Hello … I’m here, can you hear me?

By
Eva Andrijcic

pexels-photo-1162964

On July 10 and 11, I attended the National Science Foundation’s REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments (NSF RED) Principal Investigators Meeting, sponsored by the NSF and organized by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) (https://redmeeting.asee.org/). This two-day meeting was envisioned as a place where recipients of the coveted NSF RED grants could share experiences and ideas on how to further promote the revolution in engineering and computer science education research and practice. One among the several goals of the meeting was to explore models for changing culture, especially with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

For me, the meeting’s focus on DEI was refreshing and timely.  Attendees were primarily engineering and computer science faculty who are transforming their programs, curricula, and institutional structures. But in order to make their projects sustainable, these change agents must use innovative problem solving and garner widespread support, which can only be achieved when multiple perspectives, experiences and voices are taken into consideration.  In other words, sustainable change projects have to support an inclusive culture which “enables ideas, perspectives, and experiences to be fully leveraged, creating a wide bandwidth for problem solving and innovation” [1].

Many individuals assume that diversity is the same as inclusion. In an interview for Forbes magazine [2], Jennifer Brown, author of “Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change” summarizes the difference between diversity and inclusion as follows:

“Diversity is the who and the what: who’s sitting around that table, who’s being recruited, who’s being promoted, who we’re tracking from the traditional characteristics and identities of gender and ethnicity, and sexual orientation and disability – inherent characteristics that we’re born with. Inclusion, on the other hand, is the how. Inclusion is the behaviors that welcome and embrace diversity. If you are a great leader for inclusion, you have figured out how to embrace and galvanize [the] diversity of voices and identities.”

Katz and Frederick [1] define inclusion as:

“A sense of belonging: Feeling respected, valued, and seen for who we are as individuals; There is a level of supportive energy and commitment from leaders, colleagues, and others so that we – individually and collectively – can do our best work.”

Inclusion is key to implementing successful and sustainable change projects. If we are changing the status quo, we need to consider how our ideas will impact involved individuals, especially those who do not currently feel empowered to voice their opinions.  We need to establish processes that invite their diverse knowledge and partner with them to build a better and more sustainable solution.

How do we go about creating an environment in which people who are rarely heard from feel safe and able to contribute and express themselves? How do we create an environment in which people feel that their contributions are appreciated?

In “Inclusion: The HOW for the Next Organizational Breakthrough” Katz and Frederick identify several characteristics of an inclusive organization where individuals feel empowered to contribute their best work [1]. In inclusive organizations,

  • People adopt a joining mindset where they join others rather than judge others
  • People respect other people’s time, talents, needs, and life outside of the organization
  • People’s contributions are valued as essential for the overall success
  • People are seen and they do not have to repress or hide certain elements of their identity
  • People are expected to speak up and share ideas
  • People offer peer-to-peer leadership
  • People are willing to be bold and they initiate leadership where and how they can

Sherbin and Rashid from the Center for Talent Innovation identify some additional factors that drive inclusion in the workplace, and their insights can be found in [3].

The NSF RED Principal Investigators Meeting embodied many of the DEI principles to create an inclusive atmosphere for all attendees. Dr. Julie Martin who is serving as the Program Director for Engineering Education at National Science Foundation and is managing the RED grants opened the meeting by highlighting some of the ways in which she and facilitators sought to ensure inclusion. Some examples of DEI principles that were utilized at the meeting included: name tags on which attendees could write their preferred pronouns, microphones that were set up around the large meeting room to ensure that anyone who was speaking could be heard by all attendees, and meeting norms that were developed by facilitators to ensure that everyone can have an inclusive and equitable experience. Interestingly, during the meeting several attendees reiterated those norms to the rest of the group when they observed biased, exclusionary or non-inclusive behaviors.

In addition to these examples, various meeting participants provided other examples of how they are trying to ensure inclusion in their own programs. Various groups talked about the need to establish strategic relationships with their respective offices of diversity and inclusion to leverage their knowledge and skills. The idea of rewarding or somehow incentivizing individuals who were embodying DEI practices was mentioned several times. Teams talked about different experiences they had obtaining feedback from various groups impacted by their projects, and they agreed that in order to empower everyone to voice their opinions or questions, different communication channels must be established (e.g., open forums, electronic surveys, anonymous notes).

This meeting made me realize that most of us need to be more aware of and more strategic in developing inclusive practices. We cannot just assume that somebody else will think about them. In order to develop and implement sustainable change we need to create environments in which we can seek ideas and insights from all, especially those whose voice is rarely heard, and value and reward everyone’s contributions.

 

References:

[1] Katz, J. H. and F.A. Miller. “Inclusion: The HOW for the Next Organizational Breakthrough.” Practicing Social Change, Issue 5, May 2012. Pp. 16-22. Available at: http://www.ntl-psc.org/assets/Uploads/PSC-Journal-Issue-05-Judith-H-Katz-and-Frederick-A-Miller.pdf

[2] Arruda, W. “The Difference Between Diversity And Inclusion And Why It Is Important To Your Success.” Forbes, Nov 22, 2016. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamarruda/2016/11/22/the-difference-between-diversity-and-inclusion-and-why-it-is-important-to-your-success/

[3] Sherbin, L. and R. Rashid. “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion.” Harvard Business Review, Feb 1, 2017. Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/02/diversity-doesnt-stick-without-inclusion

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