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"There’s not one magic approach that suddenly creates a diverse leadership team. The practices we have implemented work in conjunction with one another. "

Leadership diversity: Living your values at the highest levels

June 14, 2023

By Cynthia K Larive, PhD

The Chancellor of UC Santa Cruz writes about the steps her university is taking to attract diverse applicant pools for leadership positions.

As I write this column, the United States awaits a Supreme Court decision that could strike down affirmative action and limit the ability of universities to consider race as part of their decisions about admissions and hiring. For more than 25 years, California — home to the campus I lead — has prohibited the consideration of race, sex or ethnicity as criteria in public employment, public contracting and public education, following the passage of Proposition 209(opens in new tab/window), which amended the California state constitution. 

Here, I share the ways that we at the University of California, Santa Cruz(opens in new tab/window) have maintained our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion while working within the constraints of Proposition 209 — how we have formed, over time, a team of leaders with different perspectives and life experiences and how those strategies could benefit my colleagues across the country.

Prof Celine Parreñas Shimizu(opens in new tab/window) was not seeking a new opportunity in the spring of 2021 when a recruiter from UC Santa Cruz reached out to tell her she had been nominated for our open arts dean position. She was then happily serving as Director of San Francisco State University School of Cinema, as a Professor of Cinema Studies, and as a member of the university’s graduate faculty in Sexuality Studies.

Yet the more she thought about the position, she later told me, the more it intrigued her. She had always admired UC Santa Cruz’s pedagogy and strong legacy of feminist scholars, including Angela Davis, Gloria Anzaldúa, Teresa De Lauretis and B Ruby Rich. She also noted that women held the top two leadership spots on our campus and that the senior leadership team seemed more diverse than those of our peer institutions.

“Campuses talk about valuing diversity and being agents of change, but here was one actually trying to make change," she told me as I was writing this article. “That suggested an understanding of the importance of opening doors.”

Dean Celine Parreñas Shimizu, PhD

Dean Celine Parreñas Shimizu, PhD

This article is from the Not Alone newsletter, a monthly publication that showcases new perspectives on global issues directly from research and academic leaders.

Diversity and inclusion are long-held institutional values of UC Santa Cruz, and because it is important that we live these values at the highest levels, we intentionally take steps to attract diverse applicant pools when recruiting for leadership positions. I strongly believe that institutions benefit greatly from a team of leaders with different perspectives and life experiences. This starts with attracting a diverse pool of qualified candidates.

Diversity can be self-reinforcing

That Prof Shimizu took notice of our campus’s leadership makeup when deciding to apply is gratifying. We have worked hard to recruit a diverse leadership team — and have more work to do — but I am a believer in the idea that each new step toward equitable and inclusive hiring has ripple effects. Having a diverse leadership team attracts a pool of potential faculty and leaders from different backgrounds who share our commitment to supporting our diverse student body and widening our talent pool for future searches. Dean Shimizu is an example of that.

Our recruitment efforts are paying off, particularly in regard to women in higher education administration. In 2022, our campus was ranked first in the nation for gender diversity in top university leadership. UC Santa Cruz is one of just six R1(opens in new tab/window) (research intensive) universities that has had at least three women presidents or chancellors, according to a report conducted by the Women’s Power Gap Initiative(opens in new tab/window) at the Eos Foundation in partnership with the American Association of University Women. In addition to my position, our provost and executive vice chancellor, three of our five academic deans, and 54% of my cabinet positions are held by women. Similarly, we have significant LGBTQ+ representation and racial diversity at all ranks of academic and administrative leadership. And it is exciting to see women increasingly being selected to lead other top universities across the country.

While more remains to be done in improving parity among the professoriate and in expanding opportunity for emerging and established leaders of color, at UC Santa Cruz, we have implemented recruitment tools that we believe will serve us well. What follows are some measures we have adopted that other university leaders might consider to foster a leadership team committed to diversity and equity.

Incorporating DEI into the hiring process

At UC Santa Cruz, we are intentional throughout the hiring process about the value we place on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We incorporate expectations for advanced competence in diversity and inclusion into the job description for all leadership positions. Contributions-to-DEI statements are required for all leadership posts, even those that are not primarily academic or student-facing. Importantly, the evaluation of these statements is not related to how the candidate personally identifies (on lines of race, ethnicity, gender or otherwise) but rather to how they envision supporting DEI and well-being in the role they are seeking and the contributions they have made in prior roles.

For executive searches, we train our search advisory committees in equitable-hiring best practices, implicit bias, and the importance of recruiting talented candidates from a variety of lived and academic experiences.

