Monday, July 11, 2022

The Racial Pay Gap - Much Work Remains to Be Done in Canadian Academic Libraries

“The Racial Pay Gap” indicates that there’s still much inequity in Canada’s academic libraries. While Canadian academic libraries have made progress in hiring and retaining employees from underrepresented groups, they still lack offering equitable salaries.  My ViMLoC colleague, Yanli Li’s “Racial Pay Gap: An Analysis of CARL Libraries” is an alarming study on the racial pay gap of visible minority librarians. Using data from the 8Rs CARL Libraries Practitioner Survey in 2014, Li’s research study examined the impact of race on the earnings attainment process based on a sample of 392 CARL library practitioners and found a significant salary disparity between visible minorities and nonvisible minorities. It’s really important research that deserves more attention in our profession.

The study admits that because it is limited to 29 of the larger Canadian university libraries and two federal government libraries that comprise CARL. It would be interesting to study the racial salary gap of other university and college libraries or public libraries for a more comprehensive landscape of Canadian libraries. One can surmise that the racial pay gap probably exists in these institutions based on existing research. Perhaps a more in-depth examination of hiring, promotion, and access to senior positions, particularly the discrimination against visible minorities in the library science labor market, can also be done to further understand the specific factors of the racial salary gap.
While academic Research Libraries (ARL) in the US made great strides in the last three decades toward decreasing the racial pay gap, the same cannot be said about Canadian (CARL) libraries and this is surprisingly embarrassing, to say the least. As one social commentator pointed out once, comparing itself to the United States is almost like a national sport in Canada. Canadians revel at their superiority over their American counterparts, but when it comes to paying disparities, it’s business as usual. It’s remarkable how far Canadian academic libraries lag behind their American counterparts. As the authors of this study comment, “[o]verall, [American] ARL libraries have done an outstanding job of fostering racial equality in pay. . . there is no longer a statistically significant wage gap between nonminority and minority librarians in ARL libraries.” In fact, American counterparts have used more tools at their disposal for analysis, too. As opposed to using basic comparisons of group means to examine the racial salary gap in Canada, American studies have adopted multiple regression models to assess multiple variables of earnings in the library science labor market. All this is to say that much work remains for not only closing the racial pay gap in CARL libraries.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

The Diversity Audit Tool (DAT)

A diversity assessment can measure an organization’s progress in increasing diversity not only within its human resources functions but also in its activities in the creation of products or services. While there is no shortage of diversity audit surveys out there, one, in particular, stands out to me and that is the Diversity Audit Tool (DAT) developed at the Diversity Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University.  I like that it has been well used in examining both profit and non-profit organizations and adapted for use by many businesses over the years.

The DAT is a useful tool for assessing and identifying leading practices to increase diversity in organizations. The DAT was created by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, in partnership with Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance Women in Technology (CATAWiT) Forum, as part of a project on increasing women’s participation in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, led by Wendy Cukier.  The DAT is divided into six key organizational levels or functions:
  • Leadership and governance – Success of diversity initiatives depends on senior management’s commitment to diversity in addition to the integration of diversity goals as part of the organization’s strategy
  • Transparent HR practices – Identifies areas where organizations can increase diversity in recruitment, performance management, promotion, education, and knowledge building as well as training and development.
  • Organizational culture & Quality of Life – Flexibility and ensuring that the organizational culture is inclusive and accommodates the divergent needs of its employees.
  • Metrics – Used to track and measure progress relative to diversity goals.
  • Integration into the Value Chain -- Diversity in product development, marketing and customer service programs, communication (both internally and externally), media buys, philanthropy, government relations, as well as in procurement decisions.
  • Developing the pipeline – Develops a future workforce that is diverse and inclusive
When compared to the other diversity lenses, the DAT is a more comprehensive and inclusive measure of diversity initiatives than other lenses, and part of the reason is that it focuses on general initiatives at the macro-level initiatives. I’m excited about adapting the DAT to my context of academic libraries and publishing organizations. What would the DAT look like for both smaller and larger organizations; profit and non-profit; Western and global firms? If you have any thoughts, please do share them with me!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Gatekeepers of Diversity in Publishing and Writing

I recently wrapped up an arts mentorship program at Centre A and worked with a diverse group of writers, and as a group, we explored the creative writing and publishing industry within the context of BIPOC artists. It’s good timing that the ​​Diversity in Canadian Writing: A 2020-2021 Snapshot has been released. UBC creative writing professors Rhea Tregebov and Kevin Chong led the project and developed the survey design. The results were not surprising: the typical respondent, based on our survey data, was: female, white, in their 60s, living in Ontario, straight, cis-gendered, and able-bodied.

