built-in sources of support for new faculty, and avoiding tokenism. Our department also has a history of hiring multiple people in a single year, and we had first-hand experience with the benefits of starting as new faculty with peers.

We made the search open area so that we could recruit the best candidates for the position, regardless of their area of expertise. Underrepresented minority candidates are often doing cutting-edge interdisciplinary research that may be overlooked in searches focused on a specific area of psychology. The committee included 1 representative from each of our 4 areas with Lisa Fazio and Duane Watson serving as co-chairs. We conducted research on best practices for promoting diversity in faculty hires and participated in an on-campus workshop on inclusive faculty searches.

In the job ad, we asked for statements on EDI, research, and teaching along with a CV and 3 writing samples (whatever the candidate was most proud of, whether published or unpublished), but to minimize burden, we did not require cover letters or recommendation letters for the initial application. We kept the ad broad, which led to a large applicant pool, but it may not have been clear to all readers that EDI was the guiding force behind the search. Because so many job ads pay lip service to EDI, it was difficult to distinguish our search from other more traditional processes. For future searches, it may be helpful to offer more specific information on goals and priorities in the ad. We shared the ad widely, with some paid advertisements but primarily on organization listservs, Twitter, and

We received over 400 applications! To ensure that each application was given a fair review and given that EDI was the priority, we started by reviewing EDI statements. We aimed to be as efficient as possible in our process with clear time frames for completing each stage. First, two committee members rated each applicant’s diversity statement for their EDI knowledge, experience, and plans based on this rubric. (To further increase transparency and equity, we recommend that future searches include information on how applicants will be evaluated — including rubrics — in the job ad itself. In our case, we had not yet finalized our process when the ad was released).

The EDI statements narrowed our list to 50–60 applicants who had shown excellence in their EDI knowledge and experience or plans. Next, we reviewed CVs and research statements to further narrow the list to approximately 15 applicants. Each committee member picked 15–20 applicants who they thought should move on to the next stage, and we discussed and made decisions jointly to derive our shortlist. At this stage, we updated the applicants on the shortlist about their status.

We also requested letters from applicants on this list and read each application, including writing samples, in detail. Each committee member independently rated each applicant as “yes,” “maybe,” or “no” for an interview. This was the stage with the most disagreements, as we each had areas of research that we found particularly interesting, and it was challenging to choose among such impressive applicants. But we discussed and decided on 4 applicants to interview before winter break, followed by 3 additional interviews after break.

Due to changes in the spread of COVID-19 variants, our first round of interviews was conducted in person and the second round by Zoom. Regardless of the format, we took steps to ensure that applicants had a positive and welcoming experience with plenty of opportunities to connect with members of the Vanderbilt community with shared professional interests and/or personal backgrounds. We took time to talk with candidates about our commitment to EDI and our goal of making lasting changes in our department and beyond, including specific supports that will be in place for new faculty. We created a Google form for applicants to share preferences regarding who to meet with, dining options (in restaurants vs. outdoors), and dietary restrictions. For in-person interviews, the College covered all travel expenses up front, and we arranged group dinners with faculty we thought would connect well with each other and the applicants. For Zoom interviews, we mailed a gift box of snacks with a welcoming note to applicants (we used Snack Magic to organize) and scheduled casual group meetings in addition to more formal individual meetings. Our new hires noted that they appreciated our efforts to learn about them and their research in a collegial and welcoming way, as well as our willingness to share ideas of resources and supports that may be useful for their careers here.

After each interview, we asked faculty and students to provide feedback on candidates using a Google form in which they reported on the materials they had reviewed and their interactions with the candidate (meeting, attended job talk, etc.) and rated their perceptions of the candidate’s potential in domains including scholarly impact, research productivity, mentoring and teaching, and contributions to the environment of the department, along with qualitative feedback. We used these ratings to compare feedback across candidates and integrated qualitative feedback into our reports of recommendations for offers.

