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Establishing a diverse and inclusive workplace

I attended the panel discussion on "Best Practices for Establishing a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace" at the American Physical Society's April Meeting this year.

I felt that it was important that the discussion we had reaches a wider audience, hence this post!

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash
The panel consisted of Jesús Pando, Willie Rockward, Arlene Maclin and Ansel Neunzert

I really did not know much about the speakers prior to attending this event. 

As I sat there listening to the conversations and indulging my pathological note-taking habits, I realized how courageous, generous and amazing they were. 

They were each representing the underrepresented, the minority, and yet finding time to help out.

They didn't have to.

I strongly feel that the onus is on society, the majority, to welcome and ensure diversity and inclusivity, not the minority folks who have more than enough problems already!

What is the role of the majority here?

As Mx. Neunzert puts it, "If some people are marginalized, something is doing the marginalizing." 

It is not a passive process. 

Some folks, whether they realize it or not, are doing active harm. 

How to turn the "actively harmful" to "actively beneficial"?

Should the tenured, senior folks of departments be held responsible and made to take charge of increasing diversity? 

image used in blog how to phd
Arlene P. Maclin

Dr. Maclin feels that an assistant professor should NOT have to shoulder the responsibility of increasing diversity and inclusivity of a department. 

Not until doing so is "part of the package" for getting promoted and tenured.

That makes sense. Help yourself first, then help others. 

Got it! Easy enough.

Or... maybe not.

An audience member voices their concern - what if the senior, tenured, majority-representing person does it wrong?!

Because let's be real. 

The senior folks usually "run commercials."

They don't do the work. 

They run commercials of diversity and inclusivity while junior folks volunteer their time to get done what they can get done.

So, if the senior folks are now entrusted to do the work, will they do it right?

It is a valid concern. 

Dr. Pando contributes that as a "Latino man in physics" he had to "play his hand!" 

He could "NOT, not do" what he does to implement change in the world. 

image used in blog how to phd
Jesús Pando

After all, we are not just physicists. 

Surprise, surprise, we are also people.

We have to, somehow, figure out how to be a person as well as a physicist.

If that means that as a young, assistant professor you feel, as a person, you have to do something for diversity and inclusivity, you have to figure out how to make that fall into place with also being a physicist.

This is just another of the numerous challenges that a leader representing the underrepresented is likely to have to navigate.

There is no doubt, however, that such a person might be more qualified to set the values of a program for increasing diversity and inclusivity.

Ok.. so then, how do you do it?

You have 99 problems and increasing diversity & inclusion in your department is one of them. 

How do you go about doing it?  

Moreover, what are the risks involved?

Mx. Neunzert warns, "It is considered fine to wear a beard, and fine to wear high heels, but not both of those together." 

Dr. Rockward admits that he, himself, has biases and would not be receptive to things that are not the "norm."

If you wore "high heels and a beard" in his class, he would be "distracted" and unable to do his job.

Really?? But also, sound familiar?

image used in blog how to phd
Willie Rockward

Dr. Rockward suggests approaching authorities one on one, and slowly easing them into the idea for the change you want to implement.

To get to your end goal, you have to compromise. 

When you approach that senior to turn them from "actively harmful" to "actively beneficial", it could, in fact, take several tries.

The beginning of your journey together could be filled with compromises on your end.

As Dr. Pando puts it, "Norms are opaque to people who did not create the norms."

But, for people wanting to affect change, you have to be aware of the norms first, play by them and bring change slowly. 

Very slowly.

Otherwise, you could scare a potential ally away as they can't take all of it at once.

I know, it's painful.

Why bother making this journey together? 

Could we leave these people behind that can't take change faster?

For what it's worth, it seems the answer is no. 

Dr. Pando reminds us "If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together."

In this journey to increase diversity and inclusion, it seems best to "agree to disagree" until we are all on the same page.

After all, that sounds a lot like inclusion, which is what we are all after.

An effort to be more inclusive even of those that are "actively harmful" can be very exhausting.

For this, Mx. Neunzert stresses that it is very important to have friends outside of physics and outside of work in general!

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Ansel Neunzert

Too many conservative folks at work?

You can't change them quickly. 

You will have to break it down and make your point over time.

It will be slow and during that time, it is important to be supported by those that do see your point.

"You need to recalibrate your brain by having friends outside of physics," says Mx. Neunzert.

Lastly, for the people with power, Dr. Pando says he is tired of hearing about diversity when it is not yet a PRIORITY

Don't talk about how you want to increase diversity and inclusivity unless you are ready to "put money behind it."

Otherwise, it's a commercial, not a priority. And it won't get done.

Dr. Rockward reminds us that, "Physics is for everybody, and we will never run out of physics." 


My heartfelt thanks to the panel as well as the audience members for their thoughts and words. 

Please find the LGBT+ inclusivity guide prepared by LGBT+ physicists and the AAS Committee for Sexual and Gender Minorities in Astronomy here.

image used in blog how to phd
LGBT+ inclusivity guide

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