Columbia University

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Improving Department Climate: Tools and Resources for Departments and Department Chairs


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Improving the Department Climate: Tools and Resources for Department Chairs was developed by the Office for Faculty Development and Diversity in Arts & Sciences at Columbia University. This toolkit begins with an overview of research findings on department climate, including examples of microaggressions and their negative impacts. The following sections of the toolkit are organized around four principles for a positive department climate:  transparencyuniformityassistance and respect. These provide a framework for considering resources and best practices from other institutions that may help improve the department climate. An annotated list of tools and resources for enhancing the department climate is also included.

Special thanks go to Youngah (Karen) Kwan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry, who conducted the literature review and researched best practices at other academic institutions, as part of a GSAS Fellowship in the office for Faculty Development and Diversity in Spring 2018. This toolkit was developed by Susan Drange, former Associate Dean for Faculty Development & Diversity and Kristen Barnes, former Assistant Director for Faculty Development & Diversity. Please contact the Office for Faculty Development and Diversity at [email protected] if you have any questions about these materials. 

Research Findings on Department Climate: An Introduction 

What is (department) climate?

Climate has been defined as “The atmosphere or ambiance of an organization as perceived by its members. An organization’s climate is reflected in its structures, policies, and practices; the demographics of its membership; the attitude and values of its members and leaders; and the quality of personal interactions” (Fine & Sheridan, 2015). As Liddle et al. note, “Workplace climate matters. It affects employee recruitment, adjustment, productivity, stress, and commitment” (Liddle et al., 2004). Studies on climate in higher education have focused mainly on campus, but have recently shifted focus towards the department climate. Such studies on academic faculty have found faculty intent to leave or satisfaction tied to experiences of collegiality from department colleagues (Daly and Dee 2006; Hagedorn 2000; Lindholm 2004; Rosser 2004).

What makes department climate hostile?

Common climate problems that faculty often cite are (1) lack of respect and/or politeness, (2) faculty’s lack of influence on department matters, (3) lack of support for work-life balance and unwillingness to support family and childcare responsibilities, (4) low sense of community and insufficient communication, (5) lack of mentoring, (6) insufficient access to the important university and department information, (7) unclear tenure and review processes, (8) excessive service/mentoring/committee duty assigned to underrepresented faculty, and (9) illegal behaviors and use of problematic language and behaviors (Aguirre, 2000; Callister, 2006, Settles et al., 2006; Stanley 2006, Skachkova, 2007, Maranto & Griffin 2010; Riffle et al., 2013; Campbell & O’Meara, 2014; Sheridan et al., 2017; Edwards & Ross, 2018).

Does a climate problem exist in my department?

Multiple studies have shown that faculty from underrepresented groups feel the department climate to be more hostile and unwelcoming than their majority counterparts (Callister, 2006, Settles et al., 2006, Stanley, 2006, Maranto & Griffin, 2010; Riffle et al., 2013). Therefore, even if you feel there is no climate problem in your department, someone else in the department might think differently. One way to assess your department’s climate is to conduct a climate survey. (NOTE: A department climate survey tool is available through the office for Faculty Development and Diversity and will be piloted with interested departments in 2018-19.) Other ways to assess department climate include individual meetings or departmental meetings to discuss climate, or use of an outside group to conduct focus groups about the climate.

What are the impacts of department climate and why is enhancing department climate important?

Pursuit of professional goals and productivity

Faculty feel more focused and motivated toward their professional goals when they perceive their department climate to be more fitting, more accepting of work-life balance, and more generous toward providing administrative support for research and grants (Campbell & O’Meara, 2014). Studies have also shown that the department climate and faculty satisfaction have a positive impact on faculty productivity. Productivity measured by the number of publications increases when (1) faculty feel more welcomed by the department (Monk-Turner & Fogerty, 2010), (2) faculty feel more collegiality in the department (Sheridan et al., 2017), and (3) faculty perceive the department climate to be warm towards underrepresented groups (Sheridan et al., 2017). The study also reveals that productivity was higher across the department as a whole when the climate was perceived as positive, and these benefits did not accrue only to underrepresented groups (Sheridan et al., 2017).

