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How to Write a Diversity Statement

UL Grad School -- 11/30/2020

A diversity statement gives you the chance to show that you understand the barriers that underrepresented groups face. It’s also a way to tell if an institution is committed to diversity and equity.

The hiring committee will use your statement to determine whether you have the skills, experience, and willingness to contribute to a culture of inclusion.

Why it Matters

Diversity, inclusion, and equity are important concepts in our highly interconnected world.

While diversity speaks to the presence of differences between people or groups in a given setting, inclusion ensures that people of different backgrounds feel valued and receive a seat at the table. Equity ensures that everyone is a full participant, with acknowledgment of the advantages and barriers that exist for different people. For participants to feel that they belong in a given setting, their contributions and perspectives must be welcomed and encouraged.

Social scientist Scott Page has examined how groups of people with diverse perspectives are more innovative and better at problem-solving. His work demonstrates that cognitive differences and differences in identity lead to better performance and improved results. Economist Richard Freeman, meanwhile, has demonstrated that ethnically diverse groups of scientific collaborators receive greater numbers of citations.

You may have recognized the importance of cognitive diversity in your own field, be it from interdisciplinary forays or the impact of bringing new perspectives to bear on an issue.

If a hiring committee requires a diversity statement, it informs you that there is an existing conversation happening in that department around cognitive diversity and the importance of supporting underrepresented groups.

When considering how to write a diversity statement, you’ll want to think through your personal history and professional involvement. Use that experience to effectively communicate your attentiveness to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Consider Your Story

Think about obstacles you have overcome to get to where you are. Acknowledge, too, ways in which you may be privileged.

This is an opportunity to recognize and communicate how you empathize with those who confront challenges. Do not, however, create false parallels between your experiences and the challenges of marginalized groups you are not a part of.

Build from your personal experience overcoming challenges to think about how you would contribute to departmental culture. There may be committees and professional societies you can be involved in, and ways you can extend opportunities to students.

If you do not have first-hand experience of marginalization or underrepresentation, approach that honestly. You can demonstrate how your education and contributions seek to support inclusion efforts.

If you need more experience working with diversity, find ways to get involved and become familiar with the conversation. Your diversity statement could discuss the research and data on the impact of diversity.

Research & Define the Issue

A diversity statement should speak to commonly accepted understandings of diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, equal employment opportunity laws provide protection from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age, disability, and genetic information. Consider, too, socioeconomic and first-generation status.

Equally important is your ability to understand intersectionality (e.g. a person can be both a woman and minoritized). Remember the importance of appropriate language as well as context.  For example, a group may be large in population but underrepresented in a given setting due to structural barriers. We refer to such a group as minoritized, rather than as a minority group, to highlight the systemic inequality that creates underrepresentation.

Your diversity statement will need to be tailored to each institution to which you apply. Review how the institution defines its commitment to diversity (for example, the UL Lafayette Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence) and how the institution has implemented those plans. Find out what initiatives the institution offers, and identify how you would contribute and become involved.

Finally, define what diversity means in your discipline. You may be able to look at the ways in which major conferences and prominent organizations in your field approach diversity and inclusion efforts.
Get Specific
Your diversity statement should describe how your research, teaching, and service have contributed to a culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Rather than enumerating your efforts, however, focus on showing how you have helped people from underrepresented and/or diverse backgrounds succeed. Remember that actions speak volumes.

Hone in on your commitment toward achieving equity and enhancing diversity, and specify how you will continue to be an ally and advocate.

Keep Learning

The conversation and research around diversity, inclusion, and equity continue to evolve, so take the time to track down resources that will keep you informed. Scott Page’s work, as mentioned, provides a deep dive into the impact of diversity.

The Modern Languages Association’s webinar on how to write a diversity statement offers further tips on communicating your professional and personal experiences effectively.

On campus, you can look into Project ALLIES, which works to foster a campus climate in which all members of the University community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, may feel safe, supported, respected, and affirmed. The University also offers a Courageous Conversations workshop series on diversity and inclusion issues.