Dennis Meissner 2016-05-12 10:53:32
Greetings, colleagues! In my previous President’s Message, I held up a crucial SAA value—ensuring the diversity of our membership and leaders, the profession, and the archival record. I noted that we are making small steps in that direction, including pursuing cultural competency training and resources for leaders and, eventually, all SAA members. I want to stay with this theme, but take it in another direction. Working on ourselves to more fully value and embrace diversity, and to practice inclusion, is the right place for us to start, at least on an individual level. But at the same time we need to be looking at our workplaces and, especially, at the policies and practices that may hinder our progress in achieving a diverse archival workforce in the years ahead. One of the chief virtues of More Product, Less Product is that it encouraged us to reexamine workplace practices that, while they may have made good sense at one time, were no longer helpful or sustainable in a changing environment. We need to apply that same lens to the hiring and retention practices in our repositories, which may suffer from various forms of systemic bias. I have been involved in hiring many entry-level archivists over the years, and I have recently been rethinking some of the boilerplate requirements that we make. We have traditionally demanded that applicants be able to lift and carry 40-pound loads, or have a valid driver’s license, or—more critically—possess an MLIS degree or some equivalent. Each of those requirements may be essential in particular situations, but are they all always necessary? Sometimes we behave as though they are. But each of those requirements has some power to become a discriminatory hurdle, and we should be very careful in wielding that power because we may be unintentionally pushing away people whom we very much would like to welcome into our profession. I think about some past hires who came in the door lacking ideal educational credentials but who developed, with training and mentoring, into talented processing archivists. In those cases we achieved a good result by choosing to relax some threshold standards and, perhaps, giving more weight to desire and aptitude. To root out systemic bias, we need to look at the jobs that are critical to onboarding new talent and ask ourselves questions about the true skills required to perform those functions. We need to retain those parts of our work cultures that really make a difference, while letting go of those aspects that are based in bias. To a not inconsiderable extent, it is within our power to build the professional workforce that realizes our aspirations—and we should take full advantage of that opportunity. When we keep using the same practices, we keep getting the same results. It’s time to change unhelpful practices.
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