As a diversity and inclusion practitioner, I like talking about why organizations should commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I put my full hearth and energies in what I do and those around me probably know how passionate I am about helping research and educational institutions to build a more inclusive and equitable environment for students, employees and society at large. Once, a friend made me notice that I might come across as rather cynical in professional settings. I would call that pragmatism instead…It is true, however, that when I talk about diversity and inclusion (D&I) I tend to focus more on the business case rather than moral arguments. If I do so, nevertheless, it is just because I think it is more effective when I address a wide and composite audience with a variety of opinions and political leanings.

Left to right, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz”. Photo by Umanoide on Unsplash.

Something might just be “the right thing to do”. But in my head, I keep hearing the voice of a former colleague from the Moore School (UofSC) asking, “the right thing for whom? Is it the right thing for senior executives? Taxpayers? Employees? Or maybe institutional stakeholders and a variety of other social actors?” I can´t imagine many solid ethical arguments that would really bring all these perspectives and interests together without disagreements, especially when we start thinking about costs and liabilities. That´s why, when I talk about further advancing FZJ D&I capabilities, I tend to highlight strategic advantages over morality. There is no cynical enjoyment from my side. Pragmatism…as I wrote above – that´s it!

As much as I personally believe that diversity and inclusion should be moral priorities – even more so for organizations like ours that strive to find solutions for some of the main challenges facing humanity today – I can´t avoid asking myself: “Can we really justify D&I related costs by simply arguing that it is the right thing to do?” Would taxpayers find a moral argument convincing? I was pleased to discover that several colleagues, directors, and executives here at FZJ look at diversity, equity and inclusion as moral imperatives. And I was even more pleased to see that they recognize institutional shortcomings and barriers at least as much as I do. Diversity, equity and inclusion are part of the values of our professional community; values that were created taking into account the perspectives and needs of a variety of stakeholders and this is clear if we read our Leitbild. Yet, is this enough to motivate a long-term commitment to something that is not just a value, but requires very tangible changes across a variety of organizational units? After all, equity and inclusion don´t just happen closing our eyes and clicking the heels of our red shoes (just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz). It takes constant work and investments to turn ideals into reality.

If we don´t take diversity, inclusion, and equity seriously, we might not be able to keep fulfilling our collective mission in the future. This means less scientific discoveries, lower impact, and decreased societal gains. I agree, it is cynical to say, “If we focus on D&I, we will get something in return”. To some, it might sound a bit like “if you behave you might have ice cream after dinner.” Still, it seems more effective. It creates urgency. Further, some might claim that ensuring our investments – including D&I initiatives – are motivated also by mission-based considerations (i.e. scientific advancement) is an essential ethical requirement to make good use of public funds.

D&I is not only the right thing to do from an ethical perspective, it also the right thing to do if we consider the sustainability of FZJ commitment to create and deliver societal value through research. As we think about our mission, it is important to consider that the scientific environment has changed, and new challenges require reconsidering how we operate as an organization. While in the last decades, globalization has made access to information, international collaborations, and high quality employees easier, it has also increased competition for talent, resources, and scientific achievements. Further, a rapidly aging population combined with a relatively low number of new STEM graduates and increased private and public spending in R&D are likely going to impact future availability of scientific talent throughout Europe. In Germany, specifically, post-financial crisis nativity rates reached an all-time low and over the next twenty years we can expect an overall decline in workforce availability resulting in a reduction of 1/3 compared to current levels (Ramboll, 2014). Additionally, about 60% of German STEM workers are above 45 years of age and their retirement might soon create higher demand for highly skilled STEM professionals (Danish Technological Institute, 2015). The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has already registered a lack of STEM professionals and even taking current immigration levels into account, Germany will need to attract 400.000 more immigrant workers per year to keep the labor force at its current levels.

On the scientific side, about 40% of our junior employees (doctoral researcher and postdocs) already have an international background. Further, looking at new cultural and demographic trends, we know that the German population itself has changed, and this has brought more diversity into our pipeline and among our employees. In Germany, the employment rate of women has increased to 70% (OECD 2017), 1 in 4 people has a migrant background (BAMF 2018), the Muslim population accounts for more than 5% of German citizen (BAMF 2016), and new generations identify at higher rates with sexual and gender minorities (7-10% according to Dalia Research, 2016). In this context, focusing on Diversity and Inclusion is important to ensure we maintain our reputation as employer of choice, but it is also fundamental to sustain a productive and collaborative environment where people can reach their full potential and fully contribute to the mission of the Center. And this is true for scientists as well as for doctoral researchers, administrative staff, service and operations professionals, and technicians.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are vital for our organization. And while I have no enchanted red shoes to click nor magic wand to wave – to be honest, though, my wardrobe includes several Hogwarts pieces of garment  – I believe that explaining why some of our organizational values are intrinsically connected to our mission helps us putting things into perspective and give us further motivation to transform words into reality.


  • BAMF, 2018. “Personen mit Migrationshintergrund in Deutschland“ Web 29 January 2021.
  • BAMF, 2016. „How many Muslims Live in Germany?“ Web, 29 January 2021.
  • Dalia, 2016. “Counting the LGBT population” Web, 29 January 2021.
  • Danish Technological Institute, 2015. “Does Europe Need More Stems Graduate?”, European Commission Directorate-General for Education and Culture. Web, 10 October 2019.
  • Ramboll, 2014. “Mapping and Analyzing Bottleneck Vacancies in the EU Labor Market”. European Commission Final Report. Web 10 October 2019.
  • Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. “Skilled Professionals for Germany”, BMWI. Web, 10 October 2019.
  • OECD, 2017. “The Pursuit of Gender Equality: How Does Germany Compare?”, Web, 29 January 2021

About Alice Leri (she/her)

Alice Leri (she/her) is a diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner responsible for managing a long term D&I project launched by FZJ in January 2021. Before joining FZJ, she served as Associate Dean for D&I at the Darla Moore School of Business (US) where she also worked a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Sonoco International Business Department. Alice has extensive experience living and working in several countries including Italy, Turkey, Germany, Ireland, the US and the Netherlands. She has a PhD in Cultural Studies from Tilburg University (The Netherlands) and Master’s degree in Islamic Studies from “L’Orientale” (Italy). She also received a D&I certificate from Cornell ILR School and is certified as Human Resources professional through SHRM (SHRM-CP).

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