Diversity Fueling Excellence in Research and Innovation: A Report from the Gender Summit 3, North America

by Marigold Linton, PhD and Robert E. Barnhill, PhD

856 Gender Summit 3 North America*brought together a diverse group of experts and stakeholders from a variety of domestic and international institutions to engage in discourse on emerging perspectives from studies of sex and gender differences. Specifically discussed was the concept of “gender neutrality” where study designs have taken into account the needs of both women and men as equally important.

The ultimate aim of the 3rd Gender Summit was to interconnect all relevant stakeholders in a Call to Action to achieve positive change toward greater diversity in the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) workforce and leadership and greater inclusion of “gender dimension” considerations in research content and process.

Voices of International Leaders

The Summit provided a forum for extremely impressive plenary speakers. Following is a highlight of only a few of the featured speakers.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, spoke eloquently and with great humor about Obama’s efforts to ensure opportunities for women. “When he sits down to dinner,” she quipped, “the only other male is the dog.” She also spoke on the mission and achievements of the Council’s coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls.

Isabelle Blain, VP Research Grants and Scholarships for Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada spoke on the peer review process practiced and promoted at her agency, which deploys great number of international experts on peer review committees.

JuliaTagüeña, Deputy General Director of Scientific Development (CONACYT) of Mexico provided some compelling descriptions of Mexican activities supporting gender equity. She helped the group develop a collective commitment to strengthen human capital development and research and innovation through diversity.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign described the ways in which UI –UC has dramatically increased the number of women and minorities at the institution in the few years that she has been chancellor.

SACNAS Represented855 SACNISTAS represent!

The meeting was attended by Marigold Linton (SACNAS Council of Senior Advisor member) and Robert Barnhill SACNAS VP for Science Policy and Strategic Initiatives. Other members of the SACNAS family who attended were AAAS S&T Policy Fellows, and Summer Leadership Institute graduates, Yaihara Fortis Santiago and Mary Garcia-Cazarin.

Sessions of Interest

There were hundreds of talks during this 2 ½ day period and numerous topics were addressed for the 600+ participants. Following are brief notes on sessions of particular interest to the SACNAS community.

Opportunities and Challenges for Women of Color in STEM and Society: Speakers and topics were: Loretta Moore, “Supporting Scholarly Careers of Underrepresented Faculty,” Marigold Linton, “Advancing American Indians in Science,” and Kecia Thomas, “Social Psychology Research on Women of Color.” Dr. Moore described activities in the Computer Science Department at Jackson State University that have promoted advancement of women faculty at the institution. Dr. Linton talked about her activities linking the University of Kansas with Haskell Indian Nations University, the important successes of the SACNAS Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) and the NSF Committee on Equality of Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE) and its mini-symposia targeting women and Native Americans. Lessons learned in the KU/Haskell collaboration included that the research university provided a high-level position for which the collaboration was a full-time position and who would be present for a long time. Dr. Linton emphasized that the SLI participation was competitive, involved equal numbers of each gender and produced individual Leadership Plans for each participant. Dr. Thomas described how her important research highlighted the importance between multiculturalism and color-blindness. “Color blindness” is frequently cited by scientists because they are trained to say (and think) that they are not influenced by considerations outside of science. However, the term can be used to suggest that everyone be treated without reference to their cultural background. On another hand, “multiculturalism” embraces people’s respective cultures and backgrounds and uses that diversity to advance science in new and useful ways.

Cultivating and Promoting Future Leaders: The goal of this session was to focus on the practices and processes that can ensure more effective promotion and progress of women already in the system and ready to take on leadership roles. We of course thought of the SACNAS Leadership Institute as an exemplar program thereto. In his talk entitled “Diverse Workforce Leads to Excellence,” Ray Upton, Vice President at Texas Instruments in Dallas, discussed “the diversity of ideas vs. the diversity of people” and “diversity leads to better business results.” He outlined TI’s individualized leadership plans to “create an environment for team members to thrive.” Upton said that one should “get a personal board of directors.” He also suggested getting two or three mentors because you don’t know which one will work well. We summarize Upton’s diversity message as “the diversity advantage” in producing better science or, in his case, better high tech products.

Other Sessions of Note: There were other topics that each of us found compelling: e.g., “Integrating Gender Dimension into Medical Research Training,” a topic of special importance to many women (some great information on statins and women was included) and “New Approaches to Career Development Support for Early Stage Female Scientists.” In another session quantitative data showing how clinical trials results for men and women are sometimes dramatically different leading to possible medical misdiagnoses. There was literally something for everyone.

URMs in STEM: Collaborating with Allies is Key

There were not many sessions on underrepresented minorities in STEM and we observed only one American Indian and a few Hispanic/Chicano scientists at the Summit. Thus we are particularly interested in how URMs in STEM can find and collaborate with allies and there were presentations at the Summit on how to do this more generally. The importance of finding allies is made well several times in Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s recent book, My Beloved World. For example, she says, “…take support and comfort from your own group as you can, but don’t hide within it.”

Further Resources

The Gender Summit website that can be accessed at http://www.gender-summit.eu/. Among the buttons currently available are “Speakers” which provides brief information on every speaker. Pictures, brief background and a very brief statement of the talk each gave are presented.

*Gender Summit 3 North America was held at the Washington Hilton November 13-15, 2013 and supported by partners: National Science Foundation (NSF), National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada, National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) of Mexico, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Portia Ltd UK (PORTIA) in Association with the European Commission. Two earlier Gender Summits were held in Brussels. Gender Summit 4 will be held in Brussels in spring 2014 and the following Summit is planned for South Africa.

A Personal Note: Each of us encountered many old and new friends including some we had long admired but had not interacted with previously. REB has known NSERC VP Blain for some time, most recently while serving for three years on the NSERC CREATE panels. CREATE is a program in which universities apply for support of graduate students and more advanced scientists in areas of both their science strength and which also can be societally useful. It is similar to Ohio’s Choose Ohio First Program, that REB helped develop some years ago. Among American federal programs, the nearest would be the NSF IGERT program. The relevance for SACNAS members at universities is that you should keep abreast of large institutional initiatives because you may be able to contribute. Hint: In our experience, most of the proposals in such programs are at least somewhat lacking in diversity, both ethnic and gender, so those demonstrating diversity have a competitive advantage.

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