Last Updated on July 9, 2022, 9:43 am ET
About the ARL Views Podcast
The ARL Views podcast provides deep dives into key issues of interest to the research library community.
About This Episode
Welcome to Fall Forum Extra, a podcast feature following the 2021 ARL Fall Forum hosted by K. Matthew Dames, Edward H. Arnold University Librarian at the University of Notre Dame and the 61st president of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).
The Fall Forum is an annual event sponsored by ARL. Held in October, the Fall Forum provides a moment for the research community to assemble, exchange ideas on an issue of importance and interest, and serve as a catalyst for collective action.
This podcast’s special guest is Alexia Hudson-Ward, who led a 2021 Fall Forum session entitled “Creating an Equitable Workplace.” Given the complexity of the topic and Hudson-Ward’s expertise, we wanted to discuss this issue more thoroughly beyond the conference session. This Fall Forum Extra episode is the follow-up to that October 2021 session.
Alexia Hudson-Ward is the associate director for research and learning at the MIT Libraries in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In her role at MIT, Hudson-Ward leads the libraries’ community-facing service portfolio and its full range of services that support research and learning.
This podcast was recorded in December 2021.
K. Matthew Dames (00:00):
Welcome to Fall Forum Extra, a podcast feature following the 2021 ARL Fall Forum. I am K. Matthew Dames, Edward H. Arnold University Librarian at the University of Notre Dame, and the 61st president of the Association of Research Libraries.
K. Matthew Dames (00:28):
I hosted the 2021 ARL Fall Forum. And I am the host for this podcast. The Fall Forum is an annual event sponsored by ARL. Held in October, the Fall Forum, provides a moment for the research community to assemble, exchange ideas on an issue of importance, and interest and serve as a catalyst for collective action. One of the 2021 Fall Forum’s sessions was entitled, “Creating an Equitable Workplace.”
K. Matthew Dames (00:57):
Alexia Hudson-Ward led that session and is this podcast’s special guest. Given the complexity of the topic and Alexia’s expertise, we wanted to discuss this issue more thoroughly beyond the conference session. This Fall Forum Extra podcast episode is the follow up to that October Conference Session.
K. Matthew Dames (01:18):
Alexia Hudson-Ward, is the associate director for research and learning at the MIT Libraries in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In her role, Hudson-Ward leads the library’s Community Facing Service Portfolio, and its full range of services that support research and learning. This session was recorded in December, 2021.
K. Matthew Dames (01:42):
Good morning, Alexia. How are you?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (01:43):
I’m doing well. How are you doing Matthew?
K. Matthew Dames (01:46):
I’m quite well. The first question I wanted to ask, and this is actually a sincere question for me is, how did you get into this work and how did you get into this space? You’ve had a very, very diverse career. You’ve done corporate, you’ve done higher education. How did you get in to working in this space generally?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (02:10):
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. And it’s a delightful one to reflect upon as I think of my career. And I’ll be honest with you turning 50 really put me into this incredible reflective space as well. So thank you for that really lovely question.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (02:27):
It’s interesting. In many of the positions that I’ve been in Matthew, I’ve been the only person of color. When I was in industry, I was often the only woman, believe it or not in the room. And in many ways I became the default, go-to, when it came to matters of diversity equity inclusion, accessibility. And I resisted it quite frankly for a long time, excuse me.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (02:56):
I wanted to be a person to be considered on merit kind of all of those pieces. I’m just like you and so on and so forth. But it really took a mentor saying to me, “That’s the power that you bring into the room. And you don’t want to dismiss that or deflate it. Or in any way diminish it. That’s the power you bring into the room.” And so I still hear that beloved mentor, although they passed several years ago, just constantly saying that to me. Is that our diversity, the richness of the complexity of who we are, is the power that we bring into the room.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (03:32):
So I actually started to do some really intentional work around it. I was fortunate to have had some training by the Legendary Roosevelt Thomas Group, when I worked, pardon me, at the Coca-Cola Company. And it was there that I had just these incredible light-bulb moments, that I needed to do more than just simply my role. That I really needed to look at transforming workplaces.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (04:01):
And so I did just a lot of intentional study. And I’ll also be honest too, and I’m sure it could possibly be that some of these people are listening, or will be listening to this podcast. But I’m just going to keep it real. Also being subjected to a lot of bad leadership made me want to try transform workplaces.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (04:22):
And some of that bad leadership, Matthew, was deliberate. There was deliberate acts of racism, ageism, sexism, it runs the gamut. But there were some other people who very much thought that they were doing what they should be doing, or doing great work. And they weren’t. They kind of took the default position of diversity in relation to saying what I often say, which is espousing the noble rhetoric.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (04:51):
They weren’t willing to reach deeply into the organization to help, to be a guiding hand, to transform. And in my mind, that’s bad leadership. Whether we like it or not, it’s emulation is not just enough. We have to do that important inreach. And so just seeing leaders over the years allow their organizations to be decimated by toxic employees, to not address, or speak to the times, and to really not exercise something that you and I have talked about a lot, which is empathetic leadership.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (05:26):
And I think that we’ve branded that as emotional intelligence, sure that could be a part of it. But really almost attempting to live the experience that your team lives. Seeing things through their eyes. So that you can then as a leader, enact certain practices to make the entire space more enriching.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (05:50):
So I know that was a super long answer. But that’s really what brought me to this work, was a desire to transform workplaces and really for us to scale at a different level.
