What Leadership Looks Like in Academia and Industry

Key Takeaways:

  • Norms around workplace behavior in academia and industry are shifting.
  • During times of change, leaders play an important role in facilitating a new norm while maintaining respect for the old.

Academic institutions are no stranger to the cutting edge. Despite this, academia, like other industries, has recently been struggling to adapt to new norms of workplace behavior.

For example, the American Economic Association recently announced that it would end its practice of holding job interviews in hotel rooms in order to mitigate the profession’s “reputation for hostility toward women and minorities.”[1] Reactions to this news that I observed from my academic colleagues fell into one of two groups: Either shock that hotel room interviews were still a practice or surprise that this practice should have to end at all.

In social psychology, we recognize the role of norms, or collective expectations of proper behavior within a group, as one of the many inputs to human decision making. Typically, people like to act within the norms of their group. But, when those norms are in flux, deciding what behaviors are or are not acceptable becomes more difficult. In these circumstances, leadership is extremely important; studies suggest we look to key leaders to help guide our attitudes and behaviors.[2]

So, what should leadership look like in academia right now? The answer is multi-faceted, but there are some places to start.

  • Change the norm about what leaders look like. A recent report from the Boston Consulting Group suggests that 98 percent of organizations report investing in diversity and inclusion, but the demographic group that is most often responsible for making decisions remains men aged 45 and older.[3] Unfortunately, leaders who look different are an aberration from current norms. But, making diversity and inclusion the new normal can reduce blind spots and help existing leaders think more holistically about what practices may or may not be acceptable.
  • Change the norm around transparency. In academia and other network-dependent industries, we lack a norm of transparency about hiring experiences. This is often because colleagues compete against each other for limited positions and information is perceived to provide an advantage.[4] But, when the norm is secrecy, it allows questionable practices to remain in the dark. Pulling back the curtain on a new norm can enable more people to speak up when they experience discomfort or feel a need for change.
  • Approach others with understanding. Norm fluctuations typically lead to two outcomes: The norm changes or the group splinters into separate bands with different norms. In order for the norm to shift and a group to remain intact, it’s important to approach each other with understanding, empathy and respect. Making gradual changes and seeing things from different perspectives can help overcome biases and facilitate communication across differences.

Norms around workplace behavior in academia and in industry are changing quickly. For both types of organizations to survive intact, it’s important to adapt to a new norm while maintaining respect for the old. Leadership facilitates change-making, and now that’s more important than ever.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-economics-profession-looks-to-draw-women-hotel-room-job-interviews-get-nixed-11567512002?mod=rsswn

[2] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797617709594

[3] https://www.bcg.com/en-us/publications/2019/fixing-the-flawed-approach-to-diversity.aspx

[4] https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1861-fixing-our-job-market-problem

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.