Isolation and Exclusion

Women and minority faculty, including non-U.S. born faculty, tend to feel more isolated and excluded from informal networks in their departments than their majority counterparts (Aguirre, 2000; Stanley 2006; Skachkova, 2007; Maranto & Griffin, 2010). Unsurprisingly, the department climate experienced by female faculty depended on the percentage of female faculty in the department (Maranto and Griffin 2010). Since informal networks can lead to informal collaboration and mentoring, being excluded from these networks can hold back women and minority faculty. As a result, these faculty tend to show lower job satisfaction and higher intention to leave (Callister, 2006; Lawrence et al., 2014, Patridge et al., 2014). However, this relationship  can be mediated by a department climate that responds to the needs of minority faculty members. Such response can alleviate the stressors of isolation and exclusion, which have reduced satisfaction and increased intention to leave the department.

Extra service and mentoring

Women and minority faculty tend to perform extra service, such as (1) mentoring underrepresented students and/or junior faculty, (2) serving on a variety of diversity committees, (3) helping local communities and/or student groups, and (4) educating majority university administrators, faculty, students, and staff on diversity (Stanley, 2006, Edwards & Ross, 2018). Women and minority faculty agree that these activities are important, but they also voice concerns that these activities are time-consuming and rarely count toward promotion (Stanley, 2006; Britton, 2017).

Sexist, racist and/or homophobic language and behaviors

Microaggressions are defined as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” (Sue et al., 2007). According to Sue, when individuals are confronted with their microaggressive acts, the perpetrator usually believes that the victim has overreacted and is being overly sensitive (Sue et al., 2007). However, research findings on sexist, racist, and/or homophobic language and behaviors reveal that minority faculty members are, in fact, navigating through the negative climate created by microaggressions, which limit their comfort and satisfaction in the workplace.

Women scientists who reported more sexual harassment and gender discrimination showed less satisfaction with their jobs (Settles et al., 2006). Also, women scientists who perceived their department climate to be more sexist were less satisfied with their jobs. In particular, women scientists who reported more gender discrimination in their responses to questions such as “Some faculty have a condescending attitude toward women,” and “Men are more likely than women to receive helpful career advice from colleagues,” felt they had less influence in their departments (Settles et al. 2006). However, when the faculty viewed their departments as having effective leadership that is responsive and communicative, the perceived climate for female faculty was more positive (Settles et al., 2006). This means that clear guidelines on department protocol can reduce unintended gender discrimination (Sonnert, 1995).

Minority faculty shared similar sentiments. Faculty of color suffer from institutional and individual racism, which has led to lower job satisfaction (Stanley, 2006; Skachkova, 2007; Jakakumar et al., 2009). An example of institutional racism would be expecting the minority faculty at Predominantly White Institutions (PWI) to assimilate to the majority group culture and change how they act, talk, and dress to fit in. An example of individual racism would be a majority faculty member saying, “This side of the hallway sure is looking darker lately” upon seeing two faculty of color in the hallway (Stanley, 2006).

LGBTQ faculty who are “out” in their work environment experience more discomfort, possibly due to microaggressions or more visible homophobic actions (Bilimoria & Stewart,2009; Patridge et al., 2014). Studies have provided details of the harassment, intimidation, fear, exclusion and discrimination experienced by LGBT faculty, including tokenism, stereotyping, increased visibility and scrutiny, isolation (Russ et al., 2002), and constraints on choices of scholarship (LaSala et al., 2008). Positive workplace climate for LGBT faculty is important because they may be especially vulnerable to bias, discrimination, and retaliation in the academic workplace (Bilimoria & Stewart, 2009).

Isolation, exclusion, extra service burden, microaggressions and outright discrimination and harassment have been identified in the research as contributing to negative department climates for women, racial/ethnic minorities and LGBTQ faculty members. Negative climates decrease job satisfaction and increase the intention to leave, while positive climates increase productivity for all faculty members and increase retention of faculty. So how can we develop and maintain more equitable, welcoming and positive department climates?

Click here to view the full list of References on Academic Climate

A&S PPC Equity Reports

The first step toward change is awareness that a problem exists. The recent A&S PPC Equity Reports have raised awareness about climate issues at the school-wide level and also at the department level. Some of the problems identified reflect problems found by other institutions that have conducted climate surveys and also point to issues cited in the literature. A number of recommendations made in the PPC Equity Reports should be addressed at the A&S level, and also at the local department level, including (but not limited to):

  • Increase transparency and rule-based decision making
  • Enforce existing rules on professional conduct including harassment, discrimination, bullying and retaliation
  • Ensure by-laws are up-to-date and clearly communicated
  • Clearly communicate the criteria for annual raises
  • Establish equity in assigning teaching and service
  • Establish system to reward service and recognize invisible labor
  • Ensure department climates are conducive to the success of all faculty

These recommendations point to organizational practices that department chairs can employ to improve department climate; however, they do not address the more subtle tone and character of interpersonal communication among department members, which contribute to intangible elements of collegiality. In order to address department climate issues, change is most likely needed at both the organizational level and the interpersonal level.