K. Matthew Dames (06:03):
Quick follow up on that. I wanted to ask how your feelings about this work have evolved. Because part of what I think you have experienced, and you can verify or not. Is an additional burden that comes along with just doing the job and the job description. So almost by default, we’re in a situation where it’s not 1.0 FTE, it’s 1.5 FTE, because of this additional work. Sometimes it’s compensated many times it’s not.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (06:41):
It’s not, right.
K. Matthew Dames (06:44):
As you accepted your mentor’s teachings, about this being your power. How has your feeling about having this power, and leaning into it? How have you felt from this being a burden to now being a power and you just saying, “Okay, this is what I’m here to do. Let me go do this.”
Alexia Hudson-Ward (07:15):
Yeah, thank you. Also, another really great question, Matthew. I want to say that my philosophy, and subsequently my practice has evolved almost kind of similar to how the practice has evolved with all of us across various sectors. And so I was initially very much in the field, and in the space around compliance. You got to do it. It’s the law.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (07:41):
And so when I would work in these different spaces, whether I was employed there, or whether I was a consultant, I was like, “You just got to do it.” It’s just not negotiable. And as I have transformed my thinking, and transformed my approaches, my approaches have been far more instructive. And far more kind of guiding people through the research. And guiding people through the ways in which this is an intentional practice.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (08:14):
It’s the way you show up to work every day. No different than some of the other intentional practices that you may be committed to like working out as an example. You’re not going to gain that strength and muscle memory, if you don’t really lean into it. And there are going to be parts of it that will be exciting. And that you’ll feel thrilled about. And there’ll be parts of it that are really going to hurt.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (08:37):
And so if I were to really try to communicate, or to try to suggest in any way that that’s how my approach has changed, it’s been that. It was very much, “You need to do it, to now, let’s kind of walk through it in an instructive way so that it can become an embedded practice.”
K. Matthew Dames (08:57):
Alexia, what has changed about your work, and your approach to your work in this space, before the murder of George Floyd and after?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (09:09):
Yeah. It’s interesting. I find myself being more busy. And so in the sense that our white colleagues, Matthew, are more interested in, I believe for the first time, probably in decades, and possibly history. They’re more interested in addressing their own anti-racist practices, even if they describe themselves as liberals.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (09:36):
And that’s a transformation that I don’t ever recall seeing. I don’t ever remember a time in the 30 plus years, I’ve been professionally working, that white people are really doing a lot of self examination around the ways in which they have been enabling negative workplace practices, whether it’s bystanders, or as unconscious, or sometimes conscious participants. That’s how it’s changed for me. I think for the people of color, and particularly Black people, George Floyd’s death, gruesome murder was just the long arc of a story that has been happening to us for centuries.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (10:20):
But it was something about the man calling for his mother that seemed to just go into the hearts of white people in ways that these other murders that we could just run a list that would take [inaudible 00:10:34]. That to me, just seemed to be a tipping point for them. It seemed to humanize him. And it seemed to humanize the entire circumstance. But it made them do a lot of self interrogation.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (10:48):
And that as a result has changed my work in engaging with my own leadership team, where I work at an MIT. They’re doing a lot of emotional heavy lifting around work transformation. And it’s tough. And then our colleagues just generally you’re seeing it in the social media threads, you’re seeing it with some of the pieces that they’re writing, and some of the presentations that they’re doing at conferences. That’s different. And that to me has been the most significant pivot points since George Floyd’s death.
