Monday, January 31, 2022

"The Art of Fairness" - Simple, Fair Decency Should Rule the Workplace

A wise colleague once reminded me that as a manager, you inevitably need to sacrifice ideals in order to survive the bureaucracy. Perhaps that’s why many potential leaders prefer to stay as practitioners and avoid the spotlight of leadership. Those who don’t know their limits run into what Laurence Peter dubs, the “Peter Principle” – you are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. And that’s where these managers stop becoming leaders and turn into paper pushers.  When threatened by insecurity, these individuals get in trouble and fuel toxic cultures. In this environment, organizations try to fix their problems by over-policing processes and doubling down on flawed policies.  

The Art of Fairness: The Power of Decency in a World Turned Mean is a collection of case studies that captivated me.  A page-turner of a book that made me keep coming back throughout a day to read, I took notes throughout as I realized how useful these anecdotes can apply for any individual or organization.  Through a collection of engaging stories of leaders who excelled despite challenging conditions, there were certain traits they all had.
  • Listeners - They listen without ego; and listen without fixation
  • Givers - Give, but audit; and give, by letting others give
  • Defenders - Defend, by not overdefending; and defend, by opening gateways.
David Bodanis believes that you succeed at work without being a manipulative tyrant or a selfless saint. It’s a continuum, and finding the sweet spot is key. I’ve worked in a number of library publishing, and non-profit companies, and I have seen those who thrive through using Machievellian tactics yet also those who succeed just fine through honesty and integrity.

The book delves into an interesting case study between Josef Goebbels and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Both dealt with their physical disabilities and tragedies very differently, leading to very different paths of leadership and their respective countries during the War.  Both faced crossroads when they hit low points in their lives, and both channeled their lifelong insecurity into willpower that propelled them into positions of power when an opportunity came calling.   While one chose the path of destruction and failed to listen to everyone who he deemed as inferior, the other chose the road of construction, listening, giving, and defending by being more inclusive and providing equitable conditions to the poor that exceeded his predecessors.   When managers rise into positions of power, they inevitably counter their crossroads.   How they view their positions in the hierarchy determines the legacy they leave their organizations.  

Managers during Covid have encountered difficulties in navigating authority during Covid times.  Those who lead by listening with empathy; giving the flexibility for hybrid work, and defending their staff's preferences while still balancing the needs of the organization.   No one is born better or worse than others, but I truly how one treats others will be rewarded multifold.  “Simple, fair decency” always prevails, Bodanis suggests.  

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Myth of Equity? A Book Review and a Further Discussion of the "Dirty Dozen"

The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities
is an important title about EDI in Canadian higher education. As an academic librarian, I see firsthand the challenges of racialized, Indigenous, and female colleagues struggle in the wastewater of discrimination and prejudice, often implicitly intended, but always explicitly impactful. The monograph has a strong assortment of scholarship, each chapter covering a critical area of EDI. One of the chapters that particularly speaks to me is the “A Dirty Dozen: Unconscious Race and Gender Biases in the Academy,” where the authors Smith, Gamarro, and Toor, list twelve forces of biases that are socialized and internalized forms of racism and sexism that underpin hidden race and gender social hierarchies in academia.  I've decided that the "dirty dozen" is a good place to start:

Biases before graduate school - It happens even before graduate admissions as racial and gender biases influence how important “informal pathways” are paved. As prospective faculty are gatekeepers to who is accepted or not, racialized minority and women applicants often received less favourable and frequent responses compared to White male students.

Biases in Letters of References - Race and gender stereotypes make their way into one of the most important documents of academics. Unconscious bias seeps its way into letters with negative and biased confidential references and anonymous reviews, undermining chances of success for candidates.

Biases about who gets to speak in classrooms - Unconscious biases are apparent in who speaks in the academy, in the classroom, at conferences, and at university decision-making. Significant research into race and gender biases finds evidence that the dynamic of “who speaks” is shaped by compositional diversity of both professors and students in the classroom.

Biases about who speaks at conferences - In numerous studies, it is primarily White men that are speaking while women faculty and students, listening; and in fact, men dominate 75% of conversations during conference gatherings. Conferences have marked contrast to racial/ethnic and gender homogeneity among speakers, resulting in the same social reproduction in which knowledge and its dissemination are programmed as almost exclusively male and White.

Biases in citation counts - The gender, racial, and regional biases that influence citations reinforce those biases into academic hierarchies. Studies indicate the tendency of male scholars to self-cite and cite primarily male scholars, while female scholars reproduce this citation bias citing male scholars and not their previous work, maintaining authoritative conceptions of canon, disciplines, and even the academy itself.

Biases in academic networks and social networks - As they are important for personal, professional, sponsorship, and mentorship, a lack of access to elite networks results in “old boys’ networks,” primarily White and male-dominated, fortifies the marginalization and invisibility, and exclusion racialized and women in many disciplines.