In our sessions, we explored how “diversity washing” has become simply producing literary texts that publishers want for mainstream, but Canadian publishing continues to lack diversity in staffing. The next generations of writers that I worked with show that there is an emergence of diverse authors, but they are still shut out by the literary gatekeepers as there is a shortage of diverse publishers, agents, and editors. In order for BIPOC writers to flourish, they need better representation in those fields to be supported.
There needs to be more transparency when it comes to how books are promoted and advocated for, and sometimes this has less to do with literary merit and more to do with the PR machine behind the book. This leaves a lot of us out, especially when we already face systemic barriers. We need opportunities to feature our work in more meaningful ways, beyond conversations about our identity and deeper into craft. […] It’s important that these questions are addressed by the publishing industry so that we can have transparency around what needs to be done.” 
  • Gatekeepers – Those in positions of power in the sector need to be more diverse, both within publishing houses and in affiliated organizations such as reviewing outlets, festival and prize administration, literary agencies and funding institutions, by creating concrete, transparent and measurable goals around their makeup
  • Smaller Presses – Create greater systemic support for them which often are key in recognizing and promoting marginalized authors.
  • Training - Mandate EDI training for staff, as well as create a budget and established procedure for employment of sensitivity readers among publishers.
  • No More Identity Labels – Titles by marginalized authors should be promoted, evaluated and featured in nuanced, complex and meaningful ways beyond simple identity labels. Organizations, reviewers and readers should recognize that non-dominant culture content is not of limited interest and that publications are not limited by simple identity labels. Content should not have to be trauma-generated or otherwise identity-specific in order for authors to be given a platform.
  • Funding – Create funding structures for disabled writers to pay upfront for the support needed to fully participate in events.
  • Prizes – Carefully review the creation of new prizes, their mandates and their selection processes to ensure better inclusivity. Moreover, residency and grant opportunities that set an arbitrary age limit for eligibility should be removed.

I’m heartened by the work that the authors of this report and I’m optimistic that it puts the lens of EDI squarely focused on the current landscape of Canadian publishing. I’m often invited to government book awards and grant juries for diversity, consult on EDI by book publishers or join EDI committees. While I’m happy to participate and make a difference, I feel that my role is really at end of the conversation, to ensure representation, but not at the beginning, such as systemic change. It’s about time that EDI is integrated so that box-ticking exercises don’t need to be left at the end, as an afterthought. When I ended my final session of the Arts Writing Mentorship Program, I was heartened that participants understood that they were the next generation of the publishing industry, whether they are writers or acquisitions editors – and had a responsibility to instill change.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Everything Will Be, Will Be in Chinatown - Honouring Asian Heritage Month

Thank you to the NFB, for sharing this film with us.  I recall during my early days of community engagement and outreach work that the goal of Asian Heritage Month was to "celebrate" the successes of Asians in Canada.   The complicated history of Canadians of Asian heritage or mixed-race heritage has often been obsfucated by the model minority myth and problems of anti-Asian racism covered and blurred.   Since the pandemic, anti-Asian racism has skyrocketed and with one city called the anti-Asian hate crime capital of the world.    The 1907 riots in Vancouver is but one unfortunate historical incident among countless ones during the formation of the colonial settler society of North America.   This video is an excellent reminder that the history that we forget continues to haunt us in the present day.  

Friday, April 29, 2022

Innovation Does Not Spread Like a Virus – It Requires a Village

Much of what’s been popularly written is that influencers are the linchpins who spread ideas and spark revolutions. They are paid the big bucks to promote products and campaigns and hired to be brand ambassadors. For almost a century, scientists have believed that human behaviours spread just like viruses do; however, research shows that is not true. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring, and the popularity of certain social media apps, all happened geographically and incrementally through local networks first before they went viral.

