Instant rankings karma for workplace nirvana

One scholar imagines a university league table that puts the emphasis on fairness and diversity

April 2, 2015

“Imagine there’s new metrics,” writes Jennifer Martin, professor in structural biology at the University of Queensland in Australia on her Cubistcrystal blog. “It’s easy if you try.”

She is writing about global university league tables, including those published by Times Higher Education, and she uses the blog post to muse about what might happen were institutions to be ranked by – for example – “diversity in their professoriate”, or “work-life balance”.

“With these thoughts in mind, I’ve dreamed up a few new metrics to use alongside the more traditional ones,” she writes. “Maybe this combination might lead to rankings that identify the most successful, most highly productive higher education training grounds and workplaces that are also best at supporting career aspirations and mental, emotional and physical well-being.”

Her first measure is the “no-asshole rule”. That’s a reference to The No Asshole Rule, a book by Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, which, Professor Martin says, defines an “asshole” using two characteristics: “after encountering the person, people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves” and “the person targets less powerful people”.

“To be eligible to participate in the new international rankings, universities must teach the no-asshole rule to freshers,” the blog states.

Another desirable metric is the “F-index”, Professor Martin continues – referring to “fairness” (before you start thinking that another profanity might be involved).

“Despite published pay scales, men are paid more than women in the upper echelons of academia for doing the same job,” she continues. “In my perfect world, to be eligible to participate in international rankings, universities would make public the average pay for men and women in leadership (professoriate and above) by posting the data on the front page of their website every Jan 1.”

The F-index is calculated using the formula “F = W/M”, where W is the average salary for women in leadership positions and M is the average salary for men in leadership positions. “Universities with the highest ratio (and thus the smallest gender pay gap) would rank highest on international rankings.”

There is also a need for a “K-index”, where “K is for kids”, the post says. “One issue that crops up again and again, is that primary caring responsibilities often fall to women, with a consequent reduction in their academic competitiveness,” Professor Martin writes. “Why do we make it so difficult for the smartest women to reproduce?”

By applying the K-index, which “celebrates the birth of children to academics”, universities that best support and encourage families would “rocket to the top of international rankings”.

“You may say I’m a dreamer (but I’m not the only one),” the blog continues.

“No doubt if these indices are implemented, game-playing would follow with unintended consequences. Nevertheless, it’s been interesting to think about university metrics that might drive new, perhaps more socially just, workplace behaviours.”

Chris Parr

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