An in-depth look at the purpose of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement. Look for tips on how to write a great diversity statement with examples.
DEI statements are increasingly required for hiring, promotion, and granting tenure in higher education. Here’s what junior, mid-level, and senior faculty need to know about the best practices, underlying assumptions, and compositional process for those who are required to submit diversity statements.
At Academic Influence, we recognize that there are many unique perspectives on the issue of diversity in education.
Some readers may agree with the societal and educational impulses behind the inclusion statement and are simply wondering how to craft one. We’ll give you actionable steps to that end in this article.
Others may have questions about the actual positive impact of such a statement, or even the impact of broader inclusion practices or other programs relating to diversity. As such, you may wonder where to begin in writing this document. Our purpose in this guide isn’t to advocate any particular viewpoint but to provide practical insight on this very real issue in education.
This guide explains one of the keys to thriving in academia today—the ability of faculty to meet the DEI expectations they are likely to encounter at some point in their academic careers.
The acronym DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The statement is a formal declaration or assertion of your commitment to embracing diverse voices and fostering a culture of inclusion and equity.
Today, these diversity statements are used by many people and organizations for many purposes. Corporations often formulate diversity statements that express company values and their commitment to diversity in hiring and in their brand messaging. Nonprofit organizations and government agencies do the same.
At the college level, institutions as well as individual faculty members often publish their principles, policies, and strategic action plans as diversity statements.
The kinds of statements we will be focusing on in this guide are those written by individual junior, mid-level, and senior faculty members to be submitted to university committees for hiring, promotions, and tenure decisions.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is currently the most widely used terminology for statements and documents that express policies and action plans related to these core concepts.
However, you may also run into different terms and acronyms that pertain to the same or similar topics, including the following:
On one hand, a college or university that asks for statements that specifically address matters of accessibility, belonging, or justice may want you to cover slightly different content than a standard DEI statement or to approach the crafting of this statement from a perspective concerned with these specific aspects of inclusion.
However, the broader focus is the same as that of a DEI statement: making the learning, research, and work environment more welcoming and fair for all.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t as narrow areas as they may seem at first glance. Briefly, some of the areas that fall under DEI include:
The ways in which people are diverse are themselves full of variation, nuance, and, well, diversity.
Dimensions of diversity, according to Utah State University, include but are not limited to the following:
Interestingly, when you step back to take this broad perspective on the dimensions of diversity, you notice that diversity isn’t some status conferred on certain individuals but instead the range of variations among humans.
There are some dimensions of diversity over which individuals have at least some degree of control, like occupation and marital status. Other dimensions of diversity, like race, gender, and physical or mental disability, are largely out of an individual’s control.
Of course, there are valid arguments to be made about how biases, social norms, and institutions affect individuals’ opportunities to take action or make choices.
Does a person born with a serious physical disability really have the option to pursue an occupation as a professional athlete? To what degree are religious, or anti-religious, beliefs really a choice if those beliefs have been inculcated since childhood?
Regardless, it doesn’t matter whether a dimension of diversity is within or beyond the individual’s control (or somewhere in between). Within the context of this discussion, all dimensions of diversity deserve to be respected, valued, and included.
What exactly is equity, and how does it differ from equality?
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition defines equity as a sense of “fairness.” Practically speaking, this means that schools and faculty need to redress existing imbalances. On the flip side, this means not treating everyone as though those imbalances don’t exist.
Treating everyone the same is equality, not equity. In a perfect world, equality alone might suffice to foster a fair, just environment that offers the best opportunities to everyone for learning, working, and innovating.
To emphasize equity over equality is to recognize that in the real world, life isn’t always fair, and that people from different walks of life may face additional challenges. These challenges may arise from a variety of causes, including societal biases and systemic exclusion.
Running a classroom or laboratory with a focus on equity rather than equality means finding ways to address imbalances in people’s starting points.