Biases in curriculum - As much of the modern disciplinary curriculum is White, Eurocentric, and colonial that continue to reflect the historical biases against women, Indigenous, and racialized scholars, scholarship from non-Western countries, diverse histories and intellectual heritages will continue to be invisible.

Affinity Bias - Unconscious biases often result in preferential hiring, with the replication by selecting new hires with similar backgrounds and demographic characteristics. “Cultural Cloning'' happens most often where there is a desire for sameness rather than diversity. As gender, race, age, and class status all matter so much, not all participants are ranked equitably; implicit bias and discrimination ultimately influence who gets hired. This propagation of homogeneity through the hiring process unfortunately prioritizes masculinity, whiteness, and European-ness.

Biases of Names and Accents - Unconscious bias towards unfamiliar names based on gender, place of origin, religion, or education from non-Western institutions, often result in discrimination. Racialized minorities sometimes need to adopt anglicized names when it could mean the difference between getting an interview or not. Accent bias has a significant impact on not only hiring, but also teaching evaluations, tenure and promotion assessments as students and professors alike have greater affinity for accents similar to their own. Studies reveal that prejudice against accented English can predetermine language proficiency.

Biases in Teaching Evaluations - Women and racialized instructors tend to receive lower teaching evaluations when compared to White men. This bias is even more apparent when studies show that White males receive higher evaluations even in online courses(!) What’s disturbing is racialized minorities receive negative feedback the most if they are teaching course content that students perceive as incongruent with their identity, such as in the humanities, while female instructors in the sciences and business, face the similarly biased negative evaluations.

Biases in Service work - Racialized, particularly racialized women, play a disproportionate role in service work, particularly mentoring racialized students. Though service is a part of promotion and tenure, it's often devalued and unrecognized. Plagued by this glass ceiling, these racialized colleagues are often stalled at the associate professor rank at their universities.

Biases in Leadership - Mid-level and senior leadership roles at universities are exclusively White and male; women and racialized scholars are mostly excluded from leadership positions. When women leaders do get hired, they are on a “glass cliff” where these leadership positions are unstable, precarious, and high-risk conditions.

It’s a sobering list. The Equity Myth is the type of scholarship that should propel change in higher education. Unfortunately, change is slow. This book first came to my attention when the Provost of my institution held up the book and conveyed that this was a must-read title. I was piqued by this, and glad that I had an opportunity to share this with you.  But the academic library world is, not any less or more complex, doesn't quite fit into some of the data and stories in The Equity Myth.   The intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality (to name just a few), merits further scholarship into this area, and there are a lot of excellent ones out there, but not so much in the Canadian context.  I hope to participate in a book project one day to explore this further.  I'd love to hear if you have any ideas or comments.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Book Review "Die With Zero" by Bill Perkins

Happy New Year and 2022. I’ve made a New Year’s resolution for reviewing more titles beginning this year. There have been some life-changing titles I’ve missed out on sharing on this blog, and due to time, work, and multitude of other excuses. One book that really enriched my life is Die With Zero by Bill Perkins.   Wistful of the pre-pandemic world, the book helped me foment new appreciation and bring awareness of my priorities.  Here are strategies that Perkins suggest:  

(1) Invest in Experiences - Please do this early. Don’t wait until you retire. Think of your final moments on earth and what means the most to you. It’s those amazing experiences, and not the bank account or the high investment returns in the bank.

(2) Aim to Die With Zero - Use all the tools you have at your disposal and think like an insurance agent: how much will you need to finance your finite amount of time? If you’re thinking of an inheritance for your offspring or favourite charities, perhaps giving away while you’re living is much more worthwhile than when you’re no longer around to enjoy the fruits of your labour. Here’s the spending curve tool that you can use, too, offered by the book.

(3) Don’t undersell time - Balance time, money, and health. Health is more important than money; and if we remember that, then everything will fall into place.  Exchange money for time, such as alleviating you from chores that that can instead allow you to enjoy your leisure time.   Delaying gratification to the point that is no longer serves you well is commonplace in our society, but it's also irreversible.  Time is precious.   Spend your your resources not for material goods but on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  

(4) Time Bucket Your Life -
Create a calendar that “time buckets” rather than creating bucket lists with no timeline. If you have a piece of paper, then consider planning out milestones for the remaining decades of your life (e.g. 20’s to 80’s) and try to achieve those goals. You can even create your own time bucket here with the book’s online app.

(5) Know Your Peak - At some point, wealth accumulation needs to stop, as there’s a declining utility of money with age. The old adage that you can’t take it with you, is so true.   As we age, our scarcity of time is an inverse to the utility of money.  Take opportunities for risks while you’re still able to and (relative to your age) young. There’s no point in waiting for retirement to enjoy those moments. As Perkins reminds us, "In the end, "business of life is the acquisition of memories."

So there you go: it’s a title that I highly recommend and one that I read and absorbed with much reflection and resolve.  A 250-word review doesn't do justice to your own enjoyment of this book.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have.   Do you have a title you'd recommend me?   Please leave a comment below -- happy to connect!