K. Matthew Dames (11:24):
And since you’ve worked in the corporate space, although you’ve been in the higher education sector for a while. What’s the difference between either your work, or your approach in the private sector, as opposed to applying these lessons within the higher education sector.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (11:43):
Yeah. Thank you for that question. I would say Matthew, that in corporate America people you got to… So if the leader, if the CEO says this is a priority, if the unit leader says this is a priority, people fall in line. There isn’t a whole lot of question around it. I mean, the negative behaviors in terms of not necessarily implementing certain initiatives continues to be persistent. But it’s not a question in the mind of the organization when the mission castor says, “We need to do this.”
Alexia Hudson-Ward (12:20):
And so you see as a result of that, this enormous spike in chief diversity officers of various roles within multiple corporations across different sectors. People are now out starting to create the through line between showing up, and being an inclusive leader, and demonstrating inclusive excellence, with how we show up as professionals.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (12:44):
So in other words, you’re not considered professional, I think in corporate America, if you participate in certain negative behaviors. I think within the higher education sector, it is our practice, which I enjoy. But then it can also be very, very frustrating. It’s our practice to interrogate everything. And it’s a lot of consensus building. And it’s a lot of disparate concepts around distributed leadership models. It’s a lot of the faculty have to be on board. And understanding those complex nuances in relationship to shared governance.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (13:26):
And I would suggest that that’s one of the main challenges that many of us who have come out of industry into higher education faces. There are lot of people, and places, and spaces, and movement through which a single initiative has to have check off on and signage around, in order to assign off around, in order to be successful. And so it takes higher education longer.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (13:52):
And what’s compelling to me is that the industry looks to higher education for leadership in these topics. Because we have the capacity. We have the intellectual engine. We have the research engine. We have the practitioner engine. When we want to, we can bring powerful alignment around that trifecta. But we’re not doing it as well as we could.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (14:19):
And so industry kind of is looking at us like, “Why can’t you help us dig out of this hole?” And we’re kind of looking [inaudible 00:14:27]. Well, don’t, you all have all the people, and the money, and why [inaudible 00:14:31]. And So-
K. Matthew Dames (14:31):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (14:32):
So those are the differences that I see between the two.
K. Matthew Dames (14:37):
And with respect to the higher education sector, particularly. Do you find that there is a difference between the higher education sector, generally, as opposed to doing it specifically for libraries.
K. Matthew Dames (14:57):
And here, I want to reference your leadership role at Oberlin, where you would have a sense of what upper administration is thinking so on and so forth. And sort of tie that in. Is there something specific to the library space within the higher education sector that presents unique, or original challenges, or opportunities?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (15:22):
Yeah, absolutely, Matthew. There are a couple of elements around this that I’ll talk about in relation to what I would describe as the Cultural Heritage Sub-sector, within higher education. Of which libraries is a part of. And then thinking about that and iterating on it in the context of diversity practices within higher education outside of libraries.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (15:47):
And so our profession remains persistently white. And it’s taken me almost 20 years to really start to delve into my thinking around why that remains to be the case. Some people have suggested through research, and observation that it’s salary. Some people have suggested through observation, and research that there are some other nuances and practices. I would argue that as an older profession, very similar to our colleagues in museums, very similar to our colleagues in archives, special libraries, independent libraries, et cetera. There is what one of my good friends describes as the hidden curriculum of success, within our particular sub-sector in higher education.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (16:40):
And so what appears to be the case, and the research will ultimately bear this out, is that white people are transferring success knowledge to each other. And then subsequently lifting each other up through the ranks. And so we’ve seen this happen within libraries with white women. Let’s think about ARL, as an example. We look at the history of ARL, it was long time guided by white men. Then on or about maybe what, 12 to 15 years, there was this sharp pivot. Where we started to see more white women enter the deanship, the vice provost level, the director level within research libraries.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (17:28):
And to me, it’s kind of like, “Okay, this is very interesting. There’s this new kind of hegemonic activity that’s taking place.” Why is that taking place? And whether it was conscious, or subconscious, it appears that they are transferring success knowledge to each other and not to people of color.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (17:47):
And so, as a result, they’re moving each other up the ranks. They are replicating each other in various dimensions within leadership. And those exclusionary practices have made it very difficult for people of color to decode. Now, there is this focus on diversity work. But your work force doesn’t look like that. And so there’s a huge issue.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (18:15):
