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Official music video of the song “Trapped in a Box” by No Doubt.

Diversity and inclusion should be about recognizing people´s individuality, seeing the person beyond the label. Though, labels are an essential tool for D&I practitioners, and I am not sure there is an easy way out this paradox. It is a daily conundrum. Labels often perpetrate those same power dynamics that diversity and inclusion practitioners should be challenging. They are intrinsically divisive; they create artificial barriers harnessing a reality that is often more fluid and complex. Yet, labels provide an important framework to analyze and validate the experiences of an heterogeneous group of people sharing common experiences or characteristics – whether those are subscribed or ascribed.

A friend and former colleague told me that her European students often believe that D&I does not exist in Europe – nor there is need for that. Somehow, they believe that inequality is specific to the United States and therefore it needs no addressing outside of this specific context. Police violence, LGBTIAQ+ shootings, limited access to education and healthcare, the KKK, are often brought as examples of realities foreign to Europe. Inequality, however, is everywhere and Europe makes no exception. Failure to recognize it signals that we might be watching from a privileged position.

Context matters and we can´t expect inequality to look the same across counties with different cultures and administrative contexts. Our past is not America´s past and social constructs that apply to the U.S. do not easily translate to Europe´s context. Further, there is a high degree of variability across Europe itself, even when our cultures are not too far apart. The D&I conversation, however, is very much dependent on U.S. specific identity labels that poorly apply to the cultural and social context of Germany. And this has been one of the main challenges that we have faced when we started developing a climate survey for Forschungszentrum Jülich. We knew what we wanted to ask, but we felt like we didn´t have an adequate vocabulary for that.

One good example for that is what Americans call “Race”. Europeans – unless they are playing at Dungeons and Dragons – do not talk about race and there are very good reasons for that. Race is a social construct based on the false premises of white supremacy and using it to classify people means holding true this way of making sense of society. While race is a made-up concept, however, the impact of racism on people´s life is very real and should not be ignored. Data collection, therefore, should not be avoided. The question, however, remains: how can we monitor racism within our context without talking about race? From our discussions with our D&I council, it seemed clear that skin tone was only one of the many aspects to be considered. But then what about other physical traits such as hair color and texture that are still essential to the process of othering in Germany? Not only we have an awareness problem, but we also have a language one. Speechless, that is how we felt. Simply unable to adequately put into words the reality that many people are living.

Of course, a possible way of action would have been to ask people to self-define themselves. As it comes to surveys, however, this solution is not always preferable as variance in respondents ´answers might generate data that then are hard to analyze and compare. In consultation with the Sounding Group, therefore, several questions were created to capture the uniqueness of people´s experiences based on a variety of intersecting characteristics that fit the cultural and social environment within which we operate. It was honestly challenging and time consuming, but creating the survey gave us the opportunity to redefine diversity from our own perspective.

Dr. Junbeom Park is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Energy and Climate Research, Fundamentals of Electrochemistry (IEK-9). In his blog article, the native South Korean reports on his time at Forschungszentrum Jülich and, in particular, on a workshop that not only opened up opportunities for collaboration, but was also balm for the soul after the long Corona period.

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A Lego character depicting an archeologist, a looter, or maybe that's just a diversity and inclusion practitioner.

A Lego character depicting an archeologist, a looter, or maybe that’s just a diversity and inclusion practitioner. Photo by Grianghraf on Unsplash.

Indiana Jones has aged terribly, there is no doubt, and this seems a recurrent problem with many of  my childhood heroes.  I can still hold onto Jam and She-ra but it doesn’t really fix many of the 80s and 90s pop culture’s issues as it comes to diversity and inclusion. Our own biases stem from the meaning system in which we were raised, and while most regret puffed shoulders, ruffles, and peculiar hair choices, uncovering the faults of schooldays champions has a bitter taste. I am just surprised, though, that today we keep talking about implicit biases, because the kind of messaging I get from old-time favorites is all but implicit. That is not where I want to go with this post, however.

Exploiting the Indiana Jones metaphor, rather, I was trying to evoke that sense of adventure, gusto for untraveled paths and eagerness to dig up hidden treasures that sometimes make looters, archeologists and diversity and inclusion practitioners unusually alike. Or at least that is how I felt when, after months of data collection and analysis, the production of a massive report and innumerable meetings with key stakeholders we came back home holding a D&I action plan in our hands.

I would consider writing FZJ’s first diversity and inclusion report a very important first milestone for the project. Mr. Jones might “not follow maps to buried treasures” and he might claim that X never marks the spot. Yet that is what the first report meant to us: a map with clear coordinates and instructions. A building block for further action that enables us to better seize our challenges and plan for adequate interventions.  