Residents in Ferguson were shaping a network infrastructure both online and offline that generated awareness and local small-scale protests in towns and cities across the country which eventually vaulted Black Lives Matter to the national spotlight after the death of George Floyd. It needed time to develop as a network before it could result in social action and change.

We’ve all heard of the Oprah Winfrey effect where books skyrocket to best sellers based on Oprah's recommendations. But the research shows the influencer isn’t enough: it’s existing book club networks that enable the success to take off. One individual’s voice is insufficient.

Social and technological innovations require credibility and credibility within the network. The more social approval that happens the more people in the network are excited to adopt. Social reinforcement in the geometry of networks is the key ingredient. As such, a centralized network (the fireworks) is much less powerful than one which is distributed network (fishing nets). While a centralized network can spread information faster, like a virus, a distributed network that is bound to be slower and have redundancy, is actually going to result in a much stronger message.

Weakness of weak ties – People in a centralized network have very few if any common contacts. It’s like a firework that requires a central node but has little else beyond that. In contrast to conventional network science often highlights the utility of weak ties, the reality is that it’s quite the opposite. Rather, a fishing-net pattern fosters the most trust and intimacy – strong ties networks - friends, families, close contacts. It’s quite a counter to the 6 degrees of separation that we’re so used to hearing about.

Snowball effect – Instead of targeting “influential people,” tipping points happen when places within networks are targeted. Social movements require time to incubate and to grow a critical mass. Social reinforcement spills over from one social cluster to another. “Early adopters” snowballs into a social movement that can tip the social norms for an entire community.  As Damon Centola puts it,
“Social innovation” comes from social networks that balance coordination with creativity.
Now if we were to extend this metaphor of networks to how libraries traditionally operate, we can probably find some lessons here. Libraries are notorious for defaulting to a centralized network, partly due to the nature of their hierarchical and organizational traditions. Libraries have for the most part been crystallized in the past. Publications such as Knowledge Justice have explored how historical white supremacy has been passed down in the practices, services, curriculum, spaces, and policies with the result that the LIS field continues to be invested in the false idea of its own objectivity and neutrality. When a profession is unable to diverse workforce is one that attracts people of different cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, disabilities, religions, sexual backgrounds, etc. it risks lacking diversity of not only people but new ideas and different approaches to thinking. This is nothing new as a species' ability to adapt and survive depends on diversity.

I’m heartened that change has begun to happen at the grassroots level. Change in LIS must happen at a distributed network level for it to be sustainable. Quick fixes in the language of job advertisements or meeting a quota of token hirings aren’t effective. Rather, racialized and minority organizations such as APALA, CALA, REFORMA, ViMLoC (just to name a few) are effective in creating professional networks, mentorship programs, and ultimately an infrastructure for meaningful change.  And yes.  It will take a village.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Upstreaming Bureaucracies, Undoing the Games

Upstreaming is efforts intended to prevent problems before they happen or reduce the harm caused by those problems. Upstream is like teaching kids to swim upstream to prevent drownings. Downstreaming is reactionary, it’s easier to see and easier to measure because it’s tangible: bureaucracies love it.

when done successfully, is not tangible. It’s hard to prove what didn’t happen. Victories are stories written in data, with heroes and victims. Eventually, bureaucracies devolve into an exercise of turning into a game, or “gaming the system” for those cynical. Here are a few case studies from the book:
  • Paying $40,000 for insulin when $1,000 might prevent someone from ever getting diabetes and needing insulin
  • Police who hide in order to hand out driving tickets to meet a quota
  • Doctors who prefer C-sections because they’re scheduled, no weekend or holiday work, and especially because they get paid more per hour than waiting for natural births
These are more extreme examples, but unfair or not, we encounter these types of what may seem anomalous affairs more than we would think or want. We can probably think of a few from our own experiences.

