Moving Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion from Opinion to Evidence
Recently, articles about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have flourished. These articles–several of which I’ve written myself–draw attention to existing literature and synthesize new ideas as a call to action for far too often overlooked issues of equality in all facets of STEM. Furthermore, this call underscores the need to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion of populations including underrepresented minorities, women, and individuals with disabilities. These DEI articles have been important in bringing a spotlight to social issues which have long been since problematic.
Now that the idea of DEI has been established as a tool for others to navigate academia, I believe the STEM community can begin moving this field from qualitative-based to a data-driven field. Essential to this effort is a willingness to report all evidence-based research and its outcomes and incorporate them into strategic planning initiatives that are measurable yet malleable to change. This approach allows for adjusting of professional development opportunities and programs to be more focused on the science of mentoring in unison with evidence-based research in mentoring and DEI practices in STEM.
In my recent Cell Reports Medicine article, co-written with Dr. Marcus Lambert, Associate Vice President of Research at SUNY Downstate, we reflect on both the current DEI space and theorize where it may go into the future (Hinton, A. & Lambert, W. M., 2022). Currently, institutions of higher learning may agree that DEI is important for their organizations to survive in the social world that exists today; however, their actions are mainly performative and often lack effective direction to thwart the disparity in diversity among their student, staff, and faculty populations. When assessing inclusion efforts at institutions, diversity climate surveys are usually conducted by working groups to gauge the current climate and culture of the organization, and results collected from the surveys are often summarily watered down, or sometimes not shared at all with the institution as a whole, which can leave institutional leaders unsure of how to improve in those areas (Segarra et al., 2020). Part of this disconnect may arise from not having clear definitions of DEI and what the required steps for a successful strategic plan entails. The dark side of this may arise from institutions not shifting the equity and inclusion efforts from a senior leadership angle to that of a well-versed practitioner of diversity and inclusion. Even with the best intentions, senior leaders at institutions may wonder if they are doing enough to recruit and retain diverse professionals or if their efforts are impactful. This is where metrics become important. These frameworks include PRESS (Livingston, 2020), which is an analysis method that allows for institutions to evaluate their current diversity status and suggest critical analytical steps to increase diversity efforts.
Centrally, once institutions have found goals, they should seek to promote expert DEI commentary on effective measures for advancing DEI. In doing so, institutions should be willing to pay for improvements in diversity and schedule yearly programming to improve climate. We propose institutional leaders should include joint university efforts in combination with consistent, department-based efforts to collectively support the disbursement of DEI efforts across all levels of personnel at an institution. To do this, institutions will need to push for diversity offices to have more resources to carry out these initiatives including programming events, trainings, and support groups for diverse populations.
Alongside this, institutional leaders should also use objective, validated, and evidence-based research and evaluation to reinforce their strategic DEI plans. University leaders should take their plan and implement it, collect data beyond surveys and include mixed methods such as interviews and videos. For example, one may utilize the Sense of Belonging scale to analyze if an institution’s diversity efforts to creating safe spaces allow diverse individuals feel more included (Fuchs et al., 2021). While this research-based approach has been in existence, our article is resetting the tone to appreciate leaders in this space and invite them for research-based (quantitative and qualitative analysis) conversations about DEI, or the lack of it, in meaningful numbers in the STEM arena.
This also is something to consider in the context of journalism; every top journal should have the space to discuss topics that impact science greatly. Beyond this, journals can become more inclusive through recruiting more diverse editorial boards and authors. Some journals do not see the value in publishing science from a diverse lens, but diversifying editorial boards may alleviate this issue, which may result in a greater focus on quantitively-driven DEI papers, as opposed to only qualitative. Furthermore, diversifying editorial boards will also allow for other researchers to feel encouraged to submit research articles for publication to the journal as well. This may further inspire a sense of belonging for those with diverse backgrounds in the STEM field as well.
Critically, we believe the existing DEI space can co-exist in tandem with a more analytical space. Some excellent examples of this includes research, which demonstrates that diverse individuals produce higher rates of scientific novelty when their environment is supported by successful mentorship and sufficient professional development opportunities (Gibbs et al., 2016; Hofstra et al., 2020; Lambert et al., 2020). However, a degree in data science is not required to investigate solutions to the DEI challenges that we all face. Simply, this article seeks to open and guide discourse while encouraging institutional leaders to critically look at solutions to address the DEI issue at their organizations and especially within the STEM field.
Fuchs, L. M., Jacobsen, J., Walther, L., Hahn, E., Ta, T. M. T., Bajbouj, M., & von Scheve, C. (2021). The Challenged Sense of Belonging Scale (CSBS)—A validation study in English, Arabic, and Farsi/Dari among refugees and asylum seekers in Germany. Measurement Instruments for the Social Sciences, 3(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42409-021-00021-y
Gibbs, K. D., Jr, Basson, J., Xierali, I. M., & Broniatowski, D. A. (2016). Decoupling of the minority PhD talent pool and assistant professor hiring in medical school basic science departments in the US. ELife, 5, e21393. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.21393
Hinton, A., Jr, & Lambert, W. M. (2022). Moving diversity, equity, and inclusion from opinion to evidence. Cell reports. Medicine, 3(4), 100619. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrm.2022.100619
Hofstra, B., Kulkarni, V. V., Galvez, S. M.-N., He, B., Jurafsky, D., & McFarland, D. A. (2020). The diversity–innovation paradox in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(17), 9284–9291.
Lambert, W. M., Wells, M. T., Cipriano, M. F., Sneva, J. N., Morris, J. A., & Golightly, L. M. (2020). Research Culture: Career choices of underrepresented and female postdocs in the biomedical sciences. Elife, 9, e48774.
Livingston, R. (2020, September 1). How to Promote Racial Equity in the Workplace. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/09/how-to-promote-racial-equity-in-the-workplace
Segarra, V. A., Blatch, S., Boyce, M., Carrero-Martinez, F., Aguilera, R. J., Leibowitz, M. J., Zavala, M., Hammonds-Odie, L., & Edwards, A. (2020). Scientific Societies Advancing STEM Workforce Diversity: Lessons and Outcomes from the Minorities Affairs Committee of the American Society for Cell Biology. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 21(1), 15. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v21i1.1941