The Department Chair's Role in Improving Department Climate

The department chair bridges the two spheres that influence department climate: organizational policies and practices, and individual conduct. In this way, the department chair plays an important role in shaping the department climate. While a department’s climate is not created by any one individual, the tone and boundaries of interpersonal interaction within the department are maintained by the chair. As a symbolic figure, the way a chair treats members of the department is often modeled by other members of the community. As the head of the department, the chair is responsible for communicating and enacting policies and practices, and maintaining academic ethics and boundaries for collegial interpersonal behavior among department members.

Practices to improve department climate

A number of academic institutions have studied the climate for women and people of color as part of the NSF ADVANCE program which awards funding for institutional transformation aimed at increasing the representation of female faculty in STEM fields. In fact, the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory was one of the early recipients of NSF ADVANCE funding in 2004. NSF ADVANCE programs at institutions across the country have developed a number of resources to address organizational and department climate issues. In the sections that follow, resources from other institutions (some of them NSF ADVANCE awardees), as well as local Columbia University resources, are presented to assist with improving the department climate for faculty of color, women and other marginalized groups, as well as all members of the department. While most of the tools provided address faculty issues, it is important to remember that the department is comprised of more than just tenured and on the tenure track faculty. When thinking of the department climate, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, lecturers, professors of practice, researchers, adjunct and visiting faculty, as well as departmental staff and administrators compose the full department and are responsible for creating the climate as well as experiencing it.

Principles for a Positive Department Climate

Jean Waltman and Carol Hollenshead developed Creating a Positive Department Climate: Principles for Best Practices as part of the NSF ADVANCE program at the University of Michigan. They provide a useful framework for considering department climate and three principles that support a positive climate for all faculty: 

  • Transparency – Making all kinds of information available and easy to find.
  • Uniformity  – Leveling the field and dealing equitably with all faculty
  • Assistance – Attending to the needs of faculty; offering mentoring and other types of help.

​​These three principles, provided by Waltman and Hollenshead (2005), are organizational strategies that a department chair or leader should employ when dealing with all members of the department. To these we add Respect, which is shown at the interpersonal level, from one person to another, and also at the organizational level in the way that information, resources, work and rewards are distributed.

  • Respect – Acknowledging and valuing contributions to the department; welcoming and including all department members in the community.

The four principles of a positive climate:  transparency, uniformity, assistance and respect, are simple and straightforward, yet often taken for granted by those in positions of power and privilege. Neglecting these principles contributes to the phenomenon frequently found by climate surveys, where the majority group experiences a significantly different kind of departmental climate than minority group members. Research studies and materials such as Breaking into the Guildmasters’ Club: What We Know About Women Science and Engineering Department Chairs at AAU Universities and Enhancing Department Climate: A Guide for Department Chairs have shown that department chairs often have different perceptions of the climate than faculty members (Niemeier & Gonzales, 2004; University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2015). Since department chair and faculty members’ perception of climate may differ, it is important that the chair finds a way to assess the department climate, possibly through individual meetings with all faculty members, discussion during a faculty meeting, or engaging the department in a department climate survey (available through the A&S Office for Faculty Development & Diversity).

In the following sections, each of the four principles of a positive department climate is described further with resources and practices from other institutions highlighted. An annotated bibliography of resources follows the discussion.


Transparency relates to communication and information. Requests for more transparency may be related to unspoken beliefs and practices that may not be fully articulated among all members of the department, or were developed in the past and have not been discussed and vetted with the current department members.  Examples of unspoken guidelines might include how different kinds of productivity are valued for advancement or salary increases. Lack of transparency could also relate to existing policies that have not been circulated to all members of the department and are not easy to find. 


Sometimes policies and practices have been communicated, but not often enough, to everyone or at the right moment. It is good practice to provide information about important policies and practices in multiple forms, including communication during department meetings, in written form, posting on the department website and also in individual meetings.  Leaders often believe that if they have said something once, it is taken care of, and everyone now understands the information. However, in practice this is not enough, as people tend to take in information when it directly relates to an issue they are currently experiencing, so they may not “hear” it if it was not important to them at that time it was communicated.  Also, if communication occurs during a stressful time or when the listener is upset, they may not hear or understand the message fully. Especially when communicating about job expectations, it is important to be clear and direct, and follow-up later to ensure understanding.  In practice, communication about the same issue needs to occur multiple times, using different media, over the course of time to ensure the message is received by everyone. It is almost impossible to communicate important information too many times.