The library world has forever been in dire straits when it comes to using statistics to prove its value or the much-dreaded ROI. There have been studies done about how numbers don’t tell the whole story and might not always be reliable, such as this one, or this one, and of course, this one. In bureaucratic systems, where data can be only too easily used as an excuse for decision-making, upstreaming can be tempting. Data-driven decisions can (in)advertently turn into an exercise of “gaming the system.”

In some ways, Dan and Chip Heath’s book is essentially an academic study of cutting corners.  But in the end, they make an indelible argument: it’s not just gaming the system, it’s also defiling your mandate.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Decentering Asian Canadian Studies in the Global Diaspora


At an event that promoted intercultural dialogue and celebrated fusion culture, I remember one out-of-town visitor asked what is the point of celebrating “Asian Canadian.” I was taken aback by the question, but upon years of reflection, perhaps the question is worthwhile to ponder. It’s unique to me as someone who’s familiar and identifies with “Asian Canadian,” but to another individual from a different part of the world, it might evoke different emotions. It took a number of years for us to figure this out, but the LiterASIAN Festival, a literary festival that celebrates and highlights Asian Canadian writers, decided for the first time to shine the spotlight outside of Canada on writers of Asian heritage from across the world.

As festival director, I explored this idea of “GlobalAsian: from Grassroots to Globalization” and thanks to a virtual setup, was able to feature authors and cultural activists. It leads to my reading of Chris Lee and Christine Kim’s ​​Inter-referencing Asian Canadian Studies: imagining diasporic possibility outside the (Canadian) nation as they ask critically, what would it mean if Asian Canadian Studies repositions itself towards Asia while decentring the West?
By shifting the poles of discussion from the overly abstract distinction between Asia and the West to linked spaces and societies such as Seoul and Singapore or Delhi and Bangkok, new forms of knowledge are generated as we investigate local problems and draw comparisons among them” (Lee & Kim, 305)
Asian Canadian Studies has always been a comparative project that looks “outwards and engages with other diasporas within and beyond the nation-state,” and I’m heartened that LiterASIAN has matured and evolved to explore the literary traditions of “Asian Canadian” writing to the shared experiences around the world. The anti-Asian racism and sentiments around the world these past three years is yet again a central theme of this year’s LiterASIAN festival and another stark reminder that racism, just like a global pandemic, is a global phenomenon not siloed and contained within the borders of any nation-state.   I hope to see you at the festival, where we will be finding our voices, telling our stories.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Open Scholarship and the Digital Humanities

I’ve been taking the Program for Open Scholarship and Education (POSE) , a flexible and blended MOOC created at UBC. One of the modules cover a key area of interest I have in open scholarship in the humanities, with the question of whether open scholarship methods were possible in the humanities. One of the readings, Rik Peels’ “Replicability and replication in the humanities'” argues why such replication in the humanities is not only possible but also desirable. I want to use the field of digital humanities to answer the question whether we should also pursue replication in the humanities and its positive impacts on open scholarship and research.

While there has been much debate about whether the humanities add value to scholarship and support preparation for students in their lifelong pursuits, it’s often been subjective, if not polemic, arguments are not necessarily supported by tangible or empirical evidence. I see the digital humanities (DH) as a field that is not only feasible for open research but provides new discoveries and interdisciplinary scholarship that benefits more than just intellectual outputs but also those students who study them.

Skeptics point to whether it is at all possible for “empirical studies in the humanities are often such that an independent repetition of it, using similar or different methods and conducted under similar circumstances, can be carried out” at all (Peels, 2019). Digital technologies have enabled researchers to use techniques that can help reproduce and replicate research findings, and that is a powerful approach to positioning the humanities to the scholarship that has been employed in the sciences.

Ted Underwood is a literary and digital humanities scholar that I follow and offers an insightful case of his impact on the humanities. Underwood often shares his research findings and links from his articles and books to his blog which shares links to data and code that support certain blog posts under a category of open data. For instance, Underwood and Jordan Sellers’ “The Emergence of Literary Diction” is an excellent example how the humanities can prioritize computational reproducibility, and practitioners can pass off all of the inputs (data, scripts, etc) of a project to empower other researchers to reproduce the findings for not only peer review but also enrich the research with additional new findings.

