Casual observation is an inadequate method to determine the degree of inclusivity within an academic unit because it does not take into account implicit bias, the perspectives of others, or the wealth of data that could indicate room for improvement. On the surface, an academic unit may look inclusive—there may be visible diversity among the faculty—but diversity is not synonymous with inclusivity. Faculty members may seem collegial, but how do faculty from underrepresented groups feel about the climate? Policies and practices may seem fair and unbiased, but are they?
In an interview with Academic Leader, Paulette Granberry Russell, senior advisor to the president for diversity and the director of the Office for Inclusion & Intercultural Initiatives, and Patricia Lowrie, senior consultant, Office of the Provost and senior advisor to the dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, both of Michigan State University, offered their expertise on how leaders can foster an inclusive environment through self-reflection, analysis of data, and ongoing environmental scans.
It’s important to be aware that policies and practices recognize the differences among the faculty. “Increasingly, the research is demonstrating that bias affects how we evaluate faculty, how we hire, how we evaluate performance, who gets promoted, and who gets tenure. It impacts the everyday work experiences of individuals. Educating our workforce and leadership on bias and the role it plays in everyday function is important,” Granberry Russell said.
Understanding yourself through self-reflection is an important part of promoting inclusivity. Self-reflection enables people to learn about their own biases and how those biases affect their interactions with others, often in unconscious ways, for example, through microaggressions—subtle, often unspoken, unconscious behaviors that communicate dispositions, attitudes, and biases.
“Folks don’t know what they don’t know, and generally there’s an aha moment when we’re able to get people to discover things about themselves that they really have not ever thought about,” Lowrie said. “We are not generally with folks long enough to do anything but start to pique their understanding and awareness of how they may contribute to an environment that may support microaggressions rather than defuse them. It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s not a destination. It takes time for people to undo some of the thinking that is certainly part of their embedded history. And this is not laying guilt. This is how to recognize the lens through which you operate.”
One instrument that can help people understand their implicit biases is the “Implicit Association Test” (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/). “Taking the Implicit Association Test allows you to really get a sense of the ways in which your own biases impact your actions,” Granberry Russell said.
To get the most from any self-reflection exercise, Lowrie recommends working with a facilitator. “This has to be interpreted. Just to have the boxes checked is not sufficient. There has to be a way to translate that data into some sort of action and personal understanding.”
Doing self-reflection also entails understanding the power and privileges as they relate to one’s multiple identities. “For those of us who are part of an oppressed population, it’s difficult to hold both privilege and oppression in the same space at the same time. For me, I identify as Christian, being straight, someone who is able. I’m constantly examining my privileges and how they manifest themselves in those three areas. And then I must ask, In what ways am I contributing to the oppression of others? As an inclusive leader I can’t just let that happen without me checking it,” Lowrie said.
When conducting workshops Lowrie and Granberry Russell encourage participants to examine their own multiple identities and how those identities can be associated with privilege or oppression. In recognizing privileges associated with race, it’s important to note that this is not calling someone a racist, but rather it is a statement of fact. “It’s important as you’re developing your toolkit for inclusive leadership that you learn how to use the privileges that you have effectively, as opposed to wanting to deny them or disassociate yourself from them,” Lowrie said.
Granberry Russell notes that while there are many instruments available to assess work environments, such as surveys, don’t overlook the data that is already being collected. “Through the everyday work that goes on in our institutions, we’re gathering data all the time. We may not necessarily think about it in the context of how we assess climate, but, for example, most of us who are federal contractors are expected to collect workforce data that allows us to sort out our hiring trends—who’s being hired? Who’s not being hired? Where are they being hired? Where are they not being hired? Take the existing data that you have, and begin to use it with a purpose.”
For example, faculty compensation is one area in which data is readily available. If there is a perception of gender pay inequity, human resources or institutional research can provide data that can address the issue.
As for getting at faculty perceptions of climate, there are existing instruments or instruments that can be developed to better understand the faculty’s lived experience. For example, instruments can be used to measure how well faculty members from different groups understand work processes and how that correlates with their career advancement. A survey instrument could measure how different faculty members experience the mentoring process, which could be used to improve mentoring should there be a group of faculty who don’t have a positive mentoring experience, perhaps by providing professional development for mentors on mentoring across difference.
Get the word out about resources
Many institutions have resources that address diversity issues and work-life balance, but sometimes faculty are unaware of what’s available.
“We don’t do a good job of bringing all those resources together in a comprehensive way that people can easily access. We don’t promote them perhaps as well as we can. As a result folks operate in isolation from all these wonderful resources. That was one of the things we discovered as a result of some of the assessment we did,” Granberry Russell said. “We have a diverse work environment, and people are working particularly hard, but the question might be how do we make the community resources for our diverse community more readily known and available, particularly as a recruiting tool?”
Conduct environmental scans
Promoting inclusivity requires constant monitoring. “Sometimes it’s just taking a look, opening your eyes to what’s in front of you,” Granberry Russell said. “If you’re sitting at a table and all you have are men or all you have are women, that says something. If what’s in front of you is a fairly diverse student body or faculty, the question is, How is all of this working? Are people engaged with one another? Are we achieving all the outcomes we’ve established for ourselves? Are all of our students succeeding at the same rate? We know that they’re not. And then we begin to dig into what we need to critically examine what it is about our practices, our policies, our structures that are impeding student success. Are there things over which we have control? If I look at my work environment, who stays and who leaves? If I see that women are disproportionately leaving before achieving tenure or shortly after getting tenure, we’re not getting a good return on our investment. Why? Are there things within the environment that are impacting that? That’s what inclusive leaders do—conduct environmental scans daily, relying on the resources they have, looking at the data daily.”