Departmental bylaws provide a vehicle to capture and communicate the important policies and practices related to decision making within the department. If departmental bylaws are incomplete or out-of-date, engaging the department in updating the bylaws can create an opportunity to discuss and agree upon how things ought to be done. The PPC's Sub-committee on Bylaws has developed a set of recommendations for departments to incorporate. 


The principle of Uniformity can also be thought of as equity and fairness. If department members feel that they are treated unfairly and that some people are given special treatment or favoritism, this undermines department morale. Distribution of resources, such as salary, research assistance, teaching assistance, office and laboratory space, etc. should be done using guidelines understood by everyone in the department. Uniformity and fairness in assigning departmental service is also important. The department chair should exercise care in assigning workload so that it is evenly distributed in terms of the time tasks require and also in terms of service that is recognized as important compared to service that is necessary, but not so influential.

A tool for ensuring uniformity and fairness in the distribution of departmental work was developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here is an adapted version:

Faculty Members Commitments Tracker

The grid below is adapted from the University of Wisconsin and can be customized with faculty member names and specific assignments. When assigning faculty members to various roles, committees and commitments, use this chart to ensure opportunities are well distributed and that each person has some impactful role within the department and not an excess of extremely time consuming tasks. Mark an “X” in each box that a faculty member is assigned.

Not all organizational and departmental committees and activities require the same level of commitment from faculty. The department chair may create a system to evaluate the amount of time dedicated to each activity to ensure faculty members are recognized for their total contributions, instead of evaluated solely on the number of commitments.

Click here to download a blank template of the Faculty Member Commitments Tracker



Faculty Commitment/ Committee/ Activity


Faculty Member 1


Faculty Member 2


Faculty Member 3


Faculty Member 4


Faculty Member 5


Faculty Member 6


Faculty Member 7

Conference Planning Committee








Diversity Committee








Departmental representative to Campus Committee








External Committee and University Service








Heavy Course Load(s)








Institutes and Centers








Mentor for Junior Faculty Member








Search Committee








Tenure Review Committee









Assistance typically means additional resources, either financial or human to help a faculty member complete a significant body of work, reach a career milestone, or address a work/life issue. Insufficient assistance can also occur due to inequitable allocation of resources.  While the principle of uniformity is important, it is also important to understand that different people may need different kinds of assistance depending upon circumstances. Sometimes solving assistance problems for an individual may mean reallocating existing departmental resources or identifying existing available resources within A&S or the University. In other cases it may mean creating a proposal, quantifying the amount of resources necessary and pitching a new idea to senior administrators at the appropriate level in the organization.


Mentoring is a form of assistance for faculty members that can apply to junior, mid-career or even more senior faculty, depending upon the situation. Within the academy, mentoring is the primary means of on-the-job learning and is necessary for helping junior faculty members understand how to advance professionally. Mentoring can also be helpful for individual needs like how to manage work and family responsibilities, or how to move past a difficult unproductive period in the career. The Provost’s Office has developed a Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring: A Roadmap for Departments, Schools, Mentors and Mentees that provides guidance and suggestions to assist in developing and implementing a mentoring program tailored to the needs of your faculty. A&S also has a template for departmental mentoring plans posted on the FAS website.

Resources Available for Parents

Many resources are available at Columbia University for parents, however these resources are not necessarily well known. Department chairs can help by providing information about the Office of Work/Life and resources available to all faculty members.

New Parents’ Guide For Benefits Eligible Officers and Non-Union Support Staff

View additional resources at the Columbia University Office of Work/Life


Respect for department members is shown through thoughtful application of the other three principles: transparency, uniformity and assistance. It is also shown on an interpersonal level through the words and behaviors one person exhibits towards another. Lack of respect for one’s research, teaching, service, and participation (e.g., verbalized communication in meetings) is a frequent complaint of women and ethnic or racial minority faculty members. The PPC Equity Reports identify numerous issues related to respect within the department climate and among colleagues. Respect or disrespect can be identified in interpersonal communications, both verbal and nonverbal, and actions, such as who is assigned different tasks or given different resources. Rectifying the equitable allocation of tasks and resources can be addressed by policy or practice, however mandating improvements in interpersonal behavior cannot be so easily prescribed. Some departments, schools or even universities have taken on the task of developing statements that describe how the community intends and expects to interact with one another. Some examples are the Principles of Community at UC campuses or departmental statements such as the Goals for Physics Department Climate, developed at Duke University in 2003. Brown University developed a Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit which addresses enhancing respect as one of its guidelines:

Brown University Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit

Guideline #3: Enhance Respect

Enhancing respect in your work areas is one way of supporting colleagues within your department or division and helping them feel valued. Respect can be demonstrated through our choices, delegation, behaviors, verbal and non-verbal communication. There are several practices you can implement to increase awareness and sense of respect in your work area.