The other thing Matthew, is that we in libraries, and I don’t know if it’s personality type. I’m still trying to just figure that out. We tend to take criticism around our practices, and behavior deeply negative, and then we operationalize that negativity. And sometimes the operationalizing of that negativity is in action. And what I’ve had to try to help colleagues understand is that, you not doing something is an action. So you putting a kibosh on it, or the breaks on it, or somebody said something that you didn’t like [inaudible 00:18:57]-
K. Matthew Dames (18:56):
Slow rolling it.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (18:57):
Right. Right. That’s an action. I think we’ve done, and this is going to sound terrible, but I think we’ve done a good job of self marginalization within the academy. A lot of times with few exception, we’re not at that leadership table with the most senior leaders. We tend to believe that they don’t care about libraries. And so we’re not constantly out kind of proverbially beating the street to share our value, and the power again, that we bring to the entire discourse on diversity.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (19:35):
And so, because we’re so deeply self deprecating, when it comes time to initiate core diversity activities within higher education, we’re not looked to. Although we have this incredible repository of knowledge, we most easily can draw multiple pieces of research together, and create research maps around that. And then we have the human capital to do it.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (20:02):
But because we’re kind of like, “Well, people don’t care about the libraries.” And I hear this a lot. Fill in the blank, my president don’t care about the libraries. My provost don’t care about the libraries. Whoever doesn’t care about the libraries. So therefore we’re not invited to these tables. Well, you have to almost be like a politician, and get yourself invited. Because there are a lot of other sub entities, I think about our colleagues in student affairs, as an example.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (20:31):
When you think about a group that was kind of on the periphery, and now has become really the heart, and the centrality of what’s happening in higher education. They’ve done it. We can totally replicate that same model.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (20:45):
And in relation to my past experience at Oberlin, Oberlin is unique Matthew, in the sense that it’s one of our nation’s most storied Liberal Arts Colleges, it has just this powerful history around social justice.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (21:03):
And so I found myself just having to knit the story of the libraries within that social justice framework. And that is something that I think made us successful during the time that I was there. And I say us, because you can’t do it by yourself. And so is an amazing staff. And was willing to take that difficult journey with me. And it was difficult. Because of the times. I was there when President Trump ascended to leadership. And we are in Ohio, which is a stronghold for former President Trump.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (21:40):
And so it was a rough time. And we made this principle decision, in partnership with the leadership, and the board of trustees to change the name of the main library after a Black woman. It was kind of like, “Okay, let’s brace for impact.” And luckily with very little exception, it was very successful. It was a very successful venture. I think that it’s important for the leaders to think of themselves as, “What is my political framework? What is my role today as chief communications officer, chief strategy officer?” All these pieces that the directors, with the support of the AULs that you bring to the organizational framework around DEIA.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (22:38):
Because our universities and colleges are shifting quickly, quickly. It is amazing to me how, as I was speaking about compliance earlier, the chief diversity officer role has transitioned in higher education from a compliance officer. So you remember the time when they were the EEOC Rep.
K. Matthew Dames (22:59):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (22:59):
And so that has now shifted. And now they’re part of the pedagogical scholarly, and workforce development engines of the institution. And we got to get our minds wrapped around that, sooner than later.
K. Matthew Dames (23:17):
So you’re touching on some very interesting topics that I think will be explored, and reported on in a report that Ithaca S+R is doing in combination with ARL, and some other organizations. So I’ll leave that for that point. But I just wanted to get that shameless plug in for the association.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (23:42):
That’s a good plug. That’s a good plug.
K. Matthew Dames (23:44):
So the session that you led at the ARL for Fall Forum 2021, that’s back in October, was entitled, “Creating an Equitable Workplace.” And basically just to recap that, or summarize that, that session explored what an equitable and just workplace looks like, and how we create one that can evolve, and one that we can sustain. What are the takeaways from that session that were most notable for you?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (24:17):
Yeah. I felt like it was a great session. Lot of engagement. And people really sincerely trying to swing at the base of the Oak tree of this really difficult circumstance that we find ourselves in because of COVID. There were several takeaways that I thought were compelling.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (24:38):
One, is that we’re still kind of tussling with this idea, Matthew, of equality versus inequality in relationship to distribution of workflows. We are lucky, I think in the profession to have, excuse me, to have really committed support staff people. These were the folks who were the frontline individuals who kept many of our places running on campus doing all types of document, and materials delivery, and tending to the facility, et cetera. While those of us who were able to do our work remotely successfully were.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (25:23):
And that group has communicated very pronouncedly, that they feel disrespected. That they haven’t felt as if they are receiving the, I don’t want to say accolades. But they’re not receiving the respect, and the honor around keeping us afloat, if you will, or keeping us going you. At the time in which we had this most difficult tragedy in global history.