Importantly, we strive to ensure our search advisory committees include people who are representative of the diversity we hope to see in the applicant pool. Top candidates are evaluating the university at the same time we are interviewing them, and interactions with a diverse search advisory committee helps convey our commitment to an inclusive environment. It’s a reinforcing circle with even more positive impacts once we onboard these new leaders because they help us develop strategies to recruit future leaders and bring new perspectives to enhance our hiring processes.

There’s not one magic approach that suddenly creates a diverse leadership team. The practices we have implemented work in conjunction with one another. Just as we value sharing best practices with peer institutions, we look to them for guidance when modifying our hiring processes. New ideas and approaches are always circulating, and we believe we can always do better.

It’s also important to recognize that success in the hiring realm is not always linear. Institutions must commit to not moving forward to the long-list stage if a search does not yield a sufficient pool of qualified candidates. As we see it, we have a responsibility to all our community members (including our alumni) to ensure that we are authentic in our commitment to DEI. When we do finally hire the right person, we have made the entire leadership team — and the campus as a whole — stronger.

An excellent hire who understands and is committed to DEI helps to create more momentum in building and sustaining an inclusive campus community. Of course, culture change is complicated and difficult work that requires sustained effort across a large complex organization. Hiring candidates committed to that work is the first step, though there must also be a shared vision for the future with continued support from campus leaders and peers to undertake the initiatives and projects that will create institutional transformation.

More work to do

Despite women earning the majority of doctoral degrees for more than a decade, research from the Women’s Power Gap Initiative indicates there is a significant gap in the number of women, especially women of color, attaining leadership positions in higher education. This saddens but doesn’t surprise me. Generating diverse candidate pools for university leadership positions requires a diverse national pool of qualified applicants. At UC Santa Cruz, we have been making steady progress toward gender parity and greater representation of people of color, but we have yet to reach parity. Until we collectively achieve greater success in diversifying our faculty, universities as a whole will continue to face challenges in diversifying their leadership.

In California, at least, we have tremendous potential to advocate for and model the changes we want to see. I am very proud of the recognition our campus received from the Women’s Power Gap Initiative, but digging deeper, the numbers are less rosy. While 40% of our full professors are women, that does not yet reflect gender parity. This is important in the context of leadership diversity because full professors are the pool from which many leaders at research universities (particularly deans and provosts) are drawn. We also have much more ground to gain in increasing the racial diversity of our faculty, as just 19% identify as a member of an underrepresented group.

Because UC Santa Cruz carries the distinction of being both a Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, building an inclusive campus community with a professoriate attuned to the issues of our student population is imperative. We are working on all fronts to create a welcoming campus community that values diversity and is grounded in the values of equity, inclusivity and upward mobility for all students traditionally underrepresented in higher education. That includes first-generation and low-income students, LGBTQ+ students, veterans, and students with disabilities, as well as students who have historically been underrepresented by race, ethnicity, gender and religious background. Leaders from diverse backgrounds are more likely to have lived experiences similar to those of our students, and those with a demonstrated commitment to DEI are better situated to identify inequities and barriers that exist and to devise support systems that can benefit marginalized students. When students find connections with leaders they can relate to, they have told us that it can be incredibly meaningful to them personally.

What we are working toward

Finally, I think it’s important to note that a diverse leadership team does not mean our work is done. It is a single step toward building inclusion, equity and a sense of belonging. It is an important step, and one that can beget further success, but it doesn't resolve the underlying issues. Still, it’s undeniable that diverse leadership can make a difference in palpable ways. Studies have shown that diverse teams approach problems differently and are better at problem solving because they bring a variety of perspectives. They can also be more effective in outreach to prospective students and to the diverse communities in the region where the university is located.

Dean Shimizu said she’s found that working on a diverse team also helps create better leaders:

“The invitation to walk into any room as your full authentic self, to be open and empathetic, has allowed me to excel. It encourages you to be brave and courageous with your thoughts. That’s powerful.”

Dean Celine Parreñas Shimizu, PhD


Celine Parreñas Shimizu , PhD

Dean of the Arts at UC Santa Cruz

About Cynthia K Larive

As the 11th Chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz, Dr Cynthia K Larive heads an institution known worldwide for its interdisciplinary approach to research for the public good, for seeking solutions and giving voice to the challenges of our time, and for its commitment to social and environmental justice. A common thread throughout Dr Larive’s career has been her commitment to student success, inclusion and equity. She has led programs for undergraduate research and curricular innovation and has written extensively on active and experiential learning and mentoring. She has personally mentored 30 doctoral and master’s students, and she has been active in encouraging the participation and success of women and other underrepresented groups in the STEM fields. The campus in 2022 was ranked No. 1 in the nation among top research universities for racial and gender diversity in leadership.

Read her full bio(opens in new tab/window)


Chancellor Cynthia K Larive, PhD


Cynthia K Larive, PhD


University of California, Santa Cruz