  • Make your expectations clear to your colleagues regarding verbal and non-verbal communication (e.g., avoid eye rolling at meetings, talking over each other when you disagree with a viewpoint, etc.)
  • Schedule at least one staff/faculty meeting a year specifically focused on discussing the work environment or to assess the climate, discuss feelings of respect, and solicit feedback from colleagues about ways to improve the environment/climate.
  • Identify best practices for all to model.
  • Provide consistent feedback to colleagues who need further mentoring and support on improving their behavior.
  • Reward/Reinforce respectful behavior when you see it.
  • Manage conflicts and disagreements with respect in a timely and confidential manner.


  • Assume that all colleagues in your department or division have the same definition of respect as each other or as you.
  • Avoid conversations about disrespectful behavior in the hope of stopping the behavior all by itself.
  • Rely on someone else, if you are an area manager/department chair/center director, to provide vision and tools for respect in your department. This is part of your responsibility as a person in a leadership role.

What are some specific behaviors that can convey respect?

  • Although each situation is unique and not everyone may agree, some behaviors that we have found to convey respect at Brown University are:
  • Communication that is open and transparent.
  • Decision making that is transparent, communicated, and inclusive.
  • Information being shared in a timely and consistent manner.
  • Disagreeing without losing one's temper or otherwise conveying disrespect.
  • Greeting students, faculty, staff, and vendors by acknowledging them verbally and non-verbally.
  • Respecting people's time by arriving at meetings and ending meetings promptly.
  • Being open to criticism and feedback.
  • Providing critical feedback in a manner, which is caring and respectful to the specific individuals.
  • Taking responsibility for the impact of one's actions.

What are some suggestions for coaching and providing feedback about disrespectful behavior?

  • Choose an appropriate time and private place to offer the feedback. It is best not to let too much time pass, and also to be calm and not reacting to your own emotions.
  • Ask the person how they saw their behavior impacting the situation or the other person involved?
  • Listen to their own self-evaluation and provide feedback that encourages self-reflection.
  • Examine the long-term impact this behavior has on the team or faculty on the job tasks, and on their relationships with other colleagues, faculty, staff or students.
  • Engage the person displaying the disrespectful behavior. Have the person identify a solution for improvement.







































Defining Boundaries for Respectful Communication

One method for addressing conflicts and establishing communication guidelines for individuals in the department is to follow a process to establish communication protocols.  Larry Hoover outlined one way to do this and also provided examples of Communication Protocols developed using the process.  You may wish to adapt this process for your department needs.  Remember that going through the process of discussing how department members wish to communicate with one another is more important than merely implementing a set of rules. See this link for a full description:

Developing Departmental Communication Protocols


Respect is also about recognizing the work and contributions of all members of the department. One way to do this is by celebrating each other’s important achievements with recognition in faculty meetings. Department chairs should also make it a practice to regularly thanking people for their contributions to the department. This can be done in individual meetings, and also in department meetings so that other department members recognize the service contributions of their colleagues.

Harassment/ Discrimination

Unfortunately, the opposite of respectful behavior can occur within departments. Harassment, discrimination, gender-based misconduct, and bullying have lasting adverse effects on individuals and communities and must never be tolerated. These types of behaviors impact the departmental and institutional climates. The department chair, as well as all members of the department should be equipped with the resources to support the well-being of department faculty, staff and students if harassing or discriminatory actions should occur. In the event that a department chair is notified of harassing or discriminatory behaviors based on membership in a Protected Class, the chair should immediately report this to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA). The EOAA office will work with the department chair to take necessary steps and also to help department members in the aftermath of the situation. Click here to view the Columbia University Employee Policy and Procedures on Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking. 

As a reminder: all University faculty members, staff members, and administrators, with the exception of those working in a confidential capacity who learn of suspected instances of discrimination, harassment or gender-based misconduct, directly or indirectly, have a duty to refer the information immediately to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action or the Gender-Based Misconduct Office. 

