food for thought: failing at diversity

This week’s round up includes many links that explore the limits of diversity rhetoric as we struggle to translate theory into action.

Amanda Hess @ Slate shares findings from a new study out of the University of Colorado-Boulder that suggest people of color and women (presumably women of color and white women) are penalized for hiring and promoting others like them — i.e. improving diversity — while white male employees are praised for the same activities:

White male managers who promote women and people of color aren’t penalized for valuing diversity. Perhaps that’s because, when a white man recruits a diverse group of people to work beneath him, he’s improving the company’s optics without disrupting the composition of its upper rungs. But when a woman or person of color does it, she’s threatening the system. As the authors put it: “Minority and women leaders’ engagement in diversity-valuing behavior may be viewed as selfishly advancing the social standing of their own low-status demographic groups.”

This is why “token” female and minority managers are particularly valuable to their companies—they allow executives to point to their commitment to promoting women and people of color (or rather, a woman and a person of color) without actually fostering widespread diversity in the ranks. Women and people of color who succeed in being seen as warm or competent (by disavowing a commitment to diversity) are then coded by their companies as what the researchers call “social outsiders” from their gender and race. Most of the bosses included in the study were white men (no duh), but female and minority bosses surveyed rated their diversity-minded colleagues similarly—perhaps because reinforcing the status quo is a requirement for cracking the glass ceiling.

In a piece that should be read in tandem with the above, Sarah @ The Evolving Ultrasaurus offers some suggestions for recruiting and retaining diverse talent in your workplace. Her suggestions are geared to the tech industry, but are broadly applicable as food for thought in most professions:

Make sure the women and people of color on your team already are happy. See if you can find out if is any aspect of your current workplace or team that might create a hostile or unproductive workplace for any team member. Fix that without making it the responsibility of minority folks. If your team is bigger than 2-3 people and you don’t have any women or people of color, be aware that you may have teammates who would alienate the person you are trying to recruit. Develop stated values. Publish a code of conduct. Create ways you can put yourselves in a diverse crowd with customers or community events, and talk to your team about how to be open and respectful to people who are different than they are.

And closer to home, professionally-speaking, Nicole Pagowsky @ The Pumped Librarian suggests that part of promoting diversity in a workplace is putting your money where your mouth is — i.e. supporting risk-taking and innovation, even when it’s uncomfortable for the status quo:

I think explicitly stating in the job ad that not only is the library committed to seeking out and hiring diversity, but also that the library is committed to retaining diverse talent by supporting (or even advocating) the risks these individuals may take would make an impact. Will the library step up if these new hires engage in potentially controversial research? Will the library encourage new hires to take risks and integrate critical pedagogy into library instruction (for example)? Will the library overall agree that these sorts of activities are positive things that will improve campus, student learning, and the field as a whole?

Sometimes, promoting a diversity of thought and action creates change that sparks conflict within a workplace. Nate Kreuter @ Inside Higher Ed offered some advice on how to deal with conflict in academe — advice applicable in many of the cultural institutions in which we work as librarians, archivists, and other knowledge professionals:

With my admittedly limited and anecdotal experiences, I am increasingly convinced that an important quality for leadership, and perhaps even simply citizenship within our universities, is developing the skill of recognizing which conflicts to avoid and starve of their energy, and which conflicts to confront directly and resolve, however painfully, before they grow. Some of the conflicts that we neglect to resolve have the potential to become cancerous, growing silently, perhaps even initially unnoticed, but with potentially devastating manifestations.

Of course, at times we struggle and fail to live up to our goals. Miss Ingrid @ Magpie Librarian offers up her preliminary results from the survey on violations of ALA’s code of conduct:

Bar chart showing responses to the survey question

Bar chart showing responses to the survey question “If you have experienced or witnessed harassment or intimidation, what was it based on? Check all that apply.” From Magpie Librarian (click on image to go to post).

And in what I’m sure was a cathartic post for many, dexdigi @ Medium wrote a response to Steve Friess whose recent article in Time attempted to tone-police black women in classic white savior fashion:

I noticed that throughout your article, you only talk about black women as recipients of either white discrimination or white benevolence. You never once mentioned your personal connection with black women as people — only as entertainers or decoration at a festival. As fascinating objects to be consumed.

I also wonder why it is that you aren’t reaching out to Native Americans, or Arab Americans. (You say that you are Jewish, so I assume you make that connection personally.) Is it perhaps because they have not been commodified into a globally popular entertainment like blacks have?

As a white gay person I’ll confirm the rhetorical question dexdigi asks in the lede: Nope, I’m not too fond of Professor Friess’ paternalism myself.

This has been another installment of “food for thought,” a weekly link round-up posted each Wednesday here at the Amiable Archivists Salon. If you have links to share, you can email, Tweet, or comment here; we’ll include them in next week’s round-up.

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