Wisconsin Equity and Inclusion Lab Confronts Challenges in College Sports

News:  Wisconsin's Equity and Inclusion Lab Confronts Challenges in College Sports

Watch a college sporting event and it’s fairly common to see a diverse group of student-athletes competing.

Look a little longer, however, and you may notice that the coaches and athletic department administrators tend to be a more homogenous group. The Big Ten Conference, for instance, has had only one African-American football coach since 2002 and has only one black athletic director.

Although many professional sports leagues — including Major League Baseball and the National Football League — have measures in place that are designed to help put more minorities in head coaching and top front-office positions, college teams aren’t mandated to follow such procedures.

But it will be easier for motivated college programs to ensure they are taking diversity seriously in the years to come thanks to some research being conducted, and tools being developed, at Wisconsin's Equity and Inclusion (Wei) Lab.

former Badgers Bill Rentmeester and Aubrey PleasantDirected by UW–Madison education professor Jerlando Jackson, the Wei Lab is working with colleagues in athletics to gather nuanced empirical data on the hiring practices of college athletic departments. They’re fine-tuning a national longitudinal study of these practices that is designed to allow ranking and comparison across five categories: senior-level administrator searches; athletic department hiring practices; the general search-and-screen process; workplace climate; and the career ambitions and trajectories of current staff. The new project is called the National Study of Intercollegiate Athletics (NSIA).

Jackson and colleagues will gather data from national sources and participating institutions across the college sports spectrum — from the Big Ten and other large, Division I conferences, all the way down to the NCAA Division II and III levels, to minority serving institutions and two-year colleges. Athletic department personnel eventually will be able to check how their school compares to peer institutions.

Jackson brings to this study his experience with UW-Madison’s Beyond the Game Initiative (see sidebar), his service on UW-Madison’s Athletic Board, and his long interest in the subject of equity in hiring.

These efforts aren’t the first to take a look at the hiring practices within university athletic departments. For almost a decade, the Black Coaches & Administrators (BCA) organization has produced and distributed “Hiring Report Cards” that grade colleges on their head coaching search and eventual hiring decisions. But these efforts offer relatively little detail and provide only a snapshot in time.

To gain a broader and deeper picture of institutional hiring practices, the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA) has partnered with the Wei Lab to provide more nuanced data that better allows for peer institutions to compare their results over time. The survey targets senior athletic administration and all non-coaching functions.

The survey and the accompanying research uses the tools of the social sciences, including quantitative research methods and longitudinal design. Participating colleges and universities will have access to the resulting data from their own institution and from their peer groups to assist with long-range planning.

Presentation vs. Utilization

When discussing equity in hiring, people sometimes use the words “under-representation.” But Jackson recommends using that term carefully, noting it’s important to distinguish between under-representation and under-utilization.

For example, if 35 percent of an institution’s overall athletic staff is diverse, but senior administrative staff is only 15 percent diverse, one might label that “under- representation.” But in doing so, assumptions are being made; mainly that all diverse employees desire a job in senior administration, and that all are qualified.

The goal of the survey being developed is to measure how many employees actually want those positions, and how many are qualified.

So if the survey finds that 10 percent of diverse staff are qualified for a senior level position, but only 5 percent actually want the job, Jackson notes that: “If you have 5 percent who are qualified and interested, but you have 15 percent represented at the senior level, that’s actually over-representation. So when you talk about under-representation, you really need to dig in and get more data.”

Conversely, if the senior level administration is 15 percent diverse, but 20 percent of diverse staff are both interested and qualified to serve in those positions, that’s a case of under-utilization.

The survey instrument being tested takes these factors into account by asking respondents to describe their career aspirations.

The Academic Glass Ceiling

Bias continues to prevent the advancement of some women and minorities into the upper levels of power and responsibility not only in athletics, but across all units of higher education.

Minorities in professional positions at educational institutions are usually not equal in terms of power, decision-making or authority, research has shown, and African-American women often experience the “double whammy” of sexism and racism.

In a recent study examining six employment groups (assistant, associate and full professors, and low-, mid- and upper-level academic leaders), Jackson measured what he calls “glass-ceiling” effects at work in institutions of higher education. He found these effects vary for different groups at different stages of their careers. For example, discrimination of minorities is highest at the point of entry and during the early career years. Senior-level positions — positions of institutional control — tend to be accessible for minorities who have the appropriate professional background and who are able to jump over professional hurdles as they move up the ranks.

Jackson says institutions could reduce the glass ceiling effect on minorities early in their careers by providing mentoring, support networks and socialization as they transition into the institution and begin to assume greater levels of responsibility. For those already in senior-level positions, graduate school and early career socialization seems to have been an important component of their success.

For more information about the Wei Lab visit Wei Lab's website.

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