Stepping out of my comfort zone has been a theme throughout my professional journey – from changing labs in my sixth year of graduate school to changing careers from lab research to diversity, equity and diversity. inclusion after defending my dissertation in 2020. Leading American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology staff through a seven-part course that included thought-provoking conversations and personal reflection on diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion in the workplace was the last leg of this journey.
When I tell people that I used to do neuroscience research and now work at DEI, I often get puzzled looks; they are shocked that I stop researching. Research is very stressful, especially for students of color, like myself, who not only have to make sure experiments are done properly, but also deal with microaggressions and the added pressure of feeling like we need to be perfect for proving we belong. In grad school, I constantly felt impostor syndrome, and I knew I wasn’t the only student to have that feeling, so I took action.
I was co-chair of the Diversity Interest Group at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. We have curated programs that focus on the intersection of personal identity and science – topics not covered in the lab. I saw so much value in my work with the Diversity Interest Group that I wanted to pursue a career that supported scientists beyond the bench, especially those who are underrepresented.
I then took a postdoc position in DEI at UMass; I planned a program that exposed historically black college and university students to medical school curricula and created a series of seminars that highlighted the research of scientists from diverse backgrounds.
Today, I manage the DEI programs of the ASBMB and work to set up new ones.
About the course
Earlier this year, ASBMB staff completed the University of South Florida’s seven-part “DEI in the Workplace” course. It was my job to moderate the weekly discussions.
The course begins by delving into participants’ emotional intelligence and demonstrating that DEI’s core values are empathy and self-awareness. The content then shifts from looking inward to understanding how DCI efforts can be supported and benefited by an organization. Each two-hour module includes a lecture and panel discussion with people from diverse backgrounds describing their views and experiences.
For seven weeks, staff met in small groups, in person and virtually, to discuss each module, how DEAI relates to their individual roles in society and to ASBMB as a whole, opportunities from DEAI to ASBMB and related topics. .
I’ve created ground rules, a confidentiality agreement, and discussion questions to guide the conversations.
Staff members shared their views and personal stories, which helped us get to know each other better. I spoke about my experience with microaggressions in graduate school, as I was told after giving a presentation that I spoke so well, as if it were a surprise that I was using good grammar. Of course, the comment was probably meant to be a compliment; however, the impact was negative. I’ve had many wonderful experiences in graduate school, but all too often, students like me experience such microaggressions.
Some staff said they struggled to fully understand how a microaggression such as “you speak so well” can be offensive; I explained the difference between intent and impact. Some staff shared stories from their own lives and examined their words and actions through this lens.
The theme of accessibility, which is often overlooked, was one of the highlights of the discussions. We’ve come up with some great ideas to make the ASBMB annual meeting and other offerings more accessible.
Each participant who passes all seven course quizzes receives a certificate badge for their LinkedIn Page. After completing the course in May, I was proud to see staff members posting their experiences.
About a month later, I sent out a survey to get staff feedback on the course, the discussions, and DEAI’s overall company efforts. I have also created an additional document with notes from each module to help respondents complete the survey.
The survey results indicated that the overall experience was positive. The module on stereotypes and prejudices was found to be the most useful; it sparked engaging conversations about intent versus impact, and these discussions highlight the importance of having a space where people can ask uncomfortable questions without fear of judgment.
A staff member said: “For me, the best outcome was getting to know my colleagues better, especially the new ones. We had a lot of new recruits over the past two years, and I hadn’t had the chance to really get to know them. Discussion groups, in person or on Zoom, have broken down barriers. If I saw someone from my group in the break room or in the hallway, it was nice to know that we had shared an experience. This type of interaction is invaluable, especially after the limitations imposed by two years of fully remote or hybrid work.
Moderating group discussions has been fantastic professional development for me, and I’m glad I did.
One important thing I learned in facilitating discussions, especially on sensitive topics, was to allow time for silence. I hate awkward silences; it makes me very uncomfortable. Nonetheless, continuing with the theme of getting out of my comfort zone, I had to learn to be comfortable with the discomfort and allow staff time to think about their responses.
I gained confidence in my ability to lead discussions and create space to be vulnerable, and appreciated the opportunity to connect with my colleagues on a deeper level than our “How was your weekend ?” morning conversations in the office kitchen.
I learned more about the different roles of staff members as we considered ways to integrate DEAI into their work. This knowledge and feedback from the survey will help establish an overall framework for ASBMB’s DEAI initiatives.
The course and group discussions are just the start of ASBMB’s journey into DEAI. We plan to dive deeper into DEAI with the help of a consultant and develop a DEAI strategic action plan for the company.
I would like to see the ASBMB become a leader in integrating and supporting the DEAI in science.