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How University Leaders Can Really Address Discrimination

Leaders who are serious about promoting diversity and equality in their organizations must commit more than just words to their cause, argues one author and professor of psychology.

Tony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, creator of Project Implicit and author of Blindspot, will share what work is needed to understand and address implicit bias with university leaders at the 2017 Summit for Leaders in Advancement.

Greenwald's work has centered on implicit bias and unintentional discrimination since the 1990s when he created the concept and developed the Implicit Association Test. Greenwald has been developing this research while presenting and writing about the subject for almost 20 years.

Unintended discrimination and implicit bias touch nearly all organizations, workforces, government systems and academia, underscoring the need to understand the impact bias can have on an individual's life, Greenwald says.

"Almost every university has underrepresented minorities and even overrepresented minorities," says Greenwald. "For example, if you look at promotions, it's well known that with every large organization, there's attrition of women between entry-level positions and senior leadership."

While many educational institutions have initiatives in place to promote diversity in their workforce and student body, leaders still face challenges in making considerable changes to their populations.

"One of the difficulties is the problem with the pipeline. How do we recruit individuals without falling short?" Greenwald muses. "[Some universities] are making admissions decisions based on merit and no student is turned down because of an inability to afford tuition. That's a big step but it's expensive."

But there are many organizations that can't afford to offer numerous scholarships to underrepresented minorities.

"These institutions can study diversity within their own institutions," says Greenwald. "Many of them are not looking inward and examining their own data and where their operations are lacking. Institutions have the data that will tell them if they are operating within an equitable equal opportunity form."

Even if institutions start taking big steps to focus on unintended discrimination on campus, Greenwald stresses that institutions understand that they cannot remove these biases.

"Many assume that if we understand implicit bias, now that we recognize it, we can address it [and] we can solve the problem," says Greenwald. "But the important thing about the science is that there is no evidence that any training or any program will eliminate it. Those steps [would be] to prevent them from operation."

"Universities should not be content because their leaders say they want to promote diversity, but that they actually do it," he says. "Good intentions are not enough and by themselves achieve nothing."

Learn more about implicit bias at the Summit for Leaders in Advancement, which takes place July 16-18, 2017, in San Francisco. Early bird registration ends June 2.

This article is from the May 2017 BriefCASE issue of BriefCASE.