Examples of equity in action in the classroom or academic environment include:
Equity doesn’t mean “giving a pass” to those who aren’t putting forward their best effort. Equity is not a backhanded attempt to win token points for diversity. Rather, it mean thoughtfully adapting to diverse students the opportunity and tools they need to succeed.
What exactly does it mean to include a diverse array of people in an equitable environment? Like diversity and equity, inclusion is more complex and nuanced than it might at first seem.
It’s not as simple as teaching a course with students from all walks of life in your classroom (as faculty are contractually obligated in any case). Nor is it as simple as considering applications for positions in your research lab from students with diverse backgrounds.
True inclusion means taking intentional actions across multiple facets of the academic environment you oversee. The point is to address the variety of ways in which individuals may feel hindered in contributing fruitfully to that environment.
The Inclusion Club, a nonprofit health promotion charity based in Australia, has published a framework for inclusion that consists of seven pillars. Understanding each of these pillars will help faculty members who are putting together a DEI statement for hiring or promotion purposes.
The seven pillars of inclusion identified by The Inclusion Club are:
The best DEI statements take into account each of these pillars of inclusion, even if they don’t explicitly list these pillars.
Can you put together a DEI statement without touching on each of these aspects of inclusion? A DEI statement needs to reflect that you are earnestly striving to create the best learning environment for all of your students, research assistants, and collaborators.
Thinking through and articulating these aspects of inclusion will only help to improve your classroom environment and academic impact. And it will also make for a stronger DEI statement.
Now that we’ve talked about what the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion cover, let’s address why you may need to formulate a DEI statement.
More and more job listings from education institutions explicitly mention diversity. More and more institutions and departments are focusing on DEI events, training, and continuing education opportunities.
According to at 2022 report by media company InvestisDigital, a growing number of colleges and universities are requiring faculty members to submit their formal diversity statement when applying for promotion, tenure, or a new appointment.
Likewise, the requirements to submit a statement “seem increasingly common” for job applicants seeking university faculty posts, according to the American Enterprise Institute. Of nearly 1,000 academic job postings that researchers at the American Enterprise Institute surveyed, 19% explicitly required diversity statements, and 68% of listings mention the word “diverse” or “diversity” in some way.
Four-year schools had the highest percentage—83%—of job postings that required a diversity statement. The requirement was most common in job listings for full-time faculty positions, 73% of which made a diversity statement mandatory.
With nearly one-fifth of all faculty positions already requiring statements, including the vast majority of full-time appointments at four-year colleges, these features now play a pivotal role in modern academic life.
The majority of college students seem favorably disposed toward DEI. A 2022 study conducted by BestColleges produced some interesting statistics that highlight how today’s undergraduate students view diversity and inclusive culture, including the following:
The data suggests that it isn’t only students of certain minority populations that are interested in DEI efforts. Students across all dimensions of diversity and from all backgrounds are increasingly interested in advancing equity, creating more inclusive learning, promoting teaching practices that recognize the importance of diversity.
Given the longstanding history of college students’ involvement in social justice efforts, it may not be surprising that students of all populations are taking up the cause to make classrooms more inclusive and fair for everyone.
Your students may never see your actual DEI statement. But all the evidence suggests that they do care about how you perceive diversity, equity, and inclusion and how you implement those principles both in and outside the classroom.
Even if you have not codified your views on diversity, equity, and inclusion into a written document, you do have a perspective on these topic. Every faculty person does.
Perhaps your perspective on DEI is along the lines of “I don’t think DEI is really an issue” or “Isn’t it enough that we all just follow the golden rule?” But what if your course content, classroom materials, and teaching style are called into question for failing to be sufficient inclusive, diverse, or equitable?
Students, fellow faculty, and administrators are increasingly likely to pose such questions, and it’s best to have well thought out answers that show how you are working through the underlying concerns for the benefit of all affected parties.
A DEI statement, by formally articulating your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, will shape and challenge your perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This in turn will enable you to adapt and implement your approach to DEI within your academic environment. As an academic who is both a teacher and researcher, you already know the significance of challenging and revising assumptions and norms.