K. Matthew Dames (25:52):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (25:53):
And so people, I think, came to the forum with that set of folks in their minds and on their hearts. And so how do we reconfigure or how do we reshape, or re envision our work to take group into consideration with recognition that technology is making some things different. With recognition that some of us are beginning to dip our toes into various forms of automation. There’s still the persistent question around the extent to which AI is going to reshape some of the ways, or is already reshaping some of the ways in which we go of about this business called academic libraries.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (26:30):
And so, as I was seeing some of the notes come out of the small sessions, it was really clear to me that folks are trying to really do intentional head, and hard work around making sure that staff at every level feel valued, and feel appreciated. And what does that look like. In the context of the evolution of positions. But also with recognition that there’s core work that still has to be done.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (26:55):
So there’s still work that is monotonous. I mean, I was trying to find a better word for it. But it is. But those workflows are essential to moving forward. Other workflows, they are interdependencies around some of the monotonous aspects of what we do with the more ascended aspects of what we do. And just trying to create that crosswalk. And so those were kind takeaways that I’ve been continuously thinking about post session.
K. Matthew Dames (27:29):
So then as we’re looking at these different types of work, and we’re looking at these crosswalks, as you talk about them, and the interdependencies. How do we advance equitable staffing models within our libraries? Realizing that our classifications work have the potential of creating more dissatisfaction, and consternation amongst staff.
K. Matthew Dames (27:52):
And when we say staff here, we’re respectful that various organizations within the association will have various classifications of staff writ large. So there will be library faculty, there may be non library faculty, there may be paraprofessionals. But we’re using staff sort of writ large here. So how do we advance those equitable staffing models given all of these issues that you mentioned?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (28:20):
So there are a couple ways I think about this, Matthew, I belong to a Black women’s organization. And one of the things that we’ve started to do is something called the Mission Moment. And we’ve started to reflect on this concept of a Mission Moment. Because as you begin to scale and grow, you can kind of teeter further way from the mission, from the vision, from the reason of being. Because there are so many other forces that can come to you, wanting you to reshape, and re envision yourself to fit in a particular model or framework.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (29:02):
And so I feel that it is really an important in time for academic libraries to get back to the Mission Moment. Why do we exist? What is the purpose and the reason for us being here? And particularly those of us who are listening to this podcast, who are at large research enterprises.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (29:25):
I think the Mission Moment aspect is already starting to happen at the presidential, and the provost level. Because again you scale and you become these massive enterprises. But why are we here? And we’re here to serve students. We are here to assist the faculty to advance their research. But without the students, what are we as an organization?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (29:52):
And that’s a controversial point that I’m dancing on. Because we have capacity, the entire higher education sector around the needs of faculty. They are the most essential aspect to the enterprise. Because you can have students, but you need quality educational leadership [inaudible 00:30:19]-
K. Matthew Dames (30:19):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (30:21):
But where do we see ourselves within academic libraries within that nexus? Where do we see ourselves in the context of the Mission Moment? Because it is through talking about the Mission Moment, that then I think can help to guide clarity around specific roles. So that’s the first thing.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (30:39):
The second thing is that it never ceases to amaze me. And I know a lot of what I’m saying is sounding critical. But you encourage you to keep it real. So that’s what I’m striving to do.
K. Matthew Dames (30:51):
No, absolutely. Keep it a full buck.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (30:54):
Thank you for that. It never ceases to amaze me how old job descriptions are in academic libraries. And I mean, places that I’ve helped in different ways. The age of the job descriptions, not the job ads. The descriptions. And how we don’t spend any time or little time, there are very few entities, I think within ARL, and other Academic and Research Libraries. We don’t spend any time looking at them with any intentionality.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (31:39):
So in other words we do annual performance evaluations. But we don’t that moment to then let’s look at your job description and see if your job description aligns [inaudible 00:31:49] the Mission Moment, the vision of how we are advancing, and supporting both sides of the academic enterprise, the pedagogical enterprise and the administrative enterprise.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (31:59):
And just what do you think about your job description? And that’s kind of the gnarly, that’s the administrative monotonous work. The gnarly aspects of what we need to do in order to then continue to have these conversations around equitable staffing models. Because we’re holding people accountable to new work unexpressed. And so that sets into motion a whole… And I’m talking about, at every level of the organization. But I think it-
K. Matthew Dames (32:32):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (32:33):
Specifically is pronounced with individual contributors. So those who don’t supervise people. Because I think that once you move into the supervisory realm, you understand that there’s shades of gradation, there’s going to be different types of work that you have to do. But for instance school contributors-
K. Matthew Dames (32:51):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (32:51):
Who is still the largest percentage of individuals within our organizations, [inaudible 00:32:56]-
K. Matthew Dames (32:55):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (32:56):
Them accountable to work unexpressed.
