The last time someone comprehensively tracked diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the agricultural and applied economics field was over twenty years ago, but Zoë Plakias and a team of co-authors have changed that. Their new article assesses agricultural and applied economics departmental climates and suggests data-informed strategies to create more equitable and inclusive climates. Plakias, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE) within the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, recently published the article, Past, present, and future: Status of women and minority faculty in agricultural and applied economics in the journal, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.
Diversity efforts within the profession were assessed using two surveys – one was given to agricultural and applied economics department heads in the United States and Canada, and the other to members in the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA). These surveys were developed and administered by members of the Committee on Women in Agricultural Economics (CWAE) and the Committee on the Opportunities and Status of Blacks in Agricultural Economics (COSBAE), two sections of the AAEA. Besides Plakias, other AEDE women have also been active in these groups, with AEDE Associate Professor Joyce Chen now serving as Past Chair of CWAE, and AEDE Associate Professor Sathya Gopalakrishnan serving as Chair-Elect.
The results from this survey highlighted in the paper showed that while the number of white women and underrepresented minority women and men has increased at each professional level, both groups remain underrepresented in the profession, especially at senior ranks. “What’s been really fascinating about this research is reflecting on how far we’ve come as a profession, but also how far we have yet to go in making our profession more diverse, equitable and inclusive,” Plakias said.
Of the departments that responded to the survey, the most reported strategy used to promote diversity and inclusion (71.7 %) was transparency about a variety of key policies such as promotion and tenure, family-friendly policies and disability accommodations. The most reported strategy to retain women and underrepresented minority women and men faculty was salary adjustments (63%). The analysis found none of the strategies used to recruit and/or retain faculty from diverse groups were strongly correlated with measures of diversity. “Departments in our field may be ‘checking the boxes’ on some practices to recruit and retain white women and minority faculty, but interestingly we found those practices didn’t actually correlate with faculty diversity, and we need to explore that further to better understand what does impact diversity (and equity and inclusion),” Plakias said.
Shifting demographics in the field – gender and gender identity, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origins, age, disability status and socio-economic status – have made it even more imperative that departments work to ensure their climates are inclusive. According to the results, white women and underrepresented minority women and men faculty report experiencing higher rates of discrimination than their white, male counterparts. They also tend to view their departments as less inclusive and less equitable. This is especially true for Black and Hispanic women. These experiences make it harder for underrepresented faculty groups to progress in the field.
To shift norms towards a more equitable and inclusive culture, the article proposes layered and collective approaches involving both professional associations and departments: providing childcare at professional conferences to support women faculty who disproportionality take on childcare responsibilities; allowing for hybrid conference presentations with appropriate accommodations; lowering conference registration fees; providing targeted mentoring initiatives and coaching of underrepresented scholars; and providing workshops and resources to help department heads hire, train and support diverse faculty are potential ways to move towards a more equitable and inclusive culture. The authors stress that professional associations and institutions need to commit to and provide financial support of these efforts. Commitment to these initiatives signal to white women and underrepresented minority women and men that their presence, intellectual progress and contributions matter.
“I really hope the profession will take note of what we’ve found and make a concerted commitment to address the disparities we see,” Plakias said. She added, “I also hope the profession will support continued data collection so we can track our progress, continue our research on this topic and provide solid evidence to support department efforts.” Plakias is also working on Ohio State’s campus to help other faculty and staff put diversity and inclusion into action within their areas of expertise through a new program called Racial Justice Pathways. The program seeks to equip participants with the knowledge and resources to create action plans to improve diversity and inclusion in the areas of research and writing, teaching and student services, outreach, engagement and extension. The project is a collaborative effort lead through the STEAM Factory and received funding through grants from the Seed Fund for Racial Justice and Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme.