After Report: Employees Say Diversity Needs to Extend Beyond the Workplace | CAI

After Report: Employees Say Diversity Needs to Extend Beyond the Workplace

Dec 16, 2019

A recent Harvard University report finds there is a lack of diversity within the six science organizations in Woods Hole. Estimates say 90% of researchers at these institutions are white, while 10% are people of color. The 15-page report also details a series of issues including, overt racism and microagressions, and a lack of cultural competence. Leaders at these organizations say they're working to increase diversity. 

WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Lead Reporter Sarah Mizes-Tan about how diversity and inclusion need to be considered not just in the workplace, but in the community of Woods Hole itself.

Eident Sarah, good morning. Thanks for being here.

Mizes-Tan Good morning, Kathryn. Great to be here.

Eident Your story touched on a lot of aspects of what it means to increase diversity within any organization. So, what are some of the hurdles institutions anywhere would face that go beyond just increasing the numbers of people of color in the workforce?

Mizes-Tan So, yeah, one thing that we didn't really get to report much in our story was an aspect of working in the science community is that many people of color mentioned to me, which is that, yes, the climate for diversity is very difficult within the workplace, but the community of Woods Hole can also be a difficult place for diversity. Many employees at the institutions mentioned how there are no resources for people of color outside of work, as well.

So, things like an Asian grocery store, or a haircutting salon that knows how to properly cut curly hair. This lack of resources in the external community also makes it very hard for people to stay, because they're constantly having to reach outside the community to feel like they can be themselves.

Eident Something that maybe those of us who don't have to deal with these hurdles don't necessarily consider that it's really kind of the whole picture of being able to live and work and thrive here. It's not just about the work you're doing from 9:00 to 5:00.

Mizes-Tan Yes, definitely.

Eident How do the science institutions in Woods Hole stack up against organizations in other places in terms of diversity?

Mizes-Tan Well, it's hard to say oftentimes, because many science institutions do keep that demographic information private. But, we do have two resources to go off of. One is that anecdotally, the estimate of 90% white, 10% people of color, which we got from NOAA, has shocked people at other university institutions.

We also looked at data provided from the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, both of which track demographic data on scientists who have received bachelors, masters or doctorates in Earth Science, Marine Science and Biology, three fields that are employed at the institutions here. In 2016, all fields reflected greater diversity than what's being represented in Woods Hole.

Eident So you're saying that the folks coming out with degrees are coming out in higher numbers—as more diversity there—but it's not necessarily being reflected here in Woods Hole?

Mizes-Tan Yes, absolutely. And I mean, the argument can be made that, of course, we're looking at statistics from 2016—that's fairly recent—and so, maybe that change has not yet become something that's going to be reflected here just yet. But, it is something to keep in mind.

Eident You reported that there's been a lot of talk about increasing diversity, but you didn't necessarily find any concrete actions in your reporting?

Mizes-Tan Yeah, a lot of the organizations did tell us that they are actively working on plans, though, of course, there are no formal concrete ideas yet. Hence some frustration from a lot of the scientists that we spoke with who have been pushing for greater diversity initiatives, and they feel like they haven't seen any action yet, especially given that this report was something that came out nearly two years ago now.

However, we have heard talks about potential cluster hires, so looking to hire diversity and clusters of people so that they can then lean on each other for support and guidance.

And, we've also heard of an email being drafted, as of last week, from some early-career scientists over at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. And, they're going to be urging higher administrators to hire more diversely, really making a strong case for that.

It's worth noting that the hierarchy of these science institutions is also something that's very difficult to change with just singular policies. You know, a lot of people have mentioned that, despite having greater diversity at the lower levels of these institutions, you still have lab managers who are primarily men, primarily white. And, a lot of those lab managers, when it comes to hiring, their natural inclination is to hire somebody who looks like them, who feels familiar to them. And so, unless we can change the behaviors of those people who are managing those upper hiring practices, you are just going to continue to see the same kinds of people getting hired within these institutions.

Eident And that's WCAI reporter Sarah Mizes-Tan. Sarah, thank you.

Mizes-Tan Of course. Thank you, Kathryn.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.