Diversity matters

I strongly believe that diversity (broadly defined) is a positive force in our world, and I am doing my best to encourage and foster diversity in my lab, department, center, institute, community, etc.   For most of my life I have simply had an instinctive “belief” in diversity and social fairness which I had kept internalized, and could not fully articulate to myself, let alone others.  In recent years, I have sought to better understand myself and my values, and to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to articulate these values to others around me, and to act upon these values when interacting with others.  Below are a number of resources that I have encountered during this journey that may be useful to others who wish to better understand these issues and themselves.

What is diversity?

Before proceeding, I would like to better define diversity itself.  We often tend to think of diversity in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation.  What I mean here is a lot broader, and can be defined along virtually any dimension one can think of, based on academic preparation (undergrad, graduate student, postdoc, etc.), ethnicity, physical ability or disability, scientific discipline/background, economic background, etc., etc. We are all different in so many ways, and our differences are both a positive factor – together we complement each other and can achieve more than an army of clones of one of us; and a negative one – differences between us have and are being used to isolate, exclude, discredit, and even harm those who are “different” in some way.

I became aware of the fact that diversity is not a one-dimensional aspect when my father related a discussion he had had with students in his class.   Several of them were complaining that the Roma (ethnic group people often refer to as “gypsies”) wanted representation in the Romanian parliament.  How could a minority make such requests in an overwhelmingly white Romanian population? –  his students were asking.  My father asked them to think whether they themselves may be the minority.  A few were wearing glasses.  A few others had blue eyes.  And yet another few were blonde.  Each individual group could easily be distinguished from the remaining (overwhelming) majority of the students.  Each individual group could be discounted or discriminated against, even though they were all among the majority of “white Romanians”.  

Thus, instead of thinking of diversity-related matters as a cliché, or an administrative burden, or even as a non-issue as it’s unlikely to impact you who are, after all, in the majority, think of how promoting a diversity-friendly mindset and environment is ultimately in your own best interest.  It is all so easy to suddenly find yourself within the discriminated minority.

To further stress the point I’d like to use myself as an example.  I’m an educated white male – hardly someone who should worry about being discriminated against. At the same time I’m an immigrant and economic migrant.  I’m Romanian – something that may not seem too bad in the US, but in many Western European countries my compatriots are actively being discriminated against even today.  I was baptized Greek Catholic, religion that was banned in communist Romania. And several of my grandparents lived in the Austro-Hungarian empire where they were actively discriminated against and forced to change their names so they can be better “integrated”.  

Diversity is a positive force

https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter – Harvard Business Review article surveying the correlation between diversity and performance of an organization
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/ – Scientific American article that argues that each of us individually is bettered by being within a diverse environment.
http://web.mit.edu/cortiz/www/Diversity/PDFs/Jehn%20et%20al%201999.pdf – Article delving into a more precise definition of diversity and how it impacts team performance.We are all biased
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html – Online test that can help improve our awareness of our own unconscious biases 

What can we do to improve the world?

http://www.cookross.com/docs/UnconsciousBias.pdf – Strategies for combating implicit/unconscious bias
https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail – Harvard Business Review article discussing why efforts to improve diversity fail and describing strategies that may work.
https://muse.jhu.edu/article/52771/pdf – Study describing successful strategies for hiring diverse faculty.
http://www.advance.virginia.edu/images/Carnes_etal_BiasLit_2012.pdf – Study conducted at U. of Wisconsin, Madison summarizing the design and effectiveness of bias literacy workshops instituted there.
https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2017/03/30/colleges-need-language-shift-not-one-you-think-essay – Essay arguing for systemic, transformative change in the culture of Historically White Institutions.

Other relevant readings

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/speeches/2016/speech906.pdf – Speech given by Andrew Haldane, the Chief Economist of the Bank of England at the Scottish Business Friends Dinner.  He provides a broad and balanced view of diversity focused in part on the financial bottom line.  
https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/12/12/increasing-diversity-stem-workforce-reducing-impact-bias – White House summary on a report providing recommendations on improving diversity in the STEM workforce.  One of the co-authors, Jo Handlesman, is a pioneer in microbiome studies and is credited with coining the term “metagenomics”.
http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2119 – Blog entry by Scott Aaronson delving into the complexities of dealing with bias and privilege.
http://m-mitchell.com/gender/index.html – Margaret Mitchell’s blog with lots of links related to gender issues.
https://onezero.medium.com/facing-the-great-reckoning-head-on-8fe434e10630 – Danah Boyd’s speech when she received the 2019 Barlow/Pioneer Award at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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