The Hub Opinion: Authentic respect in academia

Opinion: Authentic respect in academia

By: Bailey Sousa and Dr. Alex Clark

Athabasca University’s Dr. Alex Clark and Bailey Sousz on how to address microaggressions and discrimination

Ever felt truly unseen in a meeting? Passed over or patronized by passing comments? Frustrated that others are blind to your skills, rock-solid experience, or stellar potential contributions? If you’re a woman, BIPOC, LQBTQq2+, or viewed as disabled, these experiences probably happen often. And of course, we shouldn’t forget the compounding effects of intersectionality.

If you’re a white male in academia, you may struggle to even see these patterns around you each day or realize how you contribute to them via your action or inaction. Positionality and privilege binds and blinds.

Indeed, despite claims to be inclusive and collaborative – microaggressions and discrimination are rife across all types of workplaces, including academia. These are not mere occurrences, but reflect and contribute to deep inequities and consolidate existing power structures. Hampering diversity, these stop our universities from being as successful as they could be. This is why practicing authentic respect is so important.

Authentic respect is about courageous inclusivity. As Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor recently shared:

“Radical Respect describes the culture in workplaces that honor everyone’s individuality, rather than demanding conformity; and that optimize for collaboration, not coercion.”

Authentic respect arises from this basis, not from following procedures or policy as writer Karissa Thaker also reminds us in her book, The Art of Authenticity:

“…Being an authentic leader is not about just making the right ethical decision…It is primarily about doing the work every day to bring your best self forward into the world…It is a daily decision.”

To show up with authentic respect is to be fully yourself – not because of policies or procedures, but because it is part of who you are. A deep commitment that unites ethics and self. Dr. Thaker reminds us that this is a process of “self-invention, creation, and ongoing self-shaping.” It entails not letting go of your filters of communication, psychologist Susan David explains in Emotional Agility, but rather integrating emotion, information, and values into your communication and behaviour to be your best self.

Authentic respect is built from your values, as well as learnable behaviours and skills. Here we share what experts suggest you can do to help embed it into your life.

1. “Call out” or “call in” bad behaviour

In some cases, where blatant discrimination, aggression, or disrespect is observed, even if not intended as malicious, “calling it out” is right. Calling out is a way to interrupt the behaviour and publicly warn individuals. However, this approach can also have public ramifications and may not bring about behaviour change.

Alternatively, “calling in” recognizes that people make mistakes, and gives the opportunity for others to modify their behaviour through compassion and patience. As Natalie Schraner Hayes describes the practice:

“Calling in is not a platform to launch into a lecture…not shaming and it’s not getting people stuck in their guilt [Through a private conversation] “calling in can be a powerful tool to address those mistakes, and create space for change and positive impact.”

2. Stay curious

As a key part of “calling in”, be careful to judge what is influencing others’ conduct. Instead of assuming that comment from your colleague in a meeting was patronizing to you because you are a woman, get curious. Kim Hyshka from Dialogue Partners is an expert at the opening and facilitating important and also difficult conversations. In this situation, she suggests:

“I’d like to pause for a moment and make sure we are working from the same assumptions and information. When I heard you say _____: it didn’t land well for me. Could you elaborate more on what you mean and where you’re thinking it’s coming from? Or would you like me to elaborate more?”

You may find that in fact your colleague does not regard you as an equal due to your gender, role status, or otherwise, but importantly you will be able to understand more of their frame or motivation, and learn more about each other to move forward.

3. Use role positioning for good

If you’re in position of privilege, especially as a leader in a senior role, reflect on how you can support colleagues. For example, to call in or call out behaviour is challenging for those who don’t feel secure in their roles, or are more junior. Those with better positioning should take on this responsibility and have open conversations with colleagues about what support is needed. Those who are minoritized for a variety of reasons may benefit from a champion or advocate in the workplace who will help not only to open doors, but also to highlight their accomplishments, abilities, and experience to those who intentionally or unintentionally, may not readily recognize it.

Whichever strategy you choose, remember: the seeds of authentic respect are sowed in your own values and conduct, not your university’s policies or procedures. How will you show up with authentic respect for your colleagues the next time you see them?

This article originally appeared in University Affairs. Read the original article on their website.

Dr. Alex Clark is president of Athabasca University. Bailey Sousa is associate vice-president of quality, planning, and assessment.

  • August 3, 2023
Guest Blog from:
Bailey Sousa and Dr. Alex Clark