It’s resolution season, which means we’re spending more time than usual assessing ourselves, our efforts, and our goals. I’ve had a few people reach out to me lately asking me for suggestions on how to actively promote diversity in their departments, so I thought I’d share some strategies that are relatively easy. Not everyone is in a position where they can rock the boat — you can’t always call out a senior colleague, or start a letter campaign about an unfair policy — and many diversity issues are likely outside most of our scope of influence (It might be ineffective to put “improve maternity policy” on your list of things to do this year, because you’re not likely to personally make traction in that regard).
So what do you do if you have good intentions and a desire to do your part for diversity in 2016, but you’re not in higher administration? Let’s say you’re educating yourself on diversity issues, and you’re ready to add something tangible to your annual list of goals. Here are some suggestions:
1. Start a diversity journal club. A regular gathering where you talk about diversity research is a really great way to start conversations, to subtly educate your colleagues and students, and to highlight areas for improvement. The beauty of this is that, as academics, we tend to appreciate scholarship, and so we give it a certain cachet over personal anecdotes. We have data on what works and what doesn’t work to improve diversity! Data! Who doesn’t love data!? You can pair this up with #diversityjc on Twitter, or you can focus on your discipline or a subset of diversity issues relevant to your department’s needs — maybe focus on teaching, for example. This is something anyone can do, from graduate students to department chairs. I recommend having a rotation of people suggesting papers and leading discussion, and modeling pro-diversity structures in your meetings (sit in a circle, have moderators who don’t let just a few people dominate discussion, let students speak first, etc.).2. Write a lab mission statement. One thing I found really valuable was to sit down with my lab and write our mission statement: who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. We made a special effort to include everyone, from undergrads to lab techs, and we explicitly addressed diversity. The mission statement then goes on your lab website, where it lets prospective students, your colleagues, and others know that diversity is something you value as much as your scholarship. This was inspired by my grad lab (you can read the Williams Lab mission statement here). You can read the BEAST lab’s mission statement here.
3. Ask your chair for a diversity training or workshop. There are professionals and nonprofits dedicated to bringing discussions about diversity to professional settings. Not all of these are equally good, so it’s worth asking around about local options. While the Ada Initiative no longer offers the Ally Skills Workshops, it’s still possible to contact them to find a trainer (I’m one!), and all the materials are online. ESA’s SEEDS program also does a nice training for mentors. A workshop, either for your department, through your university’s ADVANCE program, or even in your lab, can be a great way to get some hands-on skills and ideas. One thing, about these, though: there’s evidence that making them mandatory backfires, so it’s better to research what’s available, find a good fit for your program, keep it optional, and then find as many people as you can to go.
4. Nominate someone from an underrepresented background for an award. Women, people of color, GLBTQ folks, and people with disabilities are highly underrepresented in awards, especially at the national level. Awards like these can help with tenure and promotion, and also help raise the visibility of underrepresented scholars. Find out what medals your society gives out each year, and make a pledge that you’ll nominate someone from an underrepresented group for one of them. Put the nomination deadline on your calendar, and give yourself another note well in advance to start preparing a nomination. Note: try to do this for regular, not “diversity” awards. Women, for example, are often ignored for regular awards under the assumption that they’ll be eligible for “women’s” awards.
5. Make your seminars, committees, and conferences diverse. If you’re an organizer, make sure your department seminars, panel discussions, symposia applications, workshops, and other scholarly endeavors are balanced and diverse — and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need suggestions for great speakers to add (Twitter is great for this). Make a personal pledge to decline to participate on all-male panels, and let organizers know why you’re turning them down. I guarantee there are strong scholars out there from underrepresented backgrounds, and finding names will not be hard. If someone turns you down (which they may, especially if they get hit up a lot), don’t just give up; ask for some alternatives, and keep trying until you succeed.
