Today, I wanted to emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion especially in the sciences. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed as a woman in the sciences, let alone a black woman. Have you ever walked into a room and realized you were the only person of your gender identity? Your race or ethnicity? Your background? Your personal views? Your religion? I certainly, have and, let me tell you, it was frightening. It can be so incredibly difficult to feel comfortable enough to be yourself and reach your full potential when you are in an environment that doesn’t seem all that welcoming.
I have had a wide range of experiences in different labs and academic settings that have taught me so much about thriving in environments where diversity and/or inclusion may be lacking. Here are a few things that I’ve learned that can help you survive in places that don’t seem all that diverse or inclusive and how to deal with the cards you’ve been dealt.
1. Check yourself.
Remember my question about walking into a room and feeling “other” in some way? How much did you really look before you made this decision? Oftentimes, we make these sorts of decisions before we actually get to know everyone in the room. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we know that we should never judge a book by its cover. That is, we know that we should never base our final judgments on a person solely on what we can immediately see. So why do we do that when we decide that we are “other” in a room? Perhaps you may not share the same ethnicity or gender with someone in a room, but you may share the same sexual orientation, background, religion, or interests instead. Be careful to not make assumptions about others, you might be surprised what lies underneath! I have met some wonderful and interesting people under the most unlikely appearances. Make sure you get a chance to know everyone before you decide you’re alone! Although we may often base our main perception of diversity on what we can see, diversity is so much more. So, don’t exclude yourself before anyone gets a chance to include you!
2. Be Brave!
As I said before, when we’ve already decided we are “other”, the situation can be absolutely frightening. And when that’s the case, we can often feel discouraged from reaching out and getting to know people or allowing ourselves to be comfortable. The only solution to this is to be brave. You can never fully assess the diversity or inclusion of a given environment until you give others a chance to show their true colors. You may not like these colors all the time, but there are definitely people out there that make it worth the risk!
3. Fight or Flight?
Not every situation or environment is going to be welcoming. It is not ideal, but it happens. Perhaps your environment has more people that rub you the wrong way than you prefer. In this situation you have two options: fight or flight.
Fight: There is more than one way to fight a lack of diversity or inclusion in an environment. The most obvious way is constructive and respectful confrontation. That is, directly address the people or policies that may be affecting diversity and inclusion. However, confrontation isn’t for everyone, myself included. For those that can not handle confrontation, you can still fight by doing your best to make others feel welcome and spending more time with the people more willing to contribute to a more diverse and inclusive setting.
Flight: Although I fully support people fighting for diversity and inclusion in their environments, after a certain point you have to re-evaluate the worth of your time and concern. It is hard to say, but some environments are a lost cause or require more fighting power than you can provide on your own. Know when to cut your losses and recognize when a setting is no longer good for your mental and social health.
I hope these tips can help you all feel more comfortable in or learn when to leave environments that are lacking in diversity or inclusion. They have certainly helped me!