About the Inclusivity in the Plant Sciences Workshop
This past January, a group of diverse and passionate individuals from across the field of plant sciences convened at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute campus in Chevy Chase, MD to participate in the Inclusivity in the Plant Sciences strategic workshop organized by the Plant Science Research Network (a reflection and brief summary of the workshop written by several of the participants can be found here). In preparation for the workshop, each participant was asked to bring with them an article that challenges the conventional wisdom regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). The following article includes links to all of the resources compiled at the workshop, as well as an introduction into EDI concepts to provide the knowledge needed to move forward with innovative approaches to EDI.
What is EDI?
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) refers to three interconnected ideas often used to reference the experiences of underrepresented minorities and their existence within power structures. The Ford Foundation, a leader in supporting accessibility and participation of underrepresented minorities in education, science, and policymaking, provides the following definitions for the three pillars of EDI:
Equity seeks to ensure fair treatment, equality of opportunity, and fairness in access to information and resources for all.1
Diversity is the representation of all our varied identities and differences (race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, tribe, caste, socio-economic status, thinking and communication styles, etc.), collectively and as individuals.1
Inclusion builds a culture of belonging by actively inviting the contribution and participation of all people.1
Why does it matter?
There are countless benefits to increasing EDI in workforces, here I have highlighted three tangible benefits that I personally find particularly compelling.
Diverse teams excel at problem-solving
When thinking of “scientific excellence”, the narrative perpetuated of the lone savant working years in the lab to achieve a breakthrough is far from reality in many cases. In actuality, most studies are conducted by teams of people rather than individuals, and diverse teams outperform more homogenous teams in problem-solving tasks2. This is unsurprising, as life experiences greatly impact an individual’s knowledge and skillset. Despite a focus on technical “hard science” skills that must be acquired through extensive training and tends to be fairly standardized, scientific excellence requires an additional myriad of people skills (also commonly referred to as soft skills) learned outside of a traditional academic setting3. Diverse life experiences develop peoples’ soft skills in ways that allow them to view problems through lenses unique to the individual; a non-diverse team will approach problems from only one perspective shared by a group, whereas diverse teams solve problems by reaching a group consensus comprised of potentially conflicting viewpoints2. Non-diverse teams are less likely to be aware of their inherent biases and may struggle to identify flaws in their shared logic. Diverse teams are better able to innovate past these issues2.
Lack of Diversity Represents a Loss of Talent
The training process to become a scientist is notoriously grueling, however is achievable to those willing to commit to it. When provided access to quality education, there are no demographic differences in students’ capability to learn the skills needed to succeed as a scientist. Anyone from any background can be taught to become an excellent scientist, however, there is a noticeable drop-off in diversity that grows as you advance through increasingly prestigious positions4. This bottleneck in diversity represents an exodus of competent and qualified diverse scientists that can likely be explained by the unwelcoming climate towards underrepresented groups.
The under-recognized wisdom gained through diverse experiences is featured prominently in Danny Boyle’s 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire, in which Jamal, an impoverished young man who grew up in a slum, answers every trivia question on India’s version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? correctly and is promptly arrested. The film follows the subsequent interrogation into how a person from Jamal’s background could be smart enough to win the game. Jamal recounts that the struggles he experienced throughout his life allowed him to learn the answers to seemingly impossible questions despite his lack of traditional academic education. By the end of the film, the value of Jamal’s knowledge is recognized and celebrated across the country5. He was able to succeed due to his diverse experiences, not in spite of them. Understanding the value of the knowledge of diverse people and prioritizing their participation in science opens up the doors for exciting frontiers.
Papers produced by diverse teams receive more citations
Finally, it has been shown that papers produced by collaborators that were racially diverse both received more citations and were published in journals with higher impact factors than papers produced by ethnically-similar groups7. Although more papers were authored by ethnically-similar groups, the papers written by diverse teams still tended to be more prominent6. Even if a person is not swayed by the benefits that EDI has for scientific progress in general, certainly the prospect of increasing your impact and producing better research would be enticing.