A DEI statement is a written expression of your perspectives, policies, and actions in managing and improving diversity, equity, and inclusion within your sphere of academic influence.
As in other such written documents, a good DEI statement includes clear and meaningful language that uses concrete examples and lays out specific plans and actionable efforts you plan to make—in this case, for creating a more inclusive, diverse, and fair academic environment.
A DEI statement needs to address the following topics:
The institution to which you are applying, or from which you are seeking tenure or promotion, may provide additional guidelines.
For example, the University of Pennsylvania Career Services urges applicants for faculty jobs to consider not only the university’s goals and policies but also questions about:
Applicants for university-level jobs do well to think about ways that they can advance diversity. For instance, faculty need to help diverse groups of students to prepare for their careers. This is especially important given the global society in which both industry work and academic research flourish today.
The content of your DEI statement doesn’t have to be split evenly among the three bullet points just listed. Unless you’re a researcher in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion specifically, it may not make much sense to devote a third of your DEI statement content to your knowledge of these subjects. If you have little past experience working with diverse populations, you may not have much to say on that front.
What’s more important than striking an even balance among such topics is that your DEI statement addresses matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion authentically. You want to exhibit a willingness to listen and learn, and a commitment to taking action.
A good DEI statement needs to be honest and thoughtful. It must not be mechanical and cynical. You therefore want to avoid:
Your first assumption must be that colleges and universities are grappling with real issues. Without that assumption, it’s difficult to develop any sort of policy or plan to address those issues.
Beyond this, it helps in crafting a statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion if you embrace certain other working assumptions. To promote equity rather than simply equality, it makes sense that you would need to assume that students from different backgrounds or in different diverse populations do, in fact, face some unique challenges.
This may mean adopting or at least considering with an open mind the viewpoints that systemic inequality exists (at least in some situations) and that belonging to certain groups confers privileges that other groups are not given (which, again, can be situational).
You can, however, write a solid DEI statement even if you approach these assumptions with a more skeptical eye. As a scholar and researcher, as well as an educator, you know the value of revising and correcting existing beliefs in light of new data. And you have also by now developed a certain intellectual nimbleness for being able to get into another’s shoes and being able to see the world from different perspectives.
Try to understand why this statement may be important to others.
And what’s important to your colleagues in the academy is, by definition, important to you, as a fellow colleague. If your natural inclination is to be skeptical of DEI statements, encourage yourself to be skeptical of your skepticism.
Don’t just sit down in front of the computer and start hitting the keyboard. You need to do some research first.
Some institutional statements, like OHSU School of Medicine’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Strategic Action Plan (2021 - 2025), are dozens of pages long. The required diversity statement for candidates applying for a graduate coordinator role at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is only one page long.
Before you start writing, understand how long your statement should be. This step can help you plan and outline what you want to say and how deep you need to go into the ideas and research behind diversity, equity, and inclusion. A one-page statement should likely to be more action-oriented, while a lengthier document may more thoroughly address not only the how but also the why of DEI efforts.
Some academic institutions provide specific information on what a statement should cover. Make sure your statement therefore answers what is actually being asked.
If you are applying to multiple institutions, you may need to adjust your approach for the separate requests of each school. Indeed, you want to fine-tune your statement to align with the topics and questions you are being asked to cover.
If the academic institution to which you are applying, or at which you are seeking tenure or promotion, doesn’t specify a required or recommended length for statements, two pages or less of single-spaced text is a good rule of thumb, according to The University of Texas at Austin Center for Teaching and Learning.
Unless otherwise specified, your statement should be written in the first person and include both introductory and conclusion paragraphs, as well as separate paragraphs for each main idea presented, each of which includes a topic sentence that encapsulates the point of the paragraph.
Just as you would be wise to look at some templates or example resumes and cover letters before writing your own, you should also familiarize yourself with the typical form and content of other diversity statements before you start composing your own.
