Publication: Making the Most of Diversity Lessons

My latest on Women’s Policy Action Tank discusses the various delays in addressing equity and diversity at the March for Science Australia. At the national level only around half a dozen of the promoted speakers were representative of Australia’s multiculturalism. I also discuss the gaps in the national agenda for the march, and its local goals for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Stronger integration of equity and diversity in leadership would improve outcomes in future science events. Below is an excerpt of my article.

March for Science Australia

While there were some notably diverse speakers at the March for Science across Australia – for example, Karlie Noon, Upulie Divisekera, Luke Briscoe and Dr Penny Whetton – there were lengthy delays in confirming speakers and demonstrating a commitment to STEM diversity.

The national strategy for March for Science remains unclear. How will the march leverage the protest and rallies into policy change? What specific policies does it hope to affect? How will they address funding cuts? What is the vision on diversity in STEM? These and other tough questions remain unanswered.

It has recently emerged that the march appears to have a conflict of interest with the undeclared involvement of politicians in the march organising committee. Additionally, the Sydney march included the former leader of the Liberal Party, Dr John Hewson, despite the non-partisan remit of the March for Science.”

As it stands, both the global and local marches reflected much room for improvement.

Why Diversity Matters

The issues for the global March for Science, as well as the national marches in Australia, are fundamental to issues of diversity in STEM around the world. The march is a microcosm of the battle to create a more inclusive culture in STEM that truly values and promotes diversity.

We start with the backwards logic. The march began without diversity in mind. The diversity statements by the global march came only after various mistakes and in response to critique from underrepresented scientists. Locally, there is no publicised diversity statement in the first instance, let alone a detailed strategy for equity, inclusion and access.

Extensive, longitudinal research shows that diversity statements and policies alone do not lead to greater diversity in the workplace. In fact, individual programs, whether it’s mentoring women or one-off training, do little to advance (only some) White women’s individual careers, and many programs have little effect on women of colour and other minorities. This is because programs are designed to “fix” individuals, without committing to changing the system.

Diversity is effective, and pays dividends in productivity, where equity, inclusion and accessibility are at the core of leadership and organisational practice. For an organisation to realise the full potential of diversity, leaders must not only model behavioural changes, but also lead proactive planning, evaluation and targeted solutions to transform their workplace culture. Superimposing a diversity statement on the existing structure allows only a few individuals to succeed while White men’s dominance remains unperturbed.

Diversity is just one of many important STEM issues in Australia, and one that should not take a backseat role to other pressing science issues. In fact, diversity undercuts all STEM policy matters. For example, Indigenous science is vital to addressing climate change and developing sustainable practices, as well as being indispensable to health initiatives, technology R&D, and other STEM ventures. Scientific potential will never be met unless Indigenous Australians lead STEM programs and activities, moving away from a deficit model to one of self-determination and empowerment in STEM. This includes activities like the March for Science. Imagine how an event that aspires to be a critical moment of change in STEM would have looked like with 60,000 years of ATSI wisdom leading its strategy!

We’ve been doing STEM in this country for a very long time and inequalities persist despite good intentions to make change. It’s time to stop accepting the status quo as an inevitable outcome of STEM careers and instead institute what we know to be best practice.

Read the rest of the article, with links to science of diversity:

Learn More

Read my science articles on the March for Science

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