6. Have discussions with your students about harassment and safety. Last year, Josh Drew and I hosted a workshop at ESA about ways you can make your fieldwork safer for everyone (we’re coming up with some best practices now, so stay tuned). You can start a conversation with a lab reading of the Clancy et al., 2014 SAFE paper on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the field, and brainstorm some ideas about policies that will make your fieldwork safer. Familiarize yourself with your university’s policies — are you a mandatory reporter? Do you or your students know who to contact if they’ve been assaulted or harassed? Do your conferences have harassment policies? Where are the gaps, either in your knowledge or in university regulations? This may be a tough conversation, so do some background reading, and reach out to colleagues first. Consider inviting someone to help lead this discussion if you’re really uncomfortable (we had Katie Hinde, an author of the SAFE study, lead a presentation in our lab when she gave a departmental seminar, and invited students from other labs). Go into this from a reporter-centered place; university policies are often designed more to protect themselves from liability, which means that the people who report harassment are often left without a lot of support. You probably won’t have all the answers, but having the conversation is important, especially in letting your students know that you support them and that you won’t tolerate harassment of any kind in your lab.
7. Focus on hiring and retention. If you sit on a hiring committee this year, you can advocate for diversity in your candidates. On a recent hire I was involved with, the chair sent out resources on things like implicit bias and gendered language in letters of recommendation, and coached us to avoid certain kinds of wording when we ranked candidates. This was all really helpful! However, many departments are focusing so strongly on hiring that they miss a crucial aspect of diversity: retention. This is more of a task for the department chairs out there, but make it a point to find out why people leave (do you do exit interviews?), what your current faculty need to succeed that they may not be getting, and find out whether you’re modeling good behavior as a leader in your department. If your department doesn’t have a structure in place for mentoring or supporting new faculty members, start one (and request one if you’re a new professor).8. Model good behavior. Often, we get so concerned with the big picture that we miss the small things, including how our own actions might be contributing to a hostile climate for underrepresented students or faculty. Volunteering do work like that’s historically been considered “women’s work,” like note-taking or hosting a department social is a really good resolution for male faculty. If your partner is an academic (which is likelier for women than for men, so this becomes a diversity issue) do a long, hard assessment of whether you’re doing an equal share of domestic work and childcare. Tenure, She Wrote’s Don’t Be That Dude has some really handy suggestions for male faculty on how to avoid bad behavior.
9. Support diverse work and ideas with your voice and your dollars. There are lots of people doing great work, and if you have a voice, consider being generous with how you use it to support people from underrepresented backgrounds. Seek out, read, share, and promote diverse scholarship, blog posts, achievements, opportunities, and efforts. Put your money where your mouth is: contribute your funds to crowd-sourced science by underrepresented scholars, and donate to diversity initiatives (like ESA’s SEEDS or your local SACNAS chapter) and scholarships.
10. Talk openly about your struggles as well as your successes. Scholars from underrepresented backgrounds face unique challenges, but there’s one that we all share: rejection. Having a paper or proposal declined, or an experiment go terribly wrong, can be really demoralizing even for the most successful amongst us, but for someone weighing whether to stay in academia on a daily basis, they can be devastating. Whenever I’ve shared my failures or struggles, whether with math anxiety in college, the death of a parent, a rejected proposal, or the challenges of a long-distance partnership, I’m contacted by women (usually grad students) who are grateful to hear they’re not alone. Hearing that even successful academics struggle can be surprisingly helpful. One colleague of mine has a Wall of Rejection, where everyone (including him!) tapes print-outs of paper and grant rejections. It’s surprisingly inspiring, and it normalizes failure as something related to success.
These are just a few suggestions to get you started; feel free to add more in the comments. One important thing I’ve learned is not to leave it to women and underrepresented minorities to do all the diversity work — if you’re in a position where you can say something and be an advocate, as long as you’re not speaking over (or for) others, that can make a huge difference. You should involve a diverse group of people in your efforts, but also don’t be afraid to reach out to your “overrepresented” colleagues and invite them to join conversations or efforts to improve.