Thursday, June 2, 2016

Conference on diversity in academia (part 1)

I am happy that HiOA organizes a conference on "mangfoldsledelse i akademia". This is a very important topic to succeed as a university, and in particular it is important not to have a too narrow idea of "diversity" and also not to reduce diversity to counting. Of course, the topic is also important to the HiOA board. (Sadly, I missed the first few minutes of the conference because of other obligations.) As usual, the notes below are my on-the-spot interpretation of the speakers' points, and does not necessarily reflect what they tried to convey.

(Just for fun, I had a look at the list of participants. Of 128 names, 24 are male-looking. That's less than one fifth. It's harder to count the number of white or the number of straight people by looking at the list, by the way...)

The first talk, after the rector's introduction, was Ronald Craig from LDO. He talked about the importance of "critical mass" - how prejudice evaporates as a previously underrepresented group reaches "critical mass".

Most important components to get progress:
  • What are the specific barriers to equality (look for risks, not actual instances of discrimination)
  • A demonstrated top management commitment
  • Management accountability
  • The setting of numerical goals and timetables
(In a break, I was asked by someone if there was any other area where these same four points do not apply. I'm not sure.) Diversity training does not show effect in research, having mentor programmes or a diversity taskforce does show an effect. (Kalev & Dobbin)

Next up was Mary Ann Danowitz, professor and dean at NC State University in the USA. She started by saying that academic institutions are different than companies, and we have to be careful about drawing on experiences from companies. She reiterated the well-known reasons for focusing on diversity management (in the sense of non-discrimination), most importantly (perhaps) that the whole idea of the academic life is that ideas should be judged on their merits, not on the basis of a persons' gender etc.

She mentioned important mechanisms that creates differences, such that women marrying and having children is correlated with not being tenured, and that women tend to become more isolated and have to work harder to be respected in the field.

She enumerated four dimensions of diversity management (DM): valuing diversity, strategically strives, initiatives and structures, focus on added value. There is a lack of comprehensive work where all these dimensions are included.

To hire and retain a diverse academic staff, several ideas are good: communicate a commitment to diversity and equality, broaden the professional networks of faculties, reconsider the role of diversity in lists of qualifications, consider dual career opportunities (that is; jobs for both partners in a marriage/partnership), consider demands on and possibilities for developing Norwegian language skills.

Curt Rice asked how to change the whole institution, including the academic staff. Danowitz answered that what the academic staff is primarily interested in, is research and their courses. They need to see added value for their research and courses.

After a break, Julien Bourelle from NTNU talked on "An international perspective on Norwegian academia". He had an entertaining talk on cultural differences. For instance: the Norwegian concept of politeness stresses not disturbing others, while in many other cultures, this (not saying "Hi" to everybody all the time) can be interpreted as being impolite. Social bubbles are important - in Norway, it is difficult to get invited to anything unless you take part in activities (sports, chess, ...) People from other cultures are more used to direct feedback/praise. Norwegians also enjoy huge personal space. If people move away from you at a bus stop, it is easy to believe that it is because of skin color, while it may in reality be just because there is more space somewhere else.

It is important to see the world not only through our own lense, but also through the lense of other people's cultures. We need to see how other people see the world, and that is easier when we are diverse ourselves.

Julien is behind the Facebook site "I fucking love Norway" and wrote "The SocialGuidebook to Norway".

That concluded the pre-lunch part of the day. The rest of the day was supposed to be in Norwegian, and then it's easier for me to comment on that in Norwegian (in my Norwegian-language blog).