Complaints may be submitted in writing or made orally. Complaints may be submitted to EOAA by any of the following methods:

• By phone at (212) 854-5511

• By e-mail at [email protected]

• Via online report

• By mail at 103 Low Library, MC 4333, 535 West 116th Street New York, NY 10027, or

• By hand delivery to 103 Low Library. 

Organizing an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee in the Department

Departmental committees focused on equity, diversity and inclusion may vary widely in their composition and mission. Some committees are broadly inclusive in composition, including undergraduates, graduate students, staff members and non-tenured and tenured/tenure-track faculty members.[1] Some have a combination of faculty members and graduate students[2], others include faculty, graduate students and staff members[3], while others may only have faculty representation[4]. One idea might be to include members from each of the key committees within the department so that equity, diversity and inclusion issues might also be instilled in the work of other committees. In general, the purpose and mission of the committee should be taken into consideration when deciding upon membership.

Purpose and Mission of Departmental Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committees

Within A&S, faculty diversity committees have mainly focused on the recruitment of a more diverse faculty, and some have focused on improving the department climate for graduate students. Reviewing purpose and mission statements posted on the internet by committees at other universities, some take on a broad mission, such as supporting the mission of the school-level or university-level diversity strategic plan, or promoting the recruitment, retention and advancement of faculty and students underrepresented in the department. Others simply seek to promote an inclusive environment. Many take on the task of assessing the overall department climate and then target areas for improvement, often through developing a departmental equity, diversity and inclusion strategic plan. Some departmental committees also seek to be a resource for department members wishing to raise issues and as a point of contact for complaints of discrimination and harassment. Please note, that any committee seeking to serve in this capacity should receive training from the EOAA office and understand university and governmental reporting requirements for discrimination, harassment and gender-based misconduct before beginning this work.

Examples of tasks and activities that department committees at other institutions have undertaken:

  • Changing policies and practices to enable equity, diversity and inclusion for groups that have been excluded.
  • Hearing and addressing complaints and advocating for students, staff and faculty about issues of equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • Building community through planning, publicizing and organizing social events, orientations and educational efforts to promote diversity and inclusion
  • Recognizing faculty, staff and students who have made significant contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Advising the department chair and dean.

Assessing Departmental Health in Terms of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Assessing the department's climate for equity, diversity and inclusion is an important task that a department committee could undertake. Such an assessment is also a first step for developing a department equity, diversity and inclusion strategic plan. Getting an informal idea of what is working and what isn’t can be a good way to begin.  A more detailed and formal assessment could follow. Detailed recommendations for items to be assessed are provided in the Strategic Planning for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Toolkit developed by Berkeley and  the Guide to Creation of Departmental Equity Survey developed by The Hunter College Gender Equity Project. (See resources section of this document for links.)

Gathering and Analyzing Metrics – Things to Consider

Demographic data about the department is available within A&S from the Faculty Development & Diversity Office and also from the Dean of Academic Planning and Governance.  At the university level, data is available from the Office of Planning and Institutional Research and from the Office of Faculty Advancement, see for an interactive display of demographic data at the division and school level.

  • Demographic composition of the department by group (undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, faculty) & comparison to benchmarks (may also consider diversity beyond race/ethnicity/gender)
  • Patterns for different groups across a number of items:
    • Recruitment/admissions
    • Advancement/Time to degree
    • Retention/Graduation rates
    • Honors/awards
    • Service/class load
    • Exits- patterns of leaving
    • Well-being

Using Survey Data

Committees can consider existing data from previous department surveys, student surveys or surveys at the A&S or University level, such as the PPC Equity Surveys and the Senate Quality of Life Survey.  Departments can also participate in a developmental department climate survey conducted by the A&S Faculty Development and Diversity Office. This survey is intended as a tool to help the department assess and improve its climate. 

Gathering Information from Department Members

Committees can also gather information directly from department members by conducting individual interviews, focus groups or holding open town hall meetings. It is important to compile information gathered in a way that doesn't reveal individual identities and then provide the department with a summary of what was learned, so that action can be taken to improve the climate.

Using Self-Assessment Tools

Another way for committees to begin to consider the status of equity, diversity and inclusion in the department is to use a self-assessment tool.  These can be taken individually and then discussed as a group or used as a jumping off point for group discussion. Links to different kinds of self-assessment tools are included here.  Departments may want to customize a self-assessment tool specific to the department.