In their research, Underwood and Sellers ask the question of when did literary diction differentiate itself from nonfiction prose? He looks back to literature in the 18th and 19th centuries and through the use of textual analysis comes to the conclusion that literary fiction writers relied much more heavily on the older part of the lexicon. He does this by “counting” the number of words (the most common ten thousand) that entered English before 1150 and dividing it by the number of words that entered the language between 1150 and 1699.

What he finds is fascinating: by the end of the 19th century, a “new, sharply marked distinction between literary and nonliterary diction” in that novels used the older part of the lexicon at a rate almost double that of nonfiction prose. Prior to 1600, there was little distinction between poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. Underwood uses the programming language R and shares the scripts on GitHub.

What DH projects such as these is the possibility of computational replicability using the same workflow to be used by other researchers. One can conceivably use a different dataset of English texts (perhaps Project Gutenberg, just as an example) that could yield different but expected results using the same R scripts that Underwood provides. Most of the visualizations presented in the article are derived from a collection of 4,275 documents from the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) which is open data.

However, while Peel’s argument that carrying out replication studies in the humanities is not only desirable, we “should actually frequently carry out such independent repetitions of published studies,” we also need to consider the advantages of the resources of the Global North. The rise of digital humanities certainly looks very different from the “traditional” analogue techniques of earlier times, when a close reading of texts relies on hermeneutical methods, based on subjective qualitative interpretations. Researchers don’t need to rely on just the expertise of the written word, they can reproduce the same findings themselves. It also impels students to utilize those skills and tools used more commonly in literate programming (using R, Python, just to name a few) that can be both useful to research, but also knowledge used in life beyond academia.

Friday, March 18, 2022

"Out of the Office," But Entirely Engaged the Rest of the Time

I recall that during my early days I couldn’t make it to a Christmas social event at a senior manager’s invitation. Later it was circulated back to me that my managers felt that I didn’t show up to these events and they didn’t know me. As a new hire, I was completely perplexed and frightened. Would I be penalized for not being a team player? I was not tenured yet and thought that this was part of the performance evaluation and would be penalized.   Of course, in hindsight, it didn’t really make an iota of difference.

In some ways, the professional librarian work that I’ve performed as a librarian can be said to be performative.  It's a profession that is highly social, and with it comes the unwritten rules of the office place.  Charlie Wazel and Anne Helen Petersen’s Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home offers an insightful framework into the transition of working from home, particularly during the past two years of the pandemic.

Socializing outside of work as an expectation of our work is really problematic. In many ways, the pandemic has put a hold on this, and it might be an opportunity to disrupt the romantic notion that team building outside of the workplace can actually be forced rather than organically happen.

Some workplaces also go as far as calling themselves a “family,” which the authors assert is deeply misleading and even manipulative so as to skirt potential issues of behaviour that may be more acceptable in real families.  Then there is the notion of the “organization man” is a product of the post-war period when individuals (usually men) were loyal to the same company from the beginning to the end of their careers. This type of corporatism “live action role playing” (LARP) has led to burnout that centred on showing up as early and leaving as late as possible at the office as a torturous type of show performance “to be seen” even when there's no work to be done.

The authors believe the pandemic has helped reset and “level the office playing field” with remote work. Prior to the pandemic, it was said that it couldn’t be done. But my work has been as productive as before the pandemic. And I’m sure many others have appreciated the time saved not only from drivelous travel times stuck in traffic but also the work-life balance.   But I also return to the problem of FOMO - which can be detrimental in hybrid and remote work as well.   Just as the office was designed to benefit those who had little or no responsibilities, we must take care so that hybrid work doesn't actually deepen this divide in which:
Single parents, workers with elder family members, disabled employees, and those who simply don't want to live in proximity to the office risk being overshadowed by those who come in every day. . . proximity bias might emerge.  Ambitious, competive employees will sacrifice remote flexibility and work relentlessly in person, while remote employees, motivated by the anxiety of not seeming productive, will live in fear of managers and overcompensate with overwork.  Both sides end up driving the other to misery.