The report developed encompassed an evaluation of current anti-discrimination measures and resources, a qualitative study regarding the experiences of minority employees working at FZJ, an audit of internal policies, processes and infrastructure, the analysis of most relevant representation indicators, and a climate assessment based on data obtained through an employee survey in spring 2021. Multiple stakeholders were involved in the process and outcomes were presented to the Board of Directors, the D&I Sounding Group, the D&I Project Board as well as FZJ employees during the project´s “Strategy Development” stage.

From a general perspective, the report presented a positive situation as it concerns FZJ’s overall climate. Data emerging from the Audit do not suggest gender or ability-based biases in hiring. Further, the center was found to be compliant with German anti-discrimination laws. Qualitative interviews, however, in some cases also revealed negative attitudes towards women and ethnic and sexual minorities in our work environment. From the survey, it emerged that one in four participants has at least occasionally witnessed bullying or acts of exclusion in the workplace, and people belonging to underrepresented and/or minority groups were less likely to report positive experiences.

The survey revealed that leadership is an essential component to create and sustain an inclusive environment. People who rated their superiors positively were more likely to report better workplace experiences. From qualitative interviews, however, it emerged that people in leadership positions might lack information and skills to champion change within the organization and model inclusiveness.

In the survey, international employees reported less positive experiences than German employees as it concerns access to services and information. Additionally, interviews revealed that currently provided information and services might not always respond to the needs of under-represented and minority groups. The mapping of anti-discrimination resources revealed, for instance, that information on individual rights, institutional resources and employees’ duties are not always adequately communicated to different employees’ groups. Currently existing D&I infrastructure, furthermore, does not always allow the organization to adequately integrate diversity and inclusion considerations in its daily practices.

The survey also revealed that scientists scored lower than other participants did as it concerns personal connections and involvement opportunities. Doctoral researchers were more likely to report high levels of stress and isolation. It should be considered, however, that data were collected during a country-wide lockdown due to Covid-19 which might have exacerbated such feelings.

Developing the FZJ D&I Report was an incredibly intense period. The workload to be processed within six months was considerable and adequately communicating over 150 pages of findings to different audiences and stakeholders wasn´t any easier. In some circumstances, however, what proved to be really difficult was holding people from jumping to action. We finally had a map, that was true, but we still needed to draw an X on it and discuss logistical details – which is often not a very enticing conversation when compared to the thrill of hitting the road.  

After only a few days, with many impressions in Togo, the travel group continued their tour on Thursday. By minibus they crossed the border into Ghana and drove through the streets in the direction of Accra. In Accra, the most important agenda item awaited the delegation: the signing of the MOU between the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL), Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University.

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The past two days in Lomé, Togo, were impressive, emotional, hopeful and simply wonderful. The West African state was the second of three stops during the delegation trip of German scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University. Not only was an addendum drawn with the Université de Lomé, it also provided an impressive demonstration of the motivation and achievements of the 15 students from Track 4 “Biofuels and Bioenergy”.

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There are some problems we cannot solve alone: We need help from partners and friends. This applies, for example, to the current research and education situation in Africa, but also to the supply of energy, ressources and food. The two German institutions, Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University, therefore signed an agreement on Monday yesterday with the Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD) in Dakar, Senegal, to help the university train the next generation of energy experts.

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The nice thing about traveling is that you have the opportunity to get to know other countries and people. All parts of the world have different traditions and customs. It is important to be open to these habits and to get to know the culture and history of a country. On Sunday, the delegation therefore went to Gorée Island, a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of African men, women and children who had been sold into slavery.

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Usually, a journey begins long before the plane, train or car is boarded to arrive at the destination. And this is also the case with the large delegation trip that will take colleagues from Forschungszentrum Jülich, RWTH Aachen University and the University of Rostock to West Africa. The objective is to visit the partners in Senegal, Togo and Ghana and to open up additional cooperation opportunities.

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A Biochemist’s Discovery of Neurobiology

It is said that traveling broadens the mind. However, what is important for new experiences and a wider world view is the attitude when traveling. An enthusiastic traveler once said, ‚There is nothing wrong with setting goals, as long as you don’t let it keep you from setting interesting detours’. This little quote from Mark Twain describes quite well how Cole Wilson came to Forschungszentrum Jülich. The objective is quite clear in this comparison: gaining experience abroad and in research; the detour is the research field that awaited the young biochemist in Germany. But let’s start right from the beginning.

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Dreaming big for a better future

Science and scientific exchange can create the foundations for a peaceful society. That’s the view of Dr. Sabreen Hammouda. The physicist lives in Garching and works as a postdoc in the PGSB Returner Program at the Jülich Centre for Neutron Science, Neutron Methods (JCNS-4). During her doctoral studies in Germany, the young scientist conducted research at Forschungszentrum Jülich. After her time in Garching, she has the opportunity to return to Palestine, however, she is already committed to supporting Palestinian students and actively shaping the research landscape in her home country.

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