Ten ways to be an advocate for women and underrepresented minorities in academia

I try my best to make my department, college, university, and discipline a welcoming place where everyone feels welcome and is valued. We’ve come a long way, but we also have a long way to go.

Mentoring has long been used to help support and address inequities that people in underrepresented groups face. I have women and underrepresented minorities (URMs) in mind for this post, and the ideas can be applied more generally to those in other underrepresented groups. Many reports such as this one argue that we should go beyond mentoring to advocacy. Mentoring is often private and done behind the scenes, and as a result, mentoring does not always improve inequities. Advocacy is more public and outward facing, with advocates raising the visibility of their advocees/mentees. Advocates can promote their mentees’ visibility, advocate for their next promotion, make connections for with senior leaders, and connect them with career opportunities. I believe women and URMs need both mentors who “get it” and can offer useful advice as well as advocates who can open doors that mentees cannot do on their own.

Male allies often ask me what they can do to make a difference. Here is my list of ways to advocate for women and URMs. My list builds upon the ideas from Anna Nagurney’s excellent list.

  1. Invite female and URM plenary/keynote speakers if you are organizing a conference.
  2. Invite women and URMs to speak at your campuses in department seminars or as guest lecturers.
  3. Nominate women and URMs for professional society offices and important service roles (e.g., for National Academy of Engineering review committees).
  4. Nominate and appoint women and URMs to journal editorial boards.
  5. Nominate women and URM to serve on awards committees.
  6. Invite women and URMs to apply to positions in your department.
  7. Nominate women and URM colleagues for professional recognition: from students to senior colleagues. Many forms of recognition are not successful on the first try due to so many good nominations. Be ready to try again.
  8. Publicize the successes and achievements of women and URMs in newsletters, media, press releases, etc.
  9. When someone achieves, send them a congratulatory note.
  10. Ask conference organizers if there is a code of conduct for meetings to convey the expectation that the conference is to be a welcoming and inclusive space where all attendees feel safe. If not, ask them to create one.

Regarding the last item, Aurelie Thiele and I helped edit the INFORMS Meeting Code of Conduct with INFORMS staff member Shelley Renn. The Board adopted and introduced it in 2018. I’m very proud of this.


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