Just as hybrid work evolves and continues to shape the contours of work spaces, we need to take extra care in ensuring equity and inclusion remain pillars.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

The Power of Identity Capitalism

I remember many years ago a candidate was giving a presentation as part of his interview for a senior leadership position. This candidate recounted a marvelous track record, and name-dropped some important EDI initiatives, along with some notable individuals. Of course, this was all performative as he clearly did none of what he had listed off, and in fact, had cared little about it during his tenure. It was a successful interview and he got the job. It was the first time I had encountered the positive publicity that EDI can bring to an organization, and it doesn’t even matter if you don’t support it as long as you talk about it glowingly.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was a form of identity capitalism.

Nancy Leong’s Identity Capitalists: The Powerful Insiders Who Exploit Diversity to Maintain Inequality is a powerful book that argues through a number of case studies that identity capitalism is a process in which an ingroup benefits from outgroup identity. In North America, as are well aware, the main ingroup is usually white, male, heterosexual, and wealthy.  Identity capitalism is also a business strategy. Just professing the value of diversity helps to exonerate a company’s image at a time of negative publicity.

A lot of institutions dishonestly use racial photoshopping to inflate diversity. Have you ever noticed the meticulousness of diversity when in reality the staff is completely homogenous? Leong reveals that campuses often photoshop Black students into group photos. Identity capitalism implies that social problems are easy to solve or have been solved already, yet in reality are only a superficial and performative gesture toward a solution.  The better diversity statement is an honest one: touting the company’s accomplishments but explaining there is more work to do within and beyond the company itself.  There is always a wonderful opportunity to be humble and grow.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Leadership Journey With Dr. Anthony Chow of the San Jose University iSchool

This is an inspiring video that I wanted to share after watching it.  Dr. Anthony Chow is the Director of  San Jose State University’s School of Information, appointed July 2021. Before his appointment at the iSchool, Anthony was an associate professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.   His research focuses on systems thinking, technology integration, organizational management, and also information-seeking behaviour and usability in digital environments.

With an academic career that spans 21 years, he offered some really insightful experiences as a person of colour who has held leadership positions.   Anthony is an inspirational story, in a profession that is predominantly racially homogenous, and seeing how he has navigated the terrains of academia, which can be competitive and cutthroat, successfully is really a great story.    Here's some highlights that he shares with us that helped him throughout the years:  

Experience -- Age and experience helps.   After a while, Chow found that he was more comfortable as he spoke to peers on a personal level, he was around the same age and had earned his stripes.   I've found this insight to be really relatable in my own life.  If you hang in there, over time, your experience builds on itself and compounds exponentially over time.  Eventually, you will feel comfortable in your own skin, which goes a long way to how it builds confidence.  Patience is key and paying your dues.  

Get Involved -- Getting involved, whether it's emailing and making those phone calls to worthy causes.  "Prove it" to others that you care.   Eventually, they will find you and seek your leadership.

Be Kind -- Ultimately, being kind is so important.   Leadership means leading with a good heart.  Leading by an organizational chart hierarchy is called managerialism.   Leadership is something entirely different.  

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Matthew Effect and the Digital Fault Lines of Learning

I confess that I’ve started so many MOOCs, or massive open online courses, that I’ve forgotten how many I actually completed, which is likely to be very few.   2012 was once infamously dubbed the “Year of the MOOCs” but it didn’t actually revolutionize education, not at the university/college level nor at the K-12.  I still recall with a draught of nostalgia (and wincing) when higher education administrators scrambled to push for MOOCs to be established at their institutions. My particular university called it “flexible learning” and almost overnight everyone veered towards the technology lest they would be missing out on the next educational revolution. Coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier, the first MOOC to be very successful was the course "Artificial Intelligence" by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig at Stanford University in 2011, and left their positions to found Udacity. In 2012, MIT and Harvard University announced the birth of EdX. Then came Coursera. Predictions were suggested that MOOCs would spell the end of universities. Studies such as the one by Katy Jordan exposed that completion rates were dismal.

Justin Reich’s Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education reviews the post-hype MOOC world, arguing that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change. The Matthew Effect is best summarized by the adage "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” and in the edtech world, it means that even new, free resources are mainly beneficial to already affluent learners with access to networked technology. Thus Reich’s three myths are really illuminating:

Myth #1 - Technology disrupts systems of inequality.

