Feb. 14, 2023
Higher Ed Institutions, STEMM Organizations Should Act to Change Cultures to Support Inclusive Excellence and Dismantle Barriers Created by Systemic Racism and Implicit Bias
WASHINGTON – To increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEMM fields, higher education institutions and STEMM organizations should go beyond a focus on simply increasing the numeric participation of minoritized racial and ethnic groups and act to change their organizational cultures and environments, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Removing barriers to entry and participation, while also implementing practices that convey belonging, will allow organizations to move from broadening participation by the numbers to fostering a culture of inclusion, thriving, and success, the report says. Organizations should take active, intentional steps to dismantle policies, practices, and cultures that confer power and privilege to White people over others.
“The concepts of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion are not goals for which a simple checklist will indicate success,” said Gilda Barabino, president of Olin College of Engineering and professor of biomedical and chemical engineering, and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Rather, the goal is to create environments that focus on inclusive excellence, where all participants have access to educational and professional opportunities, feel included, and have the resources to actualize their full potential. STEMM organizations will require ongoing leadership, resources, and commitment to ensure that these values become part of an intentionally maintained organizational culture.”
The report recommends that organizations follow a multitiered approach – at the leadership, team, and individual levels – and identifies policies and practices that can be implemented at each level.
While people from minoritized groups comprise a growing part of the U.S. population, that growth has not been mirrored by similar increases in STEMM education and careers among these groups, the report notes. The root cause of these gaps does not reflect the abilities or interests of individuals; rather, evidence shows that minoritized individuals have faced numerous systemic barriers, including macro-level policies and practices that have negatively impacted their access, representation, and ability to thrive in STEMM careers. Racial bias at the individual and interpersonal levels also impedes STEMM careers for people from minoritized groups.
“The history of systemic racism in the United States — both written laws and policies and a culture of practices and beliefs — has harmed Black people, Indigenous people, Latine, Asian American, and other people from minoritized racial and ethnic groups, ingrained patterns that continue to this day,” said committee co-chair Susan Fiske, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. “STEMM organizations operate within that broader national history, which provides critical context for understanding the unequal representation of minoritized populations in STEMM higher education and workplaces.”
“The committee has identified strong and needed actions that all STEMM organizations – including our own – could take to fight racism and embrace antiracism strategies that expand our focus beyond increasing numeric diversity to ensuring that everyone has the support and resources they need to succeed and thrive,” National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt, National Academy of Engineering President John L. Anderson, and National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau said jointly. “We hope this report will spark a decisive turning point for advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism in science, engineering, and medicine. We look forward to joining forces with other STEMM leaders to foster effective, meaningful change across the research enterprise.”
Organizations need multitiered strategies
The report recommends that organizations implement changes to policies and practices at the individual, team, and organization levels.
Individual level. Gatekeepers — individuals in institutions or organizations who are in a position to permit or prevent access to resources — play an important role in determining who is and who is not included in STEMM by defining the skills, identities, and values necessary for individuals to persevere in these fields. Research indicates that most often in STEMM, non-Hispanic White males occupy the gatekeeper role.
Like other people, gatekeepers often have attitudinal biases, cognitive mechanisms, and social motives that keep the White status quo intact, the report says. Racial bias is not only more automatic but also more ambivalent and ambiguous than most people think; this means that individuals, including gatekeepers, may not be able to monitor their own bias impartially, and may unwittingly perpetuate it.
The report recommends generating systems of accountability that can help identify behavioral patterns of individual gatekeepers. For example, leaders of STEMM organizations and human resources directors can create organization-level or unit-level information systems to collect data on the decisions of gatekeepers related to hiring, admissions, promotion, tenure, advancement, and awards, and other factors. Data should be examined in the aggregate to identify patterns of bias exhibited by gatekeepers based on race and ethnicity.
Team level. Most science today relies on scientists training or working together in teams of varying sizes. While a common narrative is that diverse teams perform better, simply having a numerically diverse team does not automatically result in positive performance outcomes, the report says. Numerous challenges can threaten performance, including anxiety about working with people from other racial and ethnic groups, and prevalent mistreatment targeting minoritized individuals.
Conditions that foster inclusion are essential, the report says. Gatekeepers who manage teams, such as principal investigators and heads of research groups, should be intentional about creating team norms that centralize a positive climate in which all team members, including minoritized individuals, are supported, heard, and respected. They should develop interdependent teams in which everyone is cooperating and working toward an established common goal. They should ensure that team members feel psychologically safe on the team, and work to promote equal status among team members.
Organizational and leadership level. Leaders, notably those at the very top of the organization such as presidents and chief executive officers, have the unique opportunity to shape organizational culture and climate by (re)shaping the norms, values, policies, and practices that comprise that culture and climate. To make large-scale change, leaders need to set an agenda that addresses the organization at multiple levels, including gatekeepers, leaders, midlevel management, and administration, with the appropriate resources in terms of person hours and funds.
Leaders should review evaluation criteria and decision-making practices at critical points of access and advancement – such as in admissions, hiring and wages, start-up resource-setting, and promotion — and take action to redress both individual bias and discrimination and organizational processes that reproduce harm and negative outcomes for people from minoritized racial and ethnic groups. For example:
- Admissions offices at the undergraduate and graduate levels should assess the alignment or divergence between their current admissions policies and the criteria and values of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion. They should develop holistic admissions strategies that offer a systematic, contextualized evaluation of applicants on multiple dimensions.
- Hiring managers, directors of human resources, and supervisors should measure and review the application, offer, and acceptance rates in their organization, as well as the salaries, resource packages, and academic tracks and titles of new hires, for instances of racial and ethnic discrimination in the hiring process. These leaders should implement, as appropriate, proactive outreach and recruitment to increase applications from people from minoritized racial and ethnic groups; training and resources to eliminate bias in the hiring process for managers; and updated policies to reduce bias and discrimination in setting wages.
- Directors of human resources and supervisors should measure, evaluate, and address the presence of bias and discrimination in rewards and promotion; the proportion of people from historically minoritized backgrounds leaving their positions and their reasons for doing so; and access to culturally relevant mentorship for students and employees.
The report urges predominantly White institutions of higher education and other STEMM organizations to look to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) as guides and adopt systems to increase support for people from minoritized racial and ethnic groups; they should also seek sustainable partnerships with minority serving institutions. Federal funding agencies, private philanthropies, and other grant-making organizations should provide increased opportunities for grants, awards, and other forms of support to increase understanding of how the policies, programs, and practices of HBCUs and TCUs support students and faculty.
The study – undertaken by the Committee on Advancing Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEMM Organizations – was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Fred Kavli Endowment Fund, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Ralph J. Cicerone and Carol M. Cicerone Endowment for NAS Missions, Rita Allen Foundation, and the Shanahan Family Charitable Foundation.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.
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Advancing Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEMM Organizations: Beyond Broadening Participation
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