The concepts of EDI are not new and great progress has been made throughout history to achieving them in society, however, there is a need for novel approaches to correct the issues that have been hindering continual progress.
What isn’t working?
Unfortunately, science and society still have a long way to go until satisfactory EDI is achieved. Institutions and individuals tend to have their hearts in the right place when striving to improve EDI, but sometimes fall short. Here are several shortcomings of traditional EDI efforts and the unintentional effects that they can perpetuate. Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list (feel free to comment with any issues that aren’t listed here!).
Diversity without Inclusion
Close your eyes for a moment and envision any billboard you have seen advertising admission to a university across the United States. Certainly, many are imagining a picture of an incredibly diverse group of students smiling enthusiastically wearing their school’s colors. Picture perfect moments like these can be found on countless billboards and in pamphlets far and wide, however, the college experience of many underrepresented students is anything but. There are well-documented and specific efforts at increasing the number of underrepresented students at universities around the country, however, there is less emphasis on increasing the quality of their lives at the institution4,7. Increasing diversity without changing the underlying exclusionary climate leaves diverse members feeling alienated and unwelcome, which results in low retention rates of diverse candidates at all career stages4. It is fantastic that institutions are striving to hire more diverse applicants and those efforts should be continued, however, they must also realize the value and necessity of including those diverse individuals in more than just advertisements.
Evelyn Valdez-Ward: I included this article to highlight how often times, the service required to help diversify our institutions and organizations, often falls as a burden to underrepresented minorities.
“We don’t have time to worry about creating inclusive environments or whatever. We have to work on diversity because we are being judged on that.”
Rebecca Hayes: EDI initiatives have been commonplace in organizations for years, however little progress has been made at retaining and promoting diverse candidates to positions of power. This article discusses one of the major reasons for this phenomenon: a lack of understanding regarding the importance of intersectionality in EDI initiatives.
The “Fix the student not the structure” mentality
Institutions of power tend to blame individuals personally for their own struggles rather than examine the role the institutions themselves play in burdening those who already struggle8. EDI initiatives up to this point have been successful in increasing the number of diverse individuals enrolled in undergraduate institutions, however, the number of underrepresented students entering graduate programs has sharply declined8. A proposed cause for this decline? A suggestion that underrepresented students lack the personal resilience required for an advanced degree8. That suggestion was followed by an influx of funding and programs to support the professional development of underrepresented individuals. The issue lies not in the fact that individuals are being helped, but rather that individuals are being helped without addressing the culture that hinders the success of diverse students, which allows future students to continue to fall victim to the historically exclusionary atmosphere.
The efforts made by universities towards EDI initiatives are tremendous and commendable. Unfortunately, the underlying issues that are experienced by diverse individuals trying to navigate through higher education are insidious and begin years before a degree is even on most students’ radar. Science achievement gaps are suffered by underrepresented minority students beginning in elementary school that only widen by the end of high school9. Since much of the funding for public schools comes from property taxes in the United States, the place a person is born and grows up heavily impacts the quality of their education10. Underfunded schools tend to have less robust STEM programs than schools with expansive budgets due to high cost of quality equipment, leaving students from those schools at a disadvantage when entering STEM programs in college11. Support for underrepresented students at the university level should be supplemented by support all throughout their K-12 education, or risk shutting out talented diverse candidates well before they arrive on campus.
Kerry Rouhier, Kenyon College: Updated information to the Great Equalizer study reveals that the years before kindergarten as the primary source of inequalities in elementary reading and math (not the quality of the kindergarten education). The study also points out that “socioeconomic gaps tend to shrink during the school year and grow during the summer, while the black-white gap tends to follow the opposite pattern.”
