Improving Diversity in the UK now: Changemakers and becoming better allies

–Panel 2 Summary–

Shan Da Silva: Shan talked about two of the programs he has been involved in at Oregon State University: (a) Increasing Diversity in the Earth Sciences and (b) the LBOS Geobridge program. Programs likes this are needed because the lack of representation is an outcome from systemic bias. In US lack of diversity loses contribution to our science and impoverishes universities. Goal was to reach more diverse communities, and create a pipeline (with minimal leakage) into Earth Sciences. An important point is also to provide access to networks and opportunities. The program strategies included: mentoring framework and a research experience over two years, and to provide ‘marketable’ skills to participants. They took an intersectional approach (including both socially disadvantaged students and those from underserved minorities). A key was designing the course with the students interests at the forefront. All of these features were recognised by students as key to the program’s success. Many participants ended up in a GIS-based career path. The multi-year and funding (to enable participation) was key to the success.

If you do something: understand what your motivation and intent is; design program to address central issues  – what diversity are you attempting to address; think through whether this initiative is something you want to have within the fabric of the organisation, and to ensure you carefully consider your indicators of success.

Chris Jackson: shared some of his personal experiences of race and racism in the geosciences. Experiential data are an important part of recognising and tell the story of the lack of diversity in geosciences.  He reflected on the impact of growing up in a very white space as a black schoolkid and then academic.  His own experience of university involved general acceptance for who you were and the intelligence and contribution you made. This points out that it is important to remember that no experience is homogeneous, when you are a minority this still means you have heterogeneous interests, strengths and experience.  More recently it has been enervating correcting unconscious biases and prejudices that make assumptions about you no matter how successful you are.  He pointed out that black professors are 0.7% of those in the U.K. – creating a demographic that invites surprise, but this is an unacceptable culture and it should be firmly expressed as such.

Michal Camejo: talked about her trajectory towards completing her PhD. She did her first degree at UWI (University of the West Indies), and early on experienced barriers in the form of the wide availability of specialised equipment. She was able to benefit from the international networks her supervisor had, this linkage is what created an initial two-day opportunity and to take a course. Two days – is not enough and to do more she needed to find funds. There she benefited from the willingness of both supervisor and UK hosts to try and help out. Her scholarship was a Commonwealth split-site scholarship. She had to have a lot resilience in sticking with it. UK students have more opportunities for learning with facilities and equipment and this meant she had to be determined to catch up. But networking and learning opportunities were abundant and freely offered, the opportunity to present at international conferences. Key: important to have good linkages between institutions from the beginning internationally; need to be supportive and encouraging environment. In the end though both partners and groups benefit. It’s important to include partners from the local research community. ‘We don’t want handouts, if we are given the same opportunity we are just as capable as everyone else of doing high quality research’. Current publishing trends on Caribbean geology reflect the imbalance of resources and representation will increase when resource is shared.

Questions and Answers

These were the three questions that had the highest ‘approval’s when posed live in the Mentimeter poll.

1. Tips for dealing with difficult people who do not wish to acknowledge that there is a problem with diversity in geoscience.

(A) Make yourself aware of the data that demonstrate the evidence for this – have it to hand. Evidence should be powerful with scientists, and there is plenty of it.
(B) Encourage institutions and individuals to address individual and systemic bias through the many courses that are available.
(C) Consider doing everything you can to amplify the research effort from your cooperating partners in international institutions

2. How can we rewards positive activities that help such as mentoring?

(A) We should join forces and work together and value this in all aspects of life, we should be part of the shift.
(B) It’s important not to make it a ‘target to be good’ then it can start to pervert behaviours. Diversity and inclusion is like being asked to a party and not allowed to dance – its about more than being in the room. Performative diversity is damaging.
(C) Again it’s important to think about what is causing the exclusion, it can be social and financial exclusion.

3. What do you think about ring-fenced studentships for those under-served by the Geoscience research community. Should we have them?

(A) Yes
(B) Within UK law this is permissible. And it breaks down the mis-premise that academia is meritocratic. It can’t be truly meritocratic if we have not balanced opportunity to get to the point of applying.
(C) Yes, it’s very difficult to get funding – because it is sequestered explicitly to the UK and Europe. Widening opportunity is important, however it is done.

INVOLC was mentioned as a good vehicle to support the creation of opportunity and widening of participation.

Discussion Group Synthesis and Closing Points: re-distributing opportunity and being actively ‘anti-racist’

Several key points emerged from the discussions and some were elaborated on by our panel too:

(a) Mentoring and celebrating positive role models.

(b) On advocacy and pushing for systemic change; VMSG should not act in isolation.

(c) There is already plenty of evidence for what works, but these do require an outlay in people’s time and in securing funding.

(d) There is a space for those of us who have privilege to learn more about that and its context.

(e) Advocating and calling out bias or poor behaviour by those outwith the BAME community is valued, when done sensitively and without muffling voices.

(f) Look to strengthen and advocate for your networks of international colleagues where possible.

(g) We should think carefully about how making ‘Black Lives Matter’ can be amplified through a joint focus with other areas of equality and diversity (intersectionality).

Appendix 1 contains further information on the meeting evaluation and participant feed-in.

Video Recording