If it’s outdated, it’s still voiced. Speak up: #DiversityJC recap.

This week in Diversity Journal Club, we had a discussion about the importance of addressing outdated comments and attitudes (like this and this). Both had such strong and negative responses – so did that mean we’ve moved on? That they might not really matter?

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and Ian (@IHStreet) got us started..

Should we indeed be paying attention to the outdated comments like those of Tim Hunt and Ask Alice? Should we just ignore them, wish they would evolve, or wonder how they didn’t know better? Perhaps we should be able to filter out these wrong opinions, given that it is hard to change, and that they do have deep expertise in some areas (Nobel prize = expertise). But…

Indeed. It can be difficult to filter someone, especially if the comments are not all that blatant. Subtle comments like microaggressions can be hard enough to even identify on their own. When it’s someone you respect and admire, subtle comments can be even more difficult to distinguish and weed out. Moreover, it’s not our responsibility to be someone’s filter – for our own sake or for a larger community, no matter how much you and others respect them. We also discussed this initial idea of it being comments of an “older generation” and if we give them a pass as being from a “different time” (my words). Several took issue with this “older generation” stuff – which is totally correct. Age and generation can mean nothing in these cases, and age is relative. We shouldn’t use age as a blanket clause either, basically. The reason I raised this “older” stuff is because I personally have avoided conversations and used this excuse – I wondered if others had as well, and if there was something to the “well that’s an outdated opinion, it’s not very important, look at the backlash, clearly we’ve come far from there, from that time.

So perhaps it’s not just me who has used this as an excuse?

So maybe I wasn’t the only one. But it is still an excuse. It also brought up an important point:

 

In the end, we’d more or less agreed age really wasn’t the issue, and learning was a two-way street. We also agreed that, no matter your age, these comments and attitudes do need to be addressed.

Yet these teachable moments can be really challenging.

In addition, as Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) pointed out, change can be tough and painful – and may not be worth our ATP. It may actually be problematic for us, especially as early career scientists, let alone draining. Ian (@IHStreet) reminded us you can’t be sure who is willing to change or be open to the discussion at the onset. On the other hand, as Ruthie (@ruthiepbirger) pointed out, initiating the conversation can be a good litmus test for how ingrained the attitude is, and how open the person is to further dialogue. But back to the first hand, Benjamin Carr (@BenjaminHCCarr) said some people are actively resistant to change.

And, yeah, as Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti) noted, people in leadership and power positions are often people of privilege. As others agreed, they are also the ones with the most control. Over us, over our careers…

I understand these challenges. I know it’s scary. I still think it’s critical. We have to say something. We can’t allow these comments to go unchallenged even when we don’t have twitter ready to back us up. Why? Because other people beyond you are listening. Because if they say it to you, they have said it to others. Because those others might be students, early career scientists, just getting their bearings. They may think statements like that are ok, or are hurt and demeaned by them. When we fail to speak up, we allow those statements to enforce especially unconscious biases and stereotypes of some, and allow others to have their self-worth undermined.

 

 

In addition, some listening don’t realize these comments, or their larger experiences, are due to bias and stereotypes and are not personal. Without someone speaking up or calling out, these can be internalized.

So how to go about addressing comments? Moreover, SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux) questioned whether correcting someone would really change their mind – which begs the question if you can engage them in further dialogue beyond just the correction. Will they be open to it? Are you be prepared? Perhaps a gentle nudge, as Ian (@IHStreet) suggested, or offering your perspective on the comment, as V. Siva (@DrVidSiva) recommended. Ian (@IHStreet) further noted it’s likely easier if they know you personally, and I agree. I’ve had the most luck with heart-to-heart conversations. In addition, or if you don’t have a personal relationship to draw on, ask people questions, try not to just tell , find out what they think is behind what they’ve said or done. And remember what you learned in elementary school: use “I” statements. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also made a great suggestion:

It can be frustrating, especially as we do end up being the ones careful of our words. As Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd) said, for some reason, people can respond really negatively to something as simple and true as “I’m offended by that“, and Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) reminded us about gaslighting and that we’ll like hear “you’re being too sensitive.” So be prepared. We also talked briefly about the need for a safe space to voice our thoughts – but how this isn’t always available. Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) and I agreed that we can actually make spaces safer – when we feel comfortable, we should more apt to speak up about diversity, or share our own (like me being out as bi, even though I present as straight) to make spaces safer for others. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also noted that they are often taken more seriously when talking about racism, whereas they feel less comfortable talking about sexism. This likely has to do with when you have the privilege in a situation, so take advantage of that. If you don’t feel like you can speak about a subject, like racism if you’re white, simply ask questions about it – what your institution is doing – and raise other voices up to speak. We can also spend a little more time being introspective, and thinking about advice and feedback we get and how we take it. About how the feedback you’d give to would feel (do unto others…). And we should encourage others to do the same…

We still need support in speaking out. We still need a community to back us. It will always be scary, and you never know the impact or backlash that may come of it – there’s a reason we haven’t made as much progress and we should: paradigms are entrenched (that’s why they’re paradigms), old biases die hard. You never know when someone will take offense. We should think carefully about how we address these issues.

I think perhaps a real key is bringing up diversity well before it is a personal issue. Find out if your institution has a diversity statement, and if not why not. Initiate discussions around diversity, unconscious bias, and microaggressions. Talk to leadership about opening up these dialogues, or even bringing in speakers or doing workshops. You certainly don’t need an incident to start this dialogue – look to the increasing body of literature on this as a problem (some here on this blog), or the many, many incidents in the news these days (oh where to start… #BlackLivesMatter, on campus sexual assault..).

Don’t want to start out negative? You don’t need to! There’s also more and more research about how diversity helps us all and why it is critical. You can start talking about diversity as a strength, in terms of so many things from problem solving to attracting new talent. Start there!

No matter your tactic, start before an incident – even if leadership is iffy, I promise you, there is someone, likely many someones, quietly thanking you for your forward thinking. And just imagine the next generation.

Additional links shared by the group included

From Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti): Six Tings You Can Do When People Say Stupid Sexist Shit To You

From Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr): Stories of sexism in science: ‘sorry about all the women in this laboratory’

Thank you to everyone who participated (as usual in no particular order, and please let us know if someone was missed)!

Ruth Hufbauer ‏(@hufbauer)
Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger)
SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux)
Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr)
V. Siva (@DrVidSiva
Wandering Scientist (@wandsci)
Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti)
Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd)
Cassie (@mosquito_chaser)
Dr. Q (@DrQualls)
Dr. Wrasse (@labroides)

Until next time!

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)
Ian (@IHStreet)

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2 thoughts on “If it’s outdated, it’s still voiced. Speak up: #DiversityJC recap.

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