Finally, we took our recommendations to the full faculty who discussed and voted to move ahead with our recommendations. As would be expected, there were some disagreements, but we were generally able to come to a consensus with further discussion. After we made our decisions, we turned the process over to our department chair and Dean to negotiate offers. They listened carefully to the needs of each person and were able to make competitive offers, ensuring each incoming faculty member would have the resources needed to thrive here (including non-traditional supports like daycare slots). We continued communications with our top candidates and connected them with each other so that they could start to get to know one another and discuss their thoughts about Vanderbilt, the search process, and what life would be like here. All incoming faculty agreed that the communications with each other were a particularly positive aspect of the process.

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We recognize that there is no one right way to structure a cluster search, and the support and infrastructure for a cluster hire were likely key to our successful search. At the same time, there are other aspects of how we organized the search that we think were helpful and recommend to other search committees.

  1. Select a team that works well together and divides responsibilities evenly — Search committees are always a lot of work, but cluster hires and open area searches even more so due to many applications and interviews and challenges with weighing accomplishments across different areas. Be sure that all members of the team are committed to the work and able to devote the time needed to see the search through to the end. We also had co-chairs who could help each other out during particularly busy times. We found Slack useful for ongoing communications and to minimize the challenges of finding meeting times that worked for us all.
  2. Stay focused on the goal — The primary goal of our cluster hire was to enhance diversity and inclusion. We ensured that our top candidates had high-quality programs of research that we knew would fit well in our department, but beyond that, we did not prioritize a specific type of research. We tried to resist the urge to prioritize candidates in our own research areas or who we knew would be exciting new collaborators, and instead focused on the big-picture goal of contributions to our EDI efforts. This also helped with resolving tensions that came up between the areas. Be sure to know how you as a department define your own EDI goals and what specifically you are looking for to advance these goals.
  3. Develop a fair system for reviewing and rating all applications — Use the goal of the search to inform how the committee will review and rate applications. Try to use a systematic approach like a rubric with applications rated by more than one person. If the focus is on EDI, start with a diversity statement or other materials that offer insight into these contributions, and try to minimize distractions from other aspects of the application that are less relevant to the goals.
  4. Be transparent and efficient in communications with candidates — We as a committee frequently drew on our own experiences on the job market. For example, some of use recalled times where certain communications set up our expectations for offers that were ultimately not extended, and others mentioned interviewing for positions only to never hear back about a decision. To foster an environment where all people are respected and treated with consideration, we communicated directly with candidates as soon as we had updated information to share and also provided regular updates on Twitter for transparency. It is also helpful to be transparent about the expectations about the position. In our case, no additional EDI-related service was expected for the positions, but applicants had questions about this, and we could have been more proactive in addressing it.
  5. Commit to lasting change and long-term support for new faculty — We are proud of our work on this committee and the outcome of the search, but of course we also know that this is just the beginning. We are now working on plans for supporting new faculty when they arrive at Vanderbilt in the next year or two, including reviewing and updating our mentoring committee procedures, on-boarding materials for new faculty, and other supports to ensure that they have what they need to excel here. We aim to be sensitive to the unique challenges that new faculty from underrepresented backgrounds may face, including the potential for greater student mentoring requests and service demands, as well as biases in the value placed on specific areas of research and methods of dissemination.

We hope that this overview of our search process and recommendations provides inspiration to other departments planning upcoming faculty hires. There is still much more work to be done for psychological science to be a more diverse and inclusive field. We will also note that many of the recommendations are useful for all faculty searches — be thoughtful in your process and decisions and considerate of applicants. We are very pleased with the outcome of this search and look forward to welcoming our new colleagues to Vanderbilt in the coming months.

A Note from the SSCP Diversity Committee: Have you, or someone you know, had a particularly positive or negative experience going through or being a part of DEI faculty search processes? What did/did you not find helpful? How has your department demonstrated true commitment to DEI support and retention? We would love to hear from you! Comment below!

You can also email us if you want to share your comments/questions anonymously at



SSCP Diversity Committee

The SSCP Diversity Committee was established in 2014 to promote a more diverse clinical science.