Equity, diversity & inclusion in the context of science can be approached from different angles. First, one might think about how the science community might become more diverse and equitable as it pertains representation. Hence, the long-lasting question: how can STEM institutions recruit more women and people from underrepresented backgrounds? Furthermore, #ichbinhanna is an ongoing issue ( for good reasons!) and it is important to talk about the often precarious working conditions in academia, to criticize them and to fight for an adjustment of the system. Because once again, those who are disproportionately affected are those who belong to underrepresented groups and do not conform to the long-held normative view of who scientists should be: white, male, from well-educated families.
This post is not meant to be a contribution to this important discussion. Rather, today I would like to report on a goal that we have established as part of our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. Diversity aspects can (and often do) play an important role in research, and this does not only pertain the people we hire, the composition of our teams, internal policies, and processes; diversity and equity considerations should be embedded in research planning and research design as well.
Carolin Criado-Perez wrote what I think is an eye-opening book on the topic: Invisible Women. In er book she uses numerous case studies to show how women (let’s not even talk about other underrepresented groups) have almost been completely ignored – and thus discriminated against – by research, even though they make up almost 50% of the world’s population! Did you know that most medical textbooks still do not contain any gender-specific information on topics where gender differences have long been proven, such as depression or the effects of alcohol on the body? Or that studies by the pharmaceutical industry for many years were not necessarily conducted on female subjects? Results were considered generally valid for both sexes. It is not a secret that gender differences exist in the functioning of organs. Or did you know that crash tests, which are supposed to making driving as safe as possible, are carried out on dummies modelled on the standard male body and thus used as a representative of the adult population in general? And the “female dummies” that sometimes might be used are simply smaller variants of the male ones and present no specific female features as it pertains body shape and anatomy. Not to mention that they are often only tested in the co-driver’s seat. Pretty unfair and excluding, isn’t it?
Examples like these are numerous, but fortunately researchers are now becoming increasingly aware of knowledge inequality. So, this brings me back to our goal because what is the point of the most exciting and innovative research if it is not also visible. It is almost impossible to keep track of the countless papers that are published every day. Fortunately, there are opportunities for scientists to exchange ideas, and such a format has been established at FZJ with the Jülich Colloquia organised by the Scientific and Technical Council (WTR). In the project, we quickly realised that this format would provide an excellent framework for making D&I aspects of research accessible to a larger (expert-) audience. The WTR was of the same opinion and so, in close cooperation and with the involvement of our scientists, we succeeded in identifying speakers who could either report on D&I-relevant aspects in their research or provide best practice examples of how they promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in their institutions. In the future, at least one lecture per year will take place, in which the above-mentioned aspects will be addressed.
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