Talking inclusion and diversity

Poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth.” She also said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.”

Lorde, who was black, a lesbian, and briefly an academic, came of age half a century ago, long before offices for diversity and inclusion at academic institutions were commonplace. Her words still ring with currency.

We’ve come to learn that Lorde was right. Difference engenders growth in our work. When we recognize, accept and celebrate differences in our labs, classrooms and workplaces, we do better. Diverse teams are demonstrably better at identifying solutions, diversifying research foci and keeping in check biases that can undercut progress on projects.

Just as they did in the 1960s and ’70s, students nationwide again are organizing and demonstrating — demanding that faculty and administrators do and be better on issues of diversity and inclusion. In December, researchers evaluated 30 years of National Institutes of Health grants and determined that white scientists’ grant applications continue to get funded at higher rates than minority scientists’. Head over to Twitter, and you will quickly see that historically marginalized students and researchers continue to contend with othering on a daily basis.

Last month, we asked our readers to weigh in on the current state of diversity and inclusion in biochemistry and molecular biology. Did they think that BMB embraced or discouraged diverse voices and experiences? From their perches, were women and underrepresented minorities given seats at most tables? How did having people of color, women, LBGT and differently-abled individuals at the bench or in the classroom enrich scientific perspectives? Boy, they had a lot to say. We’ve printed their responses in a special section in this issue.

They told us many things. Among them, that although scientists say they want full equality, they don’t do what’s necessary to achieve it. That the push to stabilize funding for investigators near retirement and for well-established groups likely comes at the expense of the diverse junior and mid-career investigators. And that institutions can recruit colleagues from all walks of life but it won’t make a bit of difference if they don’t also retain and support that talent.

We see these responses as the first part of an ongoing discussion about diversity and inclusion matters in BMB. This first part is about where the field currently is in regard to these issues and how people honestly are feeling about it. Later, we’ll ask our members and readers another set of questions. How can the field improve? What are the real, concrete steps? Where are the promising developments?

If you teach, do any hiring, evaluate grants, nominate people for awards, plan meeting symposia, select speakers, invite review authors and influence institutional culture, we hope you’ll consider participating in this conversation or at least tuning in to hear what your colleagues have to say.

Lauren Dockett and Angela Hopp