Susan Sturm, “Advancing Workplace Equity in Higher Education”

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Susan Sturm’s writings are some of the most interesting analyses of discrimination around; a favorite of mine is her 2001 article, Second Generation Employment Discrimination.   Her newest piece just got posted on SSRN: The Architecture of Inclusion: Advancing Workplace Equity in Higher Education, Harvard Journal of Law & Gender (formerly Harvard Women’s Law Journal) 2006.    I have a particular interest in this subject matter because it coincides with some of my own recent articles on why occupational gender segregation is lasting so long in various fields (including certain sectors of academia) and why courts are granting too much deference to academic employers in discrimination cases.   But I’m betting that this Sturm article will be of especially wide interest because (1) it’s our field (academia) she’s discussing, and (2) it marries the theoretical and the practical (e.g., discussing tangible steps universities can undertake to improve matters) in a way that expands the article’s relevant audience (e.g., deans and university diversity committees could benefit from it).   Here’s the abstract:

This Article develops a paradigm for advancing workplace equality when the problems causing racial and gender under-participation are structural, and the legal environment surrounding diversity initiatives is uncertain. It first analyzes three key dilemmas that have limited the efficacy of prior diversity initiatives: limited capacity to institutionalize change, a legal minefield, and ineffective public accountability. It then offers three related ideas in service of advancing workplace equity through institutional transformation. Although its focus is on higher education, the Article develops an approach with more general applicability. First, it develops the norm of institutional citizenship as a justification and goal for diversity initiatives: creating the conditions enabling people of all races and genders to realize their potential and participate fully in institutional life. The goal of full institutional citizenship entails identifying and removing institutional barriers that arbitrarily thwart the participation of women, people of color, and other excluded groups. In addition, universities are themselves institutional citizens of a broader polity, occupying a crucial location where public citizenship is expressed and playing a central role in advancing important social values and achieving institutional legitimacy.

Second, the Article identifies a pivotal institutional role, called an “organizational catalysts,” as a mechanism of change toward institutional citizenship. Organizational catalysts operate at the convergence of different domains and levels of activity. Their role involves connecting and leveraging knowledge, ongoing strategic relationships and collaborations, and forms of accountability across systems. Organizational catalysts act as information entrepreneurs and bridge builders: people with knowledge, influence, and credibility in positions to influence practice at pivotal locations where gender and racial biases operate. The need for organizational catalysts stems from the institutional underpinnings of persistent bias. Disparities are the result of cumulative disadvantage in everyday interactions operating across the spectrum of institutional life. Full participation in the workplace requires a process of institutional attentiveness across the spectrum of decisions that ultimately determine whether women and men of all races will have the opportunity to thrive, succeed, and advance. This institutional attentiveness can be developed by building the organizational catalyst role into the architecture of a change initiative.

Finally, the Article illustrates the role of institutional intermediaries in sustaining and providing accountability for this institutional change process. Institutional intermediaries are public or quasi-public organizations that leverage their position within preexisting communities of practice to foster change and provide meaningful accountability. Instead of relying on the direct threat of judicial sanctions, institutional intermediaries use their ongoing capacity-building role within a particular occupational sector to build knowledge (through establishing common metrics, information pooling, and networking), introduce incentives (such as competition, institutional improvement, and potential impact on funding), and provide accountability (including grass roots participation and self-, peer- and external evaluation).

The Article’s springboard for developing this new paradigm is a case study of an innovative public initiative designed to increase the participation of women in academic science. The case study features the interrelationships of three key stakeholders. The National Science Foundation is the central public intermediary in this case study. Through a program called ADVANCE, it uses its granting power to foster the development of linked communities of practice among universities that are experimenting with ways to advance women in academic science through institutional transformation. The University of Michigan provides the context for analyzing the mechanisms fostering institutional inclusiveness. Through its ADVANCE grant, UM has developed a series of initiatives that remove barriers to participation at key decision points (both individual and institutional) in order to increase women’s inclusion and advancement as faculty. Finally, lawyers and other compliance actors are facilitating the implementation of programs that operate within the parameters set forth in Grutter and Gratz by redefining their role as more “constitutional”: helping universities establish processes and governance systems that are accountable and principled in the way they pursue inclusiveness. These roles for law and lawyers avoid some of the pitfalls constraining law’s effectiveness under more traditional anti-discrimination and affirmative action approaches.

– Scott Moss

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