K. Matthew Dames (32:59):
So let me take that one step further and ask a question here. So you’re talking about sort of this being unfair to the individual contributor. What responsibilities do supervisors have to make sure that these position descriptions are up to date so that there is not all of this work unexpressed and uncredited?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (33:27):
And uncredited. Yes. Thank you for raising that. Because we also hear a lot about invisible labor among people at every level. But most specifically also to a lot of our individual contributors. And talk about how they’re just doing a lot of invisible labor, that’s not being honored. Matthew, I feel like honestly, that is the role of the top leader in the organization.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (33:53):
And this is typical across sectors. I think we put a lot on middle managers unexpressed.
K. Matthew Dames (34:03):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (34:05):
But I think that it has to be the vice provost, the dean, the director that says this is going to be an intentional practice. Because again, within the academy, a lot of times you can’t do those things by yourself. You have to have check off with HR.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (34:19):
If you’re any members of your team are unionized, you may have to go through a negotiation, or a conversation with the collective bargaining units representatives. And so it’s not always as simple as let’s just sit down and do it. You have to look at it as an embedded practice. And I really feel like that is the duty. That is the responsibility of the chief administrative officer of the libraries, whatever title they may occupy to say, “This is important. We’re going to do it for everybody. It’s going to be a part of the annual performance evaluation process. Or we’re going to do it bi-annually or whatever you think should happen.”
Alexia Hudson-Ward (35:00):
And to ask for people’s contributions. So let’s not describe somebody’s job solely by ourselves. Let’s invite conversation in and use those important, and rich points to enrich, and enhance the job description. But I feel like it’s the senior leader that has to set that into motion.
K. Matthew Dames (35:23):
So one of the things that occurs to me when you talk about that, is the possibility that some who are hearing this may say, “Oh, that sounds very corporate.” What’s your response to that?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (35:41):
Well, I mean, look at the endowments that many of our entities sit upon. If we read our bylaws of many of our universities, they describe themselves as corporations. And it’s interesting because not all corporate practices are negative practices. Many of our students who ultimately will become our donors, will more than likely work in the for-profit sector.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (36:07):
And so I think we have to stop looking at practices that come from other sectors as automatically negative. Because I feel like that’s tethered us. Because that’s not the feeling of other sectors. In spite of the narrative, other sectors don’t look at higher education negatively. Higher education to some people tend to iterate on this philosophy of taking on certain corporate practices as a negative practice. But again, we’re talking about radical transformation of a large and complex enterprise. [inaudible 00:36:45] not been successful at it [inaudible 00:36:48].
Alexia Hudson-Ward (36:48):
So who has been able to do this radical transformation has been some of these larger entities from for-profit ventures. Maybe that’s who we should look at. And in fact, I did an article many years ago for one of the ARO… I mean, excuse me, one of the ACRO publication on that topic. If we look at the places that have done radical transformation, [PricewaterhouseCoopers 00:37:14] being one of them. So we’re now to talking about radical transformation within higher education.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (37:21):
But we’ve been talking about radical transformation with diversity for 30 plus years in hiring. So we haven’t made many gains when we statistically look at compositional diversity. When we look at all of the cultural studies within an outside of law libraries, we’ve not done a good job at it. So maybe now we need to think of other practices that other people in other sectors have been successful at implementing.
K. Matthew Dames (37:50):
One of my favorite books is Good to Great by Jim Collins. And Collins talks about this within the prism of just discipline. And that a disciplined organization, or disciplined leadership is not exclusively private sector. It’s not exclusively nonprofit sector. It’s a guiding principle of properly leading a great organization.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (38:20):
K. Matthew Dames (38:21):
And so, therefore, it is what I’ll call non-denominational. It applies across all sectors and organizations.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (38:30):
I absolutely agree with that. It’s interesting too. Because when I think on some of the recent articles, and I say recent is defined as maybe the past four or five years, written by the people that author things for Harvard Business Review, for Sloan’s publication, and for Stanford’s publication, they also kind of pivot management publications. They also pivot kind towards that direction.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (38:56):
Because I would also argue, Matthew. And this is also a controversial point, I think, for a lot of people in higher education to accept. But some good practices come from the military, too. Some excellent practice. One practice that my leadership teams across multiple organizations have experienced that I learned from relatives in the military, and then Harvard Business Review recently did an article on it, was coding email.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (39:28):
So when you think about how much email we get at the AUL and the UL level within our organizations. Are you just sharing it with me? Or do you need action? Or do you need a [inaudible 00:39:43]? And so the military email coding system has worked well for me in terms of being able to respond to my team, is it urgent? What is it?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (39:52):
And so I agree with you that there are trans-sector practices that we need to be looking at and not be dismissive of them. Because they [inaudible 00:40:02] from a particular place.
