NASEM Summit on Diversity

July 15, 2021

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) held a national summit on Addressing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism in 21st Century STEMM Organizations on July 29th and 30th. Over the two days, the panel discussed the effects of systemic and structural racism and bias on underrepresented individuals in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) as well as strategies to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in these settings.

See the full agenda here and speaker biographies here.

A primary focus of the first day was existing patterns of behavior at the institutional level. Stereotyping and bias are present in nearly all institutional sectors despite the well-intentioned millions of dollars spent every year on diversity initiatives. In the processes of admissions, recruitment, and hiring, organizations tend to analyze what candidates have in common with them rather than considering and welcoming differences. Tactics such as this, as well as diversity training, hiring tests, performance evaluations, and grievance procedures, do not work as effectively as they may think. In the workplace, white and masculine defaults further intensify this homogeneity rather than promoting inclusion. Individuals often use mental scripts to justify these choices, but the speakers made it clear that these must be challenged. The same is true in mentoring, employee services, promotion, tenure, retention, and general advancement.

On the second day, panelists addressed the fact that although institutions have been making an effort to change, their interventions are still, by and large, focused on the individual level rather than on structural and systemic levels. For instance, universities often assume that they need to take a one-size-fits-all remedial approach to separate underrepresented students and give them what they are missing. Instead, what they need to do is change their own culture and environment and allow these students to use their existing skills and comfortably navigate college life. Organizations also tend to address the so-called pipeline issue, but rather than thinking that there are not enough skilled individuals from underrepresented groups out there, they should instead change their recruitment process and remove the obstacles that the numerous qualified people from minority groups have to face in order to gain visibility.

Despite these unsuccessful approaches, institutions have made various efforts that seem promising in bringing about systemic change. Panelists outlined some of these and how they have helped shift behavior so far. Some of these strategies include formalizing recruitment, mentoring, flextime policies, work-life perks, and benefits. Additionally, when universities provide first-generation students and students of color with as many financial aid opportunities as possible, and when students get to be part of inclusive learning communities and see representation of experts from their identity groups, they experience lower levels of anxiety and higher levels of motivation, as well as more feelings of belonging. When institutions shift their mindset from being “colorblind” to being able to recognize the distinct problems that each minority group faces, then their resilience, persistence, and success in STEMM will truly be protected. One of the panelists, Ivuoma N. Onyeador, described additional useful tools in the PIBBS article she co-authored with Sa-kiera T. J. Hudson and Neil A. Lewis, Jr.

Leaders in science and society can reflect the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, not only within their own workforce and membership, but also through the large-scale decisions they make and with whom they choose to partner. Panelists in the final session on day 2 set a vision for the work to come through initiatives like NIH’s UNITE and the NSB’s Vision 2030. The emphasis for the future should be on transformative and sustained change that can eradicate systemic and structural racism, and this summit showed that there are promising steps that can make this possible. FABBS members can benefit from the information provided in this summit to advance their efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion and address systemic racism as discussed in the 2020 annual meeting. Being able to compare current ineffective practices and those with a potential for concrete change is a crucial step to achieve the large-scale goals that our community share.

DEI, Diversity, NASEM