UAF looks to address hiring, pay discrepancies between men and women

In a move is prompted by employees, the University of Alaska Fairbanks is taking action to address workforce diversity and equity issues.

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The measures laid out this week by University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White come in response to a letter from six female researchers at UAF, and backed by over 200 petition signers. The letter to UAF and UA administrators recommends steps to address unequal pay, bias in hiring, and other challenges faced by women and other underrepresented groups at UAF. White says the letter has given focus to efforts already underway at the university.

”I applaud the work of this group of this group of authors and the people who signed onto this, because it brought a lot of the issues to the forefront,” White said.

White cited one example of a step being taken to increase diversity in hiring.

”We used to have a diversity briefing before any search for faculty or administrators, and I think in recent years, we haven’t been doing that,” White said. “So this is one of the issues that was brought up by the letter and its authors. And that’s an easy one to fix.”

White pointed to other equally important steps to be investigated and developed by a new chancellor’s task force.

”To take the issues that were laid out in the letter as the first set of issues but to look more broadly on diversity and equity,” White said.

‘I’m really excited that the current administration wants to work on these issues,” Lily Cohen, one of the letter’s authors, said.

Cohen, a research professional at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center says the letter was inspired by frustration with what they see at UAF.

”Right now, the top one percent of people employed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are 28 people, and three of those are women,” Cohen said. “Which is the same thing as saying that $4.5 million goes to men and $500,000 goes to women. And so when I see numbers like that, I know that there’s something wrong.”

Cohen emphasized that they are not looking for mandated representation, but a system that fairly assesses all candidates.

”You have to look at who’s writing the qualifications, because maybe a certain candidate has really amazing qualifications, they just aren’t listed as the things the university’s looking for,” Cohen said. “And then also, whenever you’re judging someone’s qualification, everyone comes in with implicit bias or ways of seeing the world in ways that other people don’t see them.”

Both Cohen and Chancellor White underscore that the current effort builds on past and ongoing work at the university, which already has a committee on the status of women and diversity, as well as an “inclusion task force” that’s addressing gender issues.