False. Technology actually reproduces the inequality embedded in systems. Poor, urban, and rural students were less likely to be exposed to higher-order uses than non-poor and suburban students. Rather than rearranging practices in schools, new technologies reinforce them.

Myth #2 - Free and open technologies promote equality.

False. Free things benefit those with the means to take advantage of them. Research shows that those who use MOOCs or sign-up for wikis tend to be from affluent neighbourhoods.

Myth #3 - Expanding access will bridge digital divides.

False. Social and cultural barriers are the chief obstacles to equitable participation. As they are often harder to discern, “digital divide” is too simple a metaphor to characterize educational inequity.   Because social and cultural barriers are harder to measure, it's often missed in the design of edtech.   
Reich suggests that students from less developed countries actually face an obstacle called “social identity threat” which can occur, for instance, when:
the elite branding of universities offering MOOCs, the predominantly white American and European faculty who offer these courses, the English language usernames in the forums, and other markers that feel excluding to minority participants. Feelings of social identity threat can lead to negative recursive cycles: when people start a class, they may feel like an outsider.
It's sobering for an individual like me who has been fortunate to work in a large educational institution in a developed economy.  Though the training I have had as an educator builds technology around connectivist and constructivist theories, I also realize much of what I do for my students is based on privileged assumptions.   Reich's book is such a thought-provoking exercise.  Would you have another title you'd recommend here?

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Racial Capitalism and the Inequity of Merit

Sylvia Vong’s Not a token! A discussion on racial capitalism and its impact on academic librarians and libraries is such an important piece in the LIS and CRT literature. This piece hits home for me what is racial capitalism: the commodification of the performance of one’s racialized identity in specific settings identified by the dominant group. Many years ago, I remember attending an interview when a candidate named dropped a bunch of EDI initiatives, including my name, during an interview. Not only was it the first time I came across pure strategic performativity at an interview, but it also helped me understand now that I have the tools, to see it for what it was:
Racial capitalism places value on racialized librarians or staff members’ cultural knowledge when there is some capitalistic benefit (e.g. appearing multicultural).
Vong’s piece is important as it lays out the truth with salient categories:
  • Fractured identities - The alienation of racial identity in the sense that identity may be bought and sold like in a marketplace.  Racialized persons can never be themselves in the workplace simply due to the schizophrenic identities they need to assume.  
  • Racialized tasks - This is the work minorities do that is associated with their position in the organizational hierarchy and reinforces Whites’ position of power within the workplace.  The UL's assistant once came to me asking to translate a passage into Chinese.  While I didn't say I couldn't do it (I refused in the end), it was a reminder that regardless of my position or my CV, I'd forever be the other librarian.
  • Identity Performance demands - The identity performances of racialized people that stem from pressures to perform their non-whiteness and to perform it in a way palatable to the white majority. I’ve seen so many racialized colleagues anxious and nervous to change the way they behave or whom they associate within group settings (sometimes even avoiding sitting with other racialized colleagues) as a way to fit in and “feel” included.
  • Consuming trauma stories - This happens when the majority revels in listening (sometimes with empathy) to the difficult experiences of their racialized colleagues. This group consumption of racial trauma stories, unfortunately, results in further damage on racialized staff who must re-visit traumatic experiences in the presence of those who may have perpetrated acts of racism and discrimination. I have a close friend/colleague who loves sharing racist incidents in the news but bless their heart, have no idea how meaningless and hollow it truly is.
  • Cultural performance demands - Outreach programming and events aimed at racialized groups for holidays or educating the larger community through awareness campaigns are often delegated or assigned to racialized librarians, adding more work and pressures to perform identity work. When racialized librarians are asked to perform identity work, they are tasked with cultural education or anti-racism and EDI.
  • Cultural Taxation – The added time and workload of taking on anti-racism and EDI work are typically not financially compensated, meaning that most racialized people take on research, practice, and/or service along with EDI and anti-racism responsibilities in institutions where there are few racialized staff. They are added to various committees, positions, and expected to mentor in addition to meeting the goals and objectives in their annual work plans, all without acknowledgment of the extra work. What a deal!
  • “Conditional hospitality” - It’s the invisible workload that racialized people are expected to do, to give something back in return, on condition of being welcomed to the group. A lot of extra time and emotional labour goes into performing identity work, which adds to workloads that are typically uncompensated and expected from racialized library employees with the assumption that they are all willing and able to work on EDI and anti-racism initiatives and committees. We often hear the phrase by racialized pioneers, “I knew I had to work twice as hard to succeed.” That’s what we mean by being conditional.
  • Pay inequity - Racial minorities are particularly vulnerable to broad fluctuations in market conditions, whether it’s the economy or the workplace. When there’s someone who is let go or comes second in a hiring decision, it’s often the racialized person. A disturbing study found that visible minority librarians in Canada earn substantially less than their non-visible counterparts.
Damn the Meritocratic System?

