“Invisible work” is a term coined by Arlene Kaplan Daniels to describe the undervalued labor that women often do within nuclear households. In educational spaces, this concept has been adapted to describe faculty involved in the “invisible labor” of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). It sheds light on the often-unrecognized contributions of faculty members, particularly those who are women or faculty of color, in supporting historically underrepresented students.

The workload disparities faced by faculty of color, especially in responding to the needs of students from similar backgrounds, showcase the additional responsibilities that come with their roles. ”When there are faculty of color in a department, the faculty members often receive an increased number of requests for guidance and support from students of color than their white counterparts,” explains CSS’ managing director Jessica Cruz. She continues, “As a result, faculty of color can have an increased workload...work that is important to retaining and ensuring the success of historically underrepresented students, especially at predominantly white institutions.” 

These contributions might fall outside the conventional categories of scholarship, teaching, and service that dictate professional advancement in academia. If their efforts to promote DEI are not considered “service”, they are not paid, promoted, or given credit. When such essential contributions are uncompensated, it can be considered “invisible labor”. 

Christine Hong, PhD, talks about the process of implementing the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies program at UCSC. The program began as an independent study, led by a few faculty members. Hong says, “The work of forging a new program of study and what is now a Department of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies represents thousands upon thousands of hours of invisible labor.” Hong illuminates the inherent tradeoffs that occur when establishing DEI related programs. The indispensable need for these spaces compel faculty members to continue their incredible involvement.

This does not mean, however, that there is no means to lessen the taxation. Joyya Smith, the VP of Diversity, Access, and Inclusion, at Suffolk University, emphasizes the need for faculty to be transparent about their workload. “There has to be an honest conversation about the magnitude and even the impact that invisible labor has on the person who is doing the work,” Smith says. Instituting measures that acknowledge and compensate this work could significantly alleviate the burden on those currently shouldering these responsibilities.