3 September, 2020 Diversity in UK Polar Science
As Director of Innovation and Impact, one of my strategic aims is to enhance innovation culture through diversity and inclusion. I believe that innovation thrives on diversity of insights, fuelled by a richness of backgrounds and an inclusive culture of idea sharing. A step change has been the formation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funded Diversity in Polar Science Initiative (DiPSI) to mark the 200th Anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica. It has been a privilege to be part of the Steering Committee, and I have benefited tremendously from our joint journey.
Even with the best of intentions, it is likely we all unwittingly contribute to the problem. Although I care deeply about being inclusive and enhancing equality and diversity, I make mistakes – because I don’t know what it feels like to be in the shoes of colleagues from different minorities. I appreciate now that this will be a long, probably life-long learning process, as the make-up of our society evolves.
Our intense conversations around Black Lives Matter have taught me how essential it is to listen to the experiences of others with an open mind, to acknowledge with empathy how they are feeling and never to question a person’s lived experience of racism or any form of discrimination. It has encouraged me to educate myself on racism and understand the issues related to white privilege.
By exploring white privilege, I have become much more aware of the host of advantages I have been taking for granted as a white, able-bodied, tall, cis woman with a supportive family and life-long access to high quality education. It has provided me with additional motivation to help level the playing field.
I have come to appreciate how crucial it is that those in the majority, including myself, speak up on behalf of underrepresented groups. We need to call out damaging behaviours and be visible allies who drive change, rather than putting the onus and burden of proof on those who are already disadvantaged.
An essential first step is to acknowledge current shortfalls in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and express a desire for change, both top down from senior leadership and bottom up from staff engagement. The numbers are stark: with 3% of staff in UK Polar Science being BAME, and 1.8% disabled, compared to 16% and 19% respectively in UK society, we have a lot of work to do!
Let’s follow this up with creating structured opportunities to listen to minorities, and learn from their experience – diversity training should be available, and ideally mandatory, for all staff and students. It is helpful to have visible Diversity Champions and Allies, and make advanced training available.
We need to understand why we do not attract more diverse applicants for studentships and jobs, and take corrective action. One avenue to make a broader spectrum of talent aware of opportunities in polar science is to reach out specifically to schools and universities with highly diverse student bodies.
Let’s review recruitment practices and policies, setting ambitious targets for interviewing applicants from minority backgrounds. Positive action would be a powerful way to balance diversity and to express commitment to inclusion.
As individuals and institutions, we are all at different stages of this journey. Some of the needed changes may come surprisingly easy when we get stuck in, others will take a lot of time and effort.
Key is to keep moving together in the right direction, listening and learning from each other – I can’t wait for all of us to reap the benefit!
Find out more about the Diversity in UK Polar Science Initiative and get involved.