K. Matthew Dames (40:04):
So let me turn this conversation a little bit, shift it a little bit and talk about this within the context of culture. So the late Peter Drucker, legendary management guru, if you know you know, if you don’t know you should.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (40:21):
K. Matthew Dames (40:23):
He’s the one that’s credited with stating that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Yet, we have a situation where many libraries and our institutions appear to advance strategic initiatives without fully considering organizational culture. As we think about this within the context of libraries, what are some organizational culture elements that we must consider within the context of equitable staffing models?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (40:51):
Yeah. Thank you for that. I am a big fan as you’ve heard me signal in our conversation today. I’m a big fan of deep inreach. And I recognize and respect leaders who don’t feel that that’s necessary. But then when you have your team members who are your frontline folks, your support staff folks, your people who are not managing people. And so then, therefore, are not in some of these larger strategic conversations that we tend to engage, and to advance the work, to support our respective universities and colleges.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (41:31):
I just think that that’s so key, Matthew. So I think that some of the challenge around that is, having a solid communication strategy can be exhausting. It is also not in our bailiwick. Our bailiwick as academic libraries is to share the good news to our donors, and to our supporters. That’s where we’re good at communicating. And we have a lot of amazing professionals within our respective libraries who do outstanding magazines, and newsletters, and publications sharing the good news.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (42:13):
Where I see our opportunity is all within internal communication. Because if you can’t get some portion of the team. It doesn’t have to be everybody. You’re going to always have your percentage of team members who are going to be acerbic, “This is just a job. I’m not interested in.” They’re going to bring all of that. But I think we tend to signal, and message to that smaller vocal minority, more than looking at the ways in which an overarching communication strategy can help to empower and advance the silent majority.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (42:47):
So I feel that that’s significant. You got to message to the team frequently, “Why are we doing this?” Invite them to different small group conversations. I know that there are several ULs, deans directors and vice provost who have these big meetings where all the staff is present. Before a lot of staff, that’s an intimidating venue to raise questions in. It’s an intimidating venue to share opposition around, I don’t know that I understand this, or I believe this, or I don’t think that this is true about who we are. But sometimes those smaller touchpoint engagements can matter.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (43:27):
Because I just feel really strongly that if we don’t do more of the strategic inreach, we continue to have staff that will communicate dissatisfaction in a way that can throw everybody of. It misaligns everyone. But the other part of it too, is that I think that that communication strategy has to be netted with examining the organization at large. And also looking at how we are messaging to the team, what work is valuable? And what work matters within our organizations?
K. Matthew Dames (44:02):
When you’re talking about this sort of inreach, do you think that it is perhaps even more important for Black leaders, brown leaders to be doing this as opposed to other types of leaders, of other ethnicities races, so on and so forth. And the reason I ask this question is, because I am aware from personal experience and talking to other folks like you, that folks who are of color in these leadership positions can get misinterpreted.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (44:38):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
K. Matthew Dames (44:41):
For whatever reason.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (44:43):
K. Matthew Dames (44:45):
You can say nothing but be misinterpreted.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (44:47):
K. Matthew Dames (44:49):
And so as you were talking about this inreach, in addition to it being communication that happens perhaps in smaller groups, more personalized, do you think that it’s more important for leaders of color to do this in part to avoid or try to tamp down the possibility of misinterpretation?
Alexia Hudson-Ward (45:14):
That’s a really interesting question. And I would say Matthew, that for those who desire to misinterpret, that’s what they’re going to do. Many years and many lumps [inaudible 00:45:32] has just taught me [inaudible 00:45:34]-
K. Matthew Dames (45:33):
You’re going to take it there regardless.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (45:36):
You’re going to take it there regardless. And I would argue that that is a multicultural experience. So I wouldn’t necessarily say-
K. Matthew Dames (45:43):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (45:43):
It’s not limited to leaders of color-
K. Matthew Dames (45:47):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (45:48):
Relationship to academic lives.