Challenging the educational structure
Society as a whole has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, however, there have been few innovations in education. Diverse students continue to be at a disadvantage in K-12 that only increases in secondary education as they struggle to fit into a system that was created and maintained by white upper-class men12. Universities do little to personalize education based on individual needs and learning styles and strain educators with dwindling budgets paired with exponential class sizes13. The following articles provide new ways to solve some of the problems effecting the structure of education.
Challenging the dominant culture in STEM
The historically elite nature of STEM fields provides perfect conditions for the rampant sexism, racism, ableism, and homophobia that continue to plague workplaces in industry and academia alike. Toxic and exclusionary concepts of scientific excellence prevent the participation of diverse individuals in prestigious scientific circles. The following articles provide insight into the dangers of this culture.
(interesting and important questions for universities to consider between equity and diversity)
(these are some great suggestions for change)
Challenging the idea of who can participate in science
Through much of scientific history, if you were not wealthy, highly educated, male, able-bodied, and white, you could not be a scientist. The future of science is intersectionally diverse and inclusive of people of all genders, races, nationalities, sexualities, physical and mental abilities, and socioeconomic statuses. These articles explore the experiences of diverse individuals in science.
Miguel Vega-Sanchez: I chose this article because it showcases how people with multicultural backgrounds can be more effective leaders of teams that are cross-cultural. This not only promotes multicultural fluency in leaders as an important skill, it can apply to corporations, universities or any other environment that involves working with people from differing cultures.
Twitter thread: #AcademicTwitter STORYTIME: Last year, I applied for a faculty position at a university that—the horror—required a diversity statement. During the campus visit, I was treated to one of the most professionally demeaning experiences of my life. Let me tell you about it!
Please feel free to comment and add to this resource round-up!
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Ford Foundation Available at https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/diversity-equity-and-inclusion/. (Accessed: 31st March 2019)
- Jr, K. G. Diversity in STEM: What It Is and Why It Matters. Scientific American Blog Network Available at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/diversity-in-stem-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/. (Accessed: 31st March 2019)
- Developing Scientists’ ‘Soft’ Skills. Eos Available at https://eos.org/opinions/developing-scientists-soft-skills. (Accessed: 7th April 2019)
- Why Diversity in Academia Remains Elusive. Available at: https://www.gc.cuny.edu/Page-Elements/News/2018/October/Why-Diversity-in-Academia-Remains-Elusive. (Accessed: 31st March 2019)
- Boyle, D. et al. Slumdog Millionaire. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2009).
- Freeman, R. & Huang, W. Collaborating With People Like Me: Ethnic co-authorship within the US. (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014). doi:10.3386/w19905
- Puritty, C. et al. Without inclusion, diversity initiatives may not be enough. Science 357, 1101–1102 (2017).
- Martinez-Acosta, V. G. & Favero, C. B. A Discussion of Diversity and Inclusivity at the Institutional Level: The Need for a Strategic Plan. J. Undergrad. Neurosci. Educ. 16, A252–A260 (2018).
- Bacharach, V. R., Baumeister, A. A. & Furr, R. M. Racial and Gender Science Achievement Gaps in Secondary Education. J. Genet. Psychol. 164, 115–126 (2003).
- Week 1: Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem. NPR.org Available at: https://www.npr.org/2016/04/18/474256366/why-americas-schools-have-a-money-problem. (Accessed: 8th April 2019)
- Low-Income Students Nowhere to Be Found in STEM. US News & World Report Available at: https://www.usnews.com/news/stem-solutions/articles/2017-05-25/low-income-students-nowhere-to-be-found-in-stem. (Accessed: 8th April 2019)
- The Decline of American Education. LBJ School of Public Affairs Available at: https://lbj.utexas.edu/news/2012/decline-american-education. (Accessed: 29th April 2019)
- Lynch, M. 10 Reasons the U.S. Education System Is Failing. Education Week – Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 Available at: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2015/08/10_reasons_the_us_education_system_is_failing.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-FB. (Accessed: 29th April 2019)