Including underrepresented community-members in planning for diversity, equity and inclusion

Today we continue our series of regular posts on the Trellis blog for science community managers interested in diversity, equity and inclusion. This installment was authored by Jennifer Davison, Urban@UW, University of Washington. Additional series coordinators are Marsha Lucas, Society for Developmental Biology, Josh Knackert UW-Madison Neuroscience Training Program, and Rosanna Volchok, The New York Academy of Sciences. You can find all of the posts in the series here.

How are you ensuring diverse participation? Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/oregondot/10314223086/
How are you ensuring diverse participation?
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/oregondot/10314223086/

As community managers, we may have experience in and appreciation for engaging our community in order to develop more innovative and robust ideas: how to tackle a complex research question, compelling new ways to visualize results, or a particularly timely topic for a conference panel discussion. We may know that more perspectives often leads to better outcomes. We can apply this knowledge in our planning for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). How? By welcoming and prioritizing the perspectives of community-members from underrepresented groups in this planning. In this post, we explore some ideas for doing just that.

Starting upstream: inclusive planning

As we began to explore in our previous post, inclusion is not about bodies, it’s about culture: the collective attitudes, behaviors, and policies of your community. Additionally, inclusion is context-dependent: your community’s history, the geographic scale, and the topical scope affect not just who is represented and how, but also the mechanisms by which exclusion happens. Since your community’s culture is framed and undergirded by policies and procedures such as your community guidelines, they represent some of the institutional infrastructure wherein inclusion can take root. To start as upstream as possible, community managers can include underrepresented community-members in developing these policies. Such participatory approaches are also found in research as well as in community development, where a focus on proactive listening to and appreciating the perspectives and assets that community members bring to the conversation leads to more inclusive strategies and outcomes.

Acknowledging that requesting underrepresented community members’ time and perspectives may sometimes end up tokenizing, objectifying, or otherwise being disingenuous to those community members, we suggest some steps to take toward authentically welcoming and centering the voices of underrepresented community members.

 

Three steps community managers can take:

1. Do your (home)work.

It is critical to invest in education and training for yourself and others working with your community (and, ideally, your leadership and board!), on the history and dynamics of diversity, equity and inclusion, in general and within your community specifically. Lack of awareness is a big barrier to building welcoming communities, and it should fall to the community manager, not community-members themselves, to develop and share an understanding of the issues, terminologies, and strategies for supporting diversity, equity and inclusion. Luckily, this is not difficult to do. There is a ton of research out there and an increasing selection of options to build skills, in topics from implicit bias and systemic inequality to cultural awareness and cultural humility. Gaining foundational understanding of the need for and efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion will help you and your team think more systematically about the ways in which you steward your community. There is always more to learn.

2. Ask–and be prepared to listen.

While doing the work to educate yourself and team on DEI strategies, you will also want to systematically assess which groups are underrepresented or underserved in your community, how people in those groups experience the community, and what barriers exist for them–both within and around the community. One method to do this is a climate survey. Frequently utilized to understand challenges to diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses, a de-identified, confidential climate survey can help surface the most salient issues and opportunities for improving the management of your community to support and connect underrepresented community members.

Along with conducting a survey of your own community, it’s instructive to study the results of other community-specific research into these challenges–for example, the results of the Loyola University Chicago survey, or insights from DEI efforts at other universities, science associations or organizations. You can also consult with other community managers doing the same kind of work (the CEFP fellows have been an incredible source of learning in this regard!), to compare barriers and best practices across communities.

One way to develop more inclusive policies is to center them on the perspectives of underrepresented community members. Reach out to members of those groups–both within and outside your current community. Your climate survey can help you with this: in the survey, be sure to invite community members to indicate if they’d like to be involved in policy development conversations.  A few things to consider when reaching out:

  • Provide community members with clear expectations for the time and input desired from them, and how, specifically, you will work with them to develop policies and strategies. This can help mitigate unintentional devaluation of underrepresented perspectives.
  • Note that underrepresented community-members may not want to participate–and that is okay too.
  • Take steps to prioritize the needs of community members who’ve offered their time when you plan any meetings: location accessibility, timing, and other logistics that many take for granted can be barriers for some. Additionally, consider ensuring that the content of the meetings is kept confidential, to help community-members feel supported in sharing their perspectives.
  • Even with the best of intentions, it is difficult for most to fully understand the experience of underrepresented community members. It’s highly recommended to partner with a facilitator skilled in working with groups on diversity, equity and inclusion issues to support these conversations. This may help underrepresented community members feel safe and supported in sharing their views.

3. Proceed with transparency and humility, and be open to feedback.

As with community guidelines, allow that your policies will likely be “living documents” subject to thoughtful iteration as you and your community evolve. Commit to reviewing, and revising if necessary, all processes with a lens of “who’s not in the room”, and bring those people into the room if possible while you are reviewing/revising. Work with community members to explore metrics of success: what will be different in your community, and for underrepresented populations within your community? Remember to draw upon the vast store of resources out there to help you remain in a space of learning, accountability and humility. And don’t be afraid to talk about your progress: acknowledging barriers to inclusion and the work you’re undertaking to address those barriers can feel risky/vulnerable, yet this transparency is another crucial step toward improving the culture for the people who are most affected by those barriers.

Examples of guidelines to increase inclusivity:

 

In conclusion: start somewhere; and center new voices

Because most issues of inequity and injustice are, by and large, institutional in nature, it’s important to recognize that 1.) we will never be an “expert” or fully aware of the multitude of ways in which we unconsciously exclude people, and 2.) we can lean into existing research and perspectives and take steps to dismantle the barriers that we do become aware of. Expect you’ll make mistakes; but commit to no longer staying silent or avoiding what’s uncomfortable, for the sake of all community-members who deserve to feel welcome in your community.