We Built a Diverse Academic Department in 5 Years. Here’s How.

Adia Harvey Wingfield, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor in Arts & Sciences


I work in the sociology department at Washington University in St. Louis. Our department has several interesting distinctions — it was formed in 2015, making it one of the newest sociology departments in the country. It came into being after this region was rocked by protests following a grand jury’s refusal to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.

But perhaps most notably, we comprise one of the more racially diverse departments in academia today. This wasn’t an accident. It was the result of intentional, consistent efforts from multiple stakeholders to create a department that would be both racially diverse and committed to excellence.

In just five years, our department has grown to 13 full-time faculty, nearly half of whom identify as people of color. Not only that, of the eight senior professors in my department, half of us are people of color. Three of these senior faculty are women, and three identify as Black. This is the kind of racial diversity that many departments in academia and other organizations say is impossible to create, claiming that there’s too leaky a pipeline, or that it’s too difficult to find strong candidates. Our experience building Washington University’s sociology department shows that these results are certainly possible. Here’s a glimpse at our playbook.

Read the full piece in the Harvard Business Review.