Obviously, you can’t just copy others’ work, but you can draw upon what’s already out there to plan how you will develop your own unique statement.
Most importantly, if your institution has a DEI statement, you should review that document. As part of that institution’s community, you will ideally have perspectives and policies on DEI that reflect the position of the school. Looking at other examples (we’ve compiled several below) can also help you explore what successful statements can look like and what topics they can cover.
Keep in mind that the different types of diversity statements aren’t all equally relevant to jobs in higher ed. Private-sector companies now often adopt their own statement requirements.
While you certainly can read and learn from these statements, they often focus more on the company’s role and responsibilities as an employer of a diverse workforce than on the actions one would take to create inclusive classroom or laboratory environments.
They may also focus more on brand messaging and bold, attention-seeking headlines than would be expected or appropriate for a candidate’s or faculty member’s diversity statement.
As you’re reading others’ diversity statements, take notes. What content speaks to you? What do you disagree with? What do you wish the author had elaborated on? What about it would help or hinder a candidate’s new appointment or a faculty member’s promotion?
When you do start writing, these notes will be valuable reminders of what content you wish to cover in your own statement.
Now that you’ve done some exploration of the current ecosystem, it’s time to get to work. People undertake the pre-writing process in various ways. Perhaps you prefer free-writing, diagraming your thoughts, or putting together a simple outline.
Whatever your preference, brainstorm about each of the three main areas of focus: your knowledge; your prior track record of activities; and your future promotional plans for as they relate to equity, inclusion, and diversity.
It’s time to start putting words on the page. If you find yourself feeling stuck, remind yourself that this first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s an opportunity to start putting your ideas down on paper.
You can and undoubtedly will make revisions, some of them substantial, by the time you get to the final draft—even if the statement you’re putting together is a short one.
Many writers find it easier to start with an outline that covers what they want to convey. Then you can either work straight through the outline or jump around as inspiration strikes.
If you’re struggling with an introductory sentence or paragraph, or with headings that break up the text, consider putting in placeholder text for the time being and revisiting these sections after you put together the rest of the draft.
Often in writing, the best introductions are written last, after writers have fully fleshed out, on paper as well as in their minds, what they want to say.
One of the biggest obstacles that can hold you back when writing your is feeling like you need to have all the answers. In fact, no one has all the answers. In fact, this particular field of research is still in its infancy.
Most colleges and universities aren’t expecting every faculty member to be an expert on DEI. Making it sound as if you already know it all—and aren’t open to continuing to learn and grow in this area—is “supremely problematic,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Above all, make clear in your diversity statement that you are willing to learn with an open mind and to listen to a variety of viewpoints.
Once you finish a draft of your statement, give yourself some time so that you can read it over again with fresh eyes. Don’t be afraid to go through as many revisions as necessary until you can say with confidence that the finished draft effectively communicates your best thoughts, perspectives, and plans on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Different writers may find different methods of editing helpful. Perhaps you want to read the draft on the computer screen and make comments. You may prefer to print the document out and edit it with a pen. It’s always a good idea to read aloud your writing to help you catch mistakes or missing content. Of course, you should run the document through a spell-checker and grammar-checker tool.
Finally, nothing beats a second set of eyes. Ask someone you trust to read over your work and talk you through it. Demand an honest reaction, and urge your reader to challenge you on any blind spots and weaknesses that may have eluded you in writing it.
Your perceptions of diversity, equity, and inclusion can and should change over time. You don’t have to constantly revise your written statement with every new insight or experience you have that is relevant to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
But you should recognize that your thoughts, guiding principles, and policies may evolve throughout your career. It may make sense to update your statement at times to reflect these shifts, especially as DEI concerns are touched on into your course syllabi or research lab policies.
We’ve offered writing tips for what you should do. What about suggestions for what you shouldn’t do? Here are the three most important things to avoid when putting together your statement, whether for a new faculty appointment, or for promotion or tenure.