See pages 23-30 of UC Berkeley’s Strategic Planning Toolkit for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity for a Self-Assessment Worksheet.

An Academic Unit Diagnostic Tool (AUDIT) developed by the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics is intended to create a snapshot of the vibrancy and challenges of an academic unit. Here are links for using the tool, as well as the tool itself.

Achieving a Culture of Inclusion – A Self-Assessment Tool was developed for group discussion among campus groups attending a conference with the University of California President’s Task Force on Faculty Diversity.  This is aimed at the campus level, but can be altered for use in the department.

Examples of committee composition, mission and charge:

Ohio State Department of History – Diversity and Inclusion Committee

The department recognizes that true academic excellence depends in part on the pursuit of innovative research, effective teaching and learning, and engaged outreach.  It also requires recruiting and supporting a diverse population of faculty, staff, and students.  Although diversity means different things to different people, here the term refers to categories including race, color, sex, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation and identities, veteran status, disability, and age.  Thus, the History Department is committed to creating an inclusive environment, welcoming to all, where success and prestige are based solely on achievement.  We start with the assumption that diversity is everyone’s goal and to everyone’s benefit.  Because we believe that diversity enhances both the intellectual community at Ohio State and the quality of our scholarship and teaching, in addition to attention to hiring and admissions, diversity also requires critical engagement with diverse intellectual perspectives in all fields.  The discipline of history explores the full range of the human experience in all its variety, and specific fields will grapple with the issue of diversity in distinct ways.  The Department must operate fully within the University’s “Diversity Action Plan and in a spirit of inclusion.”

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee consists of faculty, graduate student, and staff representatives. The committee will oversee diversity-related projects and make recommendations on diversity issues as appropriate. It will work with or make suggestions to other committees as needed. The chair of the diversity committee will serve as the departmental procedures oversight designee, providing guidance on diversity issues and being available as a point of contact for complaints of discrimination or harassment.
















UC Santa Cruz, Department of Psychology

The Psychology Department’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee promotes the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion among faculty, staff, and students in the Psychology Department. 

Membership. The department chair selects the DEI committee members, who are comprised of three faculty (one from each of the three graduate areas), three graduate students (one from each of the three graduate areas), and two psychology staff. The committee reports to and consults with the department chair.

Committee charge. The charge for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee includes the following: Promote the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Psychology department.

  • Organize quarterly events--such as speakers, workshops, and social gatherings--related to these goals.
  • Facilitate communication and understanding among different constituencies, and serve as a department resource.
  • Engage students, staff, and faculty to assess needs related to DEI; propose strategies for assessing progress.
  • Identify challenges and strengths in achieving DEI goals; and make recommendations to the chair and department regarding ways to achieve DEI goals.

















[1] Villanova University - all departments; Brown University Music Department

[2] NYU Philosophy Department, University of Hawaii at Manoa Psychology Department

[3] Ohio State, Department of History; UC Santa Cruz, Department of Psychology

[4] Columbia University Department of Chemistry; Department of Economics

Developing Departmental Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plans

A natural outgrowth of department climate assessment activities is the development of a departmental equity, diversity and inclusion strategic plan.  Such a plan memorializes a department’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive climate, and can contribute to other planning and review processes, such as the IBS and ARC processes, external accreditation processes, and can also be utilized in grant proposals such as the Office of the Provost’s diversity funding RFPs (which now consider contributions to diversity in research, teaching and mentoring).  Such plans can also provide context for diversity components in many external grant applications. A department’s equity, diversity and inclusion plan can speak to goals and strategies for graduate admissions, faculty recruitment and hiring, curricular redesign efforts, improvements to departmental climate, as well as other plans to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion.

The Framework for Considering Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Academic Departments, shown below, has been adapted from an institutional framework for diversity (Smith, 2009). This framework provides four dimensions to consider from the departmental perspective in order to understand the department’s capacity for diversity.

  • Faculty and Student Access (demographic composition) and Success (rate of advancement, tenure, graduation) for different groups in the department
  • Contribution to inclusive Learning Curriculum, Research and Scholarship, e.g., innovative curriculum, pedagogy and mentoring to engage and support underrepresented groups, and/or direct research and scholarship on topics addressing human diversity (depends on academic discipline) and new, emerging scholarship.
  • A Departmental Climate that enables all members of the department to thrive vs. one that promotes asymmetrical success for different groups within the department
  • The capacity and aptitude for Department Viability and Vitality in an increasingly diverse academy and world.