It’s dangerous to assume neutrality in society, which is reflected in the workplace. In promotion and tenure/permanent status evaluations, procedures and policies may appear impartial, but decisions are often made by small groups of library administrators or elected colleagues. These evaluative processes are prime for bias and, although it can be argued that rubrics of evaluation help to restrict hidden prejudice, “they are typically constructed and draw on institutional and organizational goals and objectives that mould librarians into the image or vision of the organization.”

Vong offers words of encouragement as a way out: we need to introduce CRT in leadership and training as well as properly fund EDI work. This needs continued emphasis from leadership in organizations. Whether it’s a 400-person library or a three-person hospital library, change and inclusion require work that goes beyond tweaking tokenistic gestures.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

The Homophiliasm of Hiring - Are You The Right Fit?

I recently came across a terrific book by Mathew Syed, Rebel Ideas, which suggests that individual intelligence is not enough to tackle really important problems. Rather, cognitive diversity and collective intelligence always win out. Syed draws from the literal intelligence breakdown that happened among agencies during the 9/11 attacks by exploring the diversity of the CIA:

startling high proportion of staff at the CIA had grown up in middle-class families, enduring little financial hardship, or alienation, or extremism, witnessed few of the signs that act as precursors to radicalization, or had any multitude of other experiences that might have added formative insights to the intelligence process. . . As a group, however, they were flawed. Their frames of reference overlapped. This is not a criticism of white, Protestant, male Americans. It is an argument that white, Protestant, male American analysts – and everyone else – are left down if they are placed in a team lacking diversity.

Hiring more diverse candidates doesn’t equate to cognitive diversity. Building collective intelligence cannot be a box-ticking exercise, or else, diversity basically turns into dominant assumptions of the group, and the leadership teams look diverse but continue to share nearly identical views, insights, and patterns of thinking. Successful teams are intentionally diverse, not arbitrarily. Diversity contributes to collective intelligence only when it is relevant – in other words, hiring without empowering doesn’t work.

Homophily is a term that is so apt in these situations. It’s the principle that contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people. But because homophily means that cultural, behavioral, genetic, or material information that flows through networks will tend to be localized as well, this is often reshaped intentionally (or unintentionally) in the workplace.

Looking back at my own experience, I'm used to hearing the word “fit” in hiring committees. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s a euphemism for how candidates were “ranked” based on similarities to the rest of the staff. According to Syed, the Higher Paid Person’s Opinion (HIPPOs) is the deciding factor to final hiring decisions (or any decisions for that matter), and that’s dangerous. The trickle-down effect results in groupthink: there’s no incentive to have a diversity of perspectives; after all, it never pays to speak out.

But if we return to the CIA case study, the story ends on a more comforting note. The CIA realized it had diversity blindspots, and hired one of its first African American Muslims, Yaya Fanusie, who made an immediate impact as a counter-terrorism expert, and helped foil a terrorist attack before it happened. History would never record this as the incident never occurred.

Having a diversity of people and ideas – rebel ideas – is critical for strong organizations. Libraries don’t tend to look hard at their “diversity problem” (or perhaps to them, diversity is the problem), Sometimes, the larger libraries ask why they are mediocre and decide to hire a revolving door of external consultants to task them to find out. But if we look hard at homophily as a problem in itself, hey, that would be a good start, don’t you think?

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.