Individuals from minoritized racial and ethnic groups continue to face systemic barriers that impede their ability to access, persist, and thrive in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) higher education and workforce. Without actively dismantling policies and practices that disadvantage people from minoritized groups, STEMM organizations stand to lose much needed talent and innovation as well as the ideas that come from having a diverse workforce.
A new report from the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences examines the backdrop of systemic racism in the United States that has harmed and continues to harm people from minoritized groups, which is critical for understanding the unequal representation in STEMM. The report outlines actions that top leaders and gatekeepers in STEMM organizations, such as presidents and chief executive officers, can take to foster a culture and climate of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion that is genuinely accessible and supportive to all.
The pre-publication copy of the report is free with a no-cost MyNAP Account, or it can be downloaded as a guest. The preface starts out by stating that "The report provides no simple answers to racial obstacles that date back beyond the origins of American history." No one should be surprised by that statement, there aren't any simple answers. But the report goes on to detail actionable strategies that are informed by the "lived experiences of practicing STEMM scientists, engineers, and medical professionals."
The report states the committee's mandate and notes that it was tasked to examine structural racism, not individual or intrapersonal racism (pp xxii - xxiii):
The committee was asked to:
review the research and evidence from lived experience on the ways in which racism (at the individual and group level, and through conditions that create systemic barriers) impedes STEMM careers for historically minoritized racial and ethnic groups;
identify principles for sustainable change of organizational culture to address racism and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; these might entail discussion of the role of training, ways to motivate buy-in at all levels of the STEMM organization, and ways to stay the course in adopting a strategy and goals aimed at addressing racism and its role as a barrier to a STEMM career;
review and synthesize the existing research on methods to improve the recruitment,
retention, and advancement of members of historically minoritized racial and ethnic groups pursuing STEMM careers; and identify promising policies and practices for changing existing systems and structures;
identify examples of effective strategies to advance antiracism in STEMM organizations, including roles for members within organizations; and
define a research agenda to address gaps in knowledge in the evidence base to advance antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The committee elected to focus on structural racism as experienced by Black Americans, while emphasizing that is not intended to diminish the challenges faced by other minoritized groups, but that research into the Black American experience has greater breadth and depth at this time. They hope that the report will help spur additional research into other groups situations.
I must admit that when I started reading it I was a bit overwhelmed, and impatient. I believe that there is a deep structural problem with racism and was eager to get to ANSWERS! even if they were not simple ones. So I went straight to Conclusions and Recommendations, and there are A LOT of them (pp xxvi-xl).
Suggestions for Leaders and Gatekeepers of STEMM organizations, higher education and human resources offices (see document for details)
1. Improve numerical diversity through the admission, hiring, and inclusion of minoritized individuals at all levels of an organization.
2. Create and provide continued investment in evidence-based programs that connect minoritized individuals to ingroup peers, institutional resources, and professional networks. These investments require significant expertise in their designs and execution, and they may not yield immediate results; however, they can increase a sense of welcome and belonging through the ability to connect with individuals from similar racial and ethnic backgrounds. Types of programs may include the following types of resources.
3. Create and provide continued investment in programs that facilitate working relationships between minoritized individuals and high-status professionals.
4. Develop interpersonal environments and institutional norms that promote inclusion, dignity, belonging, and affirmations of kindness.
5. Use evidence-based design and implementation practices to build curriculum initiatives that increase access to discovery, including, for example, course-based research experiences (CRE). These are just the first 5, there are more, and each one had layers of details beyond what is typed here.
I can't say any of the recommendations were a huge surprise, but it was encouraging to see them laid out in such a thoughtful manner, with input from the people who have been directly affected by racism. Of course, for all the committee's hard work, for the recommendations to be turned into actions requires strides beyond the report. So I am eagerly awaiting information about how that will be supported and implemented throughout our country. I do plan to go back and read other parts of the report--it might take a while, but understanding the issues is a big part of understanding the recommendations.