Sections of a Department Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan

A department equity, diversity and inclusion plan should consider the following four main sections, however not every department will have information about, or activity supporting, each of the subsections. This a beginning for the department’s conversation about equity, diversity and inclusion: what it means and why it matters in the departmental context, future aspirational goals, and the most pressing areas for action and next steps. Plans may be brief (2-4 pages) or longer depending upon the scope of the plan. The following plan outline has been adapted from Toolkit: Strategic Planning for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, UC Berkeley.

  1. Introduction

Provide a brief overview of the plan, framing the importance of diversity in the department’s mission and describing the process for developing the department’s Diversity Plan. You may also address how the department has defined diversity for the purposes of the plan.

  1. Self-Assessment

In this section reflect on the department’s current strengths and challenges, opportunities and needs in relation to the framework for diversity.

  1. Faculty and Student Access and Success
  • Provide a summary of the current demographic composition of the faculty and graduate student population within the department. If desired, undergraduate students in the major could be included. (Data provided by Associate Dean, Faculty Development & Diversity) 
  • Compare current demographics to change over time and/or to the availability of PhDs in the discipline nationally.  (Data provided by Associate Dean, Faculty Development & Diversity)  Consider diversity in recent hiring and admissions patterns.
  • Consider success rates by different groups, e.g., graduation, advancement to tenure, promotion. Also consider patterns of leaving the department by different groups if this is an issue.
  1. Learning Curriculum and Research/Scholarship – Contributions to Diversity Scholarship
  • Provide a summary of any curricular efforts to attract, retain and advance underrepresented groups in the discipline.  Include innovative pedagogy, mentoring programs, etc.
  • Provide a summary of ways in which the faculty and graduate students’ research and scholarship contributes to knowledge about issues related to human diversity, diverse populations, global effects, disparate impacts, etc.
  1. Departmental Climate and Intergroup Relations

The point of this section is to summarize areas of positive climate and any past problems that may contribute to a negative climate or view of the department as being inhospitable for different groups, which in turn, may impact admissions, recruitment, retention and morale.

  • Address findings from any faculty or student climate surveys, focus groups or other qualitative data that has been gathered in the recent past about departmental climate and intergroup relations.
  • If there is a history of past complaints or problems regarding bias, harassment, gender-based misconduct, disrespect, incivility, favoritism, etc., briefly summarize and provide generalized reference to this and the steps taken to address such issues. Do not use any specific details or names.
  1. Department Viability and Vitality

In summary, reflect on the current state of the department, its academic mission, and its viability and vitality in terms of an increasingly diverse community of scholars and researchers within A&S, Columbia University and within the larger academic discipline of the department.

  1. Goals, Strategies and Metrics

Based on the findings from the self-assessment process, list the department’s aspirational goals and strategies related to diversity and inclusion for the longer term (3-5 years).  Include metrics or indicators for measuring progress.

  1. Implementation Plan – Next Steps

Briefly describe steps to be taken in the most pressing areas over the short term (1-2 years) and who will lead these efforts.


A Positive Department Climate Contributes to Retention & Productivity

Developing and maintaining an inclusive and collegial department climate is important for increasing faculty productivity (Sheridan et al., 2017) and for faculty retention (Piercy, Giddings, Allen, Dixon, Meszaros & Joest, 2005).  The Provost’s Office has developed a Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Retention that features practices from other schools and units at Columbia that may be of interest. Taking the steps to build and sustain an inclusive and welcoming department can help save the cost of expensive retention efforts or faculty searches to fill vacancies when under-valued faculty members leave. Ultimately, enhancing the department climate increases morale and helps everyone reach their full academic potential.


What we know from the literature about retention:

  • Faculty stay where morale is high (Johnsrud, 1996)
  • Where they feel mentored (Plata, 1996)
  • Where they experience a sense of community (Johnsrud & Rosser, 2002)
  • Have autonomy (Tack & Patitu, 1992)
  • Intellectual challenge (Magner, 1999)
  • Where institutional support is clear and pervasive (Mellow, van Slyck & Eynon, 2003)
  • Where they make a decent living (Kerlin &  Dunlap, 1993)
  • Where the definition of scholarship is sufficiently broad to encompass their teaching and scholarship (Antonio, 2002)
  • Where they feel they have a voice and chance to be part of the leadership (Turner, 2000)

Piercy, Giddings, Allen, Dixon, Meszaros & Joest, 2005

Click here to view Tools and Resources for Enhancing the Department Climate