The point of requiring the diversity or inclusion statement isn’t to hurt the employment or education prospects of individuals who are not part of specific minority groups. Rather, it’s to build a faculty that is committed to making equitable adjustments to improve the inclusion of people across all dimensions of diversity.
Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not (that is, a member of a group you aren’t truly part of) to suggest that you have firsthand experience with inequity, inequality, or discrimination if you don’t. Similarly, don’t try to equate other instances of mistreatment with the challenges people from historically oppressed backgrounds experience.
These experiences may certainly be valid and can even help you develop empathy, or at least sympathy, for individuals who face challenges due to inequity and non-inclusivity. However, beware of comparing different forms of mistreatment or oppression.
What should you say if you can’t truthfully speak to having firsthand experiences with prejudice, discrimination, or systemic inequality based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, or other dimensions of diversity? The answer will be different depending on your lived experiences.
You might discuss your own history of working with diverse populations in the field or classroom. You might cite some empirical research findings related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and explain how your knowledge of this research has affected your worldview and interaction with students and colleagues.
You might opt to focus less on your past activities with diversity, equity, and inclusion (especially if your firsthand experiences here are sparse) and instead focus on your future plans for prioritizing DEI in your classroom or lab.
Does having a documented history of taking effective action to counter racism, sexism, and other biases and bigotry look good?
Of course. However, if the honest answer is that you have only recently begun to dig into the different dimensions of diversity and how they affect access to education and occupational opportunities, that’s the answer you should choose.
Do not attempt to write simply what you believe your reviewer wants to hear. You can try that, but you won’t get away with it.
Avoid including language that panders or placates. This type of language comes across as inauthentic. It undermines your credibility as well as your integrity.
If you really want a new academic job or really want to be promoted at your existing academic job, ask yourself why you want to be at that host institution in the first place. And then write your statement as a good-faith effort.
Your DEI statement is a perfect example of an occasion where “show, don’t tell” is good advice. Focus on planning for the kind of inclusive environment the school and department want you to create in your classroom and research laboratory. What actions can you take? What policies will foster the environment you are being charged with producing as a professor?
Focusing less on the philosophy and more on what’s actionable can help make the prospect of writing a DEI statement more agreeable to an instructor who might otherwise be reluctant to undertake this task.
Approaching your DEI statement more as an action plan than a treatise on what diversity means to you allows you to treat it more objectively, as just one more part of the application package or employment requirements.
The best, clearest, most effective communication occurs when you use specific rather than vague language. In fact, some rubrics, like the University of California, Berkeley’s “Rubric for Assessing Candidate Contributions to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging,” urges hiring committees to give candidates who use vague language the lowest possible scores. If you discover that your statement uses vague language, consider adding concrete examples or telling a concise yet compelling story as part of your DEI statement.
Often, writers include vague language when they don’t have positive feelings or firsthand experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion. People in an overrepresented group may feel that they have little more to say on the topic besides “having more people from [insert underrepresented group] would benefit the field.”
Vague sentiments like this are not enough. If there’s an imbalance between over- and underrepresented groups, what can you do specifically to help rectify that imbalance. You won’t be able to resolve the problem, to be sure, but what can you do to make a positive contribution?
On the occasions when you have encountered more diversity in your field, what perspectives or insights have individuals with different backgrounds and experiences been able to add? Posing and answering such questions requires you to think critically about the specific ways that increasing diversity and inclusion in your field and promoting equity in your classroom could be valuable.
Vague language that appears in a statement often consists of platitudes about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the academic world. But it’s also possible to use vague language in describing the actions you plan to take.
Vagueness about your plans to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion can suggest that you lack concrete ideas about what to do here and that your statement is essentially lip service—that you aren’t committed to actually doing anything.