K. Matthew Dames (45:50):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (45:51):
Because I think our LGBTQ colleagues think that most definitely [inaudible 00:45:57]-
K. Matthew Dames (45:58):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (45:58):
And however, what I will say that I think is distinctive when you bring the phenotype and the lived experience of being a person of color, is that I think that people automatically and not wrongfully so. View that as a signal of change in the organization. And subsequently there is the desire for that change to happen quickly. So there’s a lot of pejorative statements around this topic, research calls this, the glass cliff. But there’s something in between. And it’s funny when I became the now former director for the Oberlin College Libraries, a group of directors, many of whom were leading ARL institutions, took me out to celebrate.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (46:50):
And so it was this really lovely tradition that I’m sure you’ve been a part of each person will give you a piece of knowledge. And one person in the meeting, I will never forget what this person said to me, is that you coming there signals change. It’s a pivot point for the entire institution.
K. Matthew Dames (47:13):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (47:13):
And what is going to be your responsibility and your duty, no matter how exhausting it’s going to be, is to help people to understand that you need to be viewed through the lens of fairness. And that’s what I’m here for. That’s what we are here for is to help you with that. Because you’re going to have to continuously figure out a way to message to your group. That just because I’m here, it’s not going to change overnight. I’m not going to [inaudible 00:47:41] able to.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (47:43):
And this was a person of color telling me this, “I’m not going to be able to turn around a steam liner that has run a particular course for 30 years. I’m not going to be able to turn that around in three months. I’m not going to be able to write all the wrongs that have been perpetuated in the organization over 5, 10, 15, 20, in a year.” And so that’s where I think it’s different for us. Because I absolutely know from having conversations with you and other leaders of color at both the UL and the AUL level, that the minute [inaudible 00:48:23] the door here comes the long list. [inaudible 00:48:26] needs to be fixed=.
K. Matthew Dames (48:28):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (48:28):
Lengthy list that needs to be fixed. And it needs to be fixed now.
K. Matthew Dames (48:32):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (48:33):
And then you do some investigation and you’re like, “Wait, you allowed this particular circumstance to happen for five years, seven years, eight years.” What was going on in the organization that now there’s this sense of urgency when I arrive [inaudible 00:48:48].
K. Matthew Dames (48:47):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (48:48):
The other thing that I think is interesting, Matthew, so I will say that I don’t know yet that this is specific to people of color who are in leadership. But I will say that anecdotally, leaders of color in libraries have shared with me, and with you that this happens. Is the threat of leaving constantly by team members. If I don’t get my way by X date, I’m leaving the organization. If I can’t do Y by X date… And I don’t know it yet. Maybe some of our other people who are not people of color are our white colleagues could let us know this. But I don’t hear them talk about that threat of, “I’m leaving. if I don’t get my way.” And that seems to be a persistent issue with us as well.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (49:43):
And so I’ve had to have conversations with our colleagues. But then also have conversations with teams that I’ve led to say, “Look, I want you to be happy and I want you to thrive here. But I can’t fix your concerns in three months.” There’s systemic issues that have to be addressed, before I can deal with your individual discreet need. But [inaudible 00:50:11] going to be helpful, is you constantly signaling to me your disenchantment in a way that you now want to leave the organization. Because what I’m going to say to you is, “It’s the important for you to grow. And if you don’t feel that I’m the person to help you do that, then I’m more than happy to help you transition to another place.” In the office, and every circumstance, people have been shocked. That I’ve been that candid.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (50:38):
And I don’t know what that’s about. And it would be interesting to get some feedback from the ARL community around that. But to only hear leaders of color say that they ex… And I will also say, “I only hear leaders of color say they experience this with white people that they supervise.” That it is a rare circumstance that people of color that they supervise threaten to leave. They sometimes just leave the organization cause they get better opportunities or whatever.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (51:07):
But there’s not this persistent narrative of, “I’m unhappy, I’m leaving, I’m unhappy, I’m leaving, I’m unhappy, I’m leaving.” And so there lies, I think some real challenges that we have to contend with and we have to figure out,
K. Matthew Dames (51:25):
I think that’s the appropriate time to wrap it.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (51:28):
K. Matthew Dames (51:30):
I am K. Matthew Dames. She is Alexia Hudson-Ward. This is ARL Fall Forum Extra. And we literally did this in one take.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (51:41):
Yes. With me sniffling and everything. We’re both traveling. And every time I travel, I feel like I get hotels [inaudible 00:51:48] off-
K. Matthew Dames (51:47):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (51:50):
Hacking and everything else. But this was a great conversation. Thank you, Matthew. For the [inaudible 00:51:54]-
K. Matthew Dames (51:54):
As the rappers say, one take.
Alexia Hudson-Ward (51:56):
K. Matthew Dames (51:57):
Alexia Hudson-Ward (51:58):