To avoid this perception, think through in more detail what you actually intend to do to advance these causes. Look for concrete steps and examples that you can reasonably include in your plans, such as establishing internship and mentorship opportunities, holding dialogues and panels, presenting leadership training opportunities, and laying the groundwork to establish communities of support. Don’t just use words like celebrate, empower, grow, welcome, and authentic. Make them mean something.
If you want to read real examples of faculty statements, you’re in luck. To guide and help applicants and current faculty members, numerous colleges and universities have published examples of statements that have actually been submitted to them.
If you’re curious about what sort of diversity statements exist outside of academia, check out Included Software Inc.’s roundup of statements from leaders in the software industry, many of which are household names.
We’ve emphasized the need to use concrete examples and avoid vague language. It’s only fair if we follow our own advice in this guide to writing them. Read on for a diversity statement samples (and explanations) of bad, good, and middling answers such as might be a part of your statement.
Here are some responses that aren’t likely to score well on a diversity and inclusion statement, based on rubrics like the University of California, Berkeley’s Rubric for Assessing Candidate Contributions to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging:
When people say things like “I don’t think DEI is really a problem anymore,” they tend to mistake progress that has been made for progress has yet to be made.
For example, it’s true that physical access to learning environments is not barred by race, ethnicity, and gender as it once was. Nor are students in the United States (specifically, those accepted to a school or degree program) turned away from a classroom because of their race, gender identity, orientation, or disability status.
However, inclusion has other important facets where progress remains to be made, For instance, students arrive at college with varying degrees of preparation. Some can hit the ground running with more difficult courses. Others may need more help to get up to speed. Will you help such students get up to speed or will you write them off as the products of a poor high school educational experience? And what specifically will you do to help bring them up to speed?
In any case, if you find yourself writing things like “DEI is not a problem” or “just follow the golden rule”, you need to dig deeper. Familiarize yourself with the literature on DEI. Think about obstacles people because they come from different groups. Take some more time to research the experiences of diverse populations in education, scholarship, research, and the workforce.
Vague language is the problem with these statements. You may think that by acknowledging DEI as a real issue in your field that you’re helping your cause. However, this sort of vague language reflects such superficial thinking that the University of California, Berkeley’s rubric awards a maximum of one or two out of five points to writers who use such language.
Although you’re impulses may be in the right direction, you would do well to explore more deeply why such diversity matters, what it can bring to your field, and how it might be achieved.
Every diversity statement is unique, but those with the best answers invariably come across as authentic, articulating specific plans and concrete details.
As the name suggests, middling answers fall somewhere between the best and the worst responses. Often, middling answers arise when the writer has some appreciation and even enthusiasm for DEI. But this same writer hasn’t thought through the underlying issues deeply, and thus is not yet in a position for formulate a cogent plan of action to advance DEI.
Middling answers show that you’re on the right path, but you have some more work to do. This may mean getting more actively getting involved efforts to promote inclusion and equity.
Your statement lays out your views on this important subject. But schools and departments don’t just want to see good intentions. They want to see that what you write in that statement is also implemented in your academic life and work.
Schools and departments like to see their faculty advance DEI through activities like the following:
At the same time, schools and departments discourage their faculty from undermining DEI through activities and attitudes like the following:
Ultimately, your statement isn’t about checking boxes. It’s about shifting your mindset so that you make intentional efforts to improve outcomes in your teaching, mentoring, research, scholarship, service, advising, and professional collaborations, and communications.
The prospect of writing a diversity statement can seem formidable. If you’re up for a promotion or for tenure, it can be disconcerting to find that your school now suddenly wants a diversity statement in addition to all the other materials you need to pull together. Likewise, if you’re a freshly minted PhD whose energies have been focused overwhelmingly on research, you are stressed enough as it is in looking for a new faculty appointment. To write this statement may therefore seem like a big additional challenge. The reality is, however, that if you’re planning for a future in academia, you will likely have to confront this challenge.
The good news is, now that you understand the best practices, the actual process of writing a solid statement is quite doable. As an academic who has experienced personal and professional success, you’ve met other challenges, and you can meet this one too.