STEMM - Enhancing diversity, changing the future: Q&A with Jane Lubchenco

in Q & A , Tagged STEM, Women in STEMM.
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    Shubhra Aurita Roy

    Funded Research Manager, University of Canberra

    Shubhra is the Funded Research Manager of the University of Canberra's Research Services Office. She is the secretary of Initiatives for Women in Need, a community organisation focused on supporting women through enrichment of skills and capabilities, advocacy and evangelism.

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    Palimah Panichit

    Intern, University of Canberra

    Palimah interns with UC's Research Services Office.

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    Deborah Poulton

    Communications and Organisational Change Manager, University of Canberra

    Deborah works in project and change management, and is a freelance broadcast consultant. She was a former project leader on UK Channel 4's broadcast of the 2012 Olympic games.

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Q & A:

Now is an exciting time to be in STEMM believes Jane Lubchenco, and she should know. An environmental scientist and marine ecologist, she was part of former US President Barack Obama's 'science dream team' from 2009-2013, serving as Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In this post, she speaks to the University of Canberra's Equity and Diversity-Athena Swan team about the importance of diversity in STEMM, and offers advice to young female scientists on being fearless, accepting praise, and forging a meaningful career in science.


Q: How do you see the issue of diversity in STEMM? Are there any specific examples you have seen of diversity enabling better results than a more homogenous group?

A: Diversity enriches and transforms STEMM from still photos in black and white to movies in Technicolor with CGI. The more ways we have of thinking, the more ways we have of solving problems, and the more ways we have of interacting with the world, the richer is our science and the more society benefits. I’ve been in multiple situations where diverse teams consistently come up with creative solutions to a problem, simply because the broad array of perspectives and approaches results in a richer set of outcomes.

Q: What examples have you seen of excellent leadership, policy making and implementation of enabling diversity at an institution level?

A: In my experience, the most effective and durable culture changes result from strong leadership at multiple levels within an organization: the top, the middle, and primary levels in an organization. And it happens when these leaders send strong signals about the new direction and goals, and then enable those new directions with practical steps that address the previous impediments to change. These concrete steps might include incentives for units to change. Incentives might be the provision of resources (financial, time, opportunity) or awarding of recognition (praise, awards).

Professor Jane Lubchenco

Professor Jane Lubchenco

The practical steps must be grounded in a clear understanding of the diverse impediments to inclusion that have existed previously. Understanding those impediments requires listening, really listening, to those in the minority. Diversity is about values and respect. It’s about creating a culture of inclusion and belonging. Iris Bohnet’s book What Works: Gender Equity by Design is a terrific book that provides a plethora of specific, useful ideas for changing the culture.

 Diversity is about values and respect. It’s about creating a culture of inclusion and belonging.

Q: What are a few simple thing that you think everyone can do to enable a more inclusive and healthy environment for diversity?

A: Enhancing diversity means creating a more inclusive community in which everyone feels like they belong and are valued. For that to happen, folks need to learn to listen, really listen to others, and then welcome and support them. It also means learning about and taking active steps to address our hidden biases. (I highly recommend Mahazarin Banaji’s and Anthony Greenwald’s book Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People as an excellent treatment of hidden biases). Network with others to get ideas about what works. 

Q: What words of inspiration would you say to young STEMM professionals?

A: Now is a super exciting time to be in STEMM. Knowledge is exploding on multiple fronts, and yet there is so much more to discover, share and use. To be sure, it’s not always easy (nothing worthwhile ever is!), but if you work hard and be strategic, you can create a lasting legacy for your communities and even the world, and have fun in the process.

I initially went into science because it was fun, I was curious about things, and because I relished the challenge of solving problems. I now understand that in addition to the enjoyment, science is also useful and important. Science is needed as never before to help society solve some really big, wicked problems. Science is more relevant now that it’s ever been.

Science is needed as never before to help society solve some really big, wicked problems. Science is more relevant now that it’s ever been.  

And we need scientists with a diverse array of talents: empiricists and theoreticians; field, lab, and computational scientists; social scientists, physical scientists, and biological scientists; those who do science and those who share science. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities!  Be sure to try out different options to see what the best fit is for you. Don’t be afraid to fail – we all do (and that’s often the time when we learn the most). The important thing is to pick yourself up and try again. And know that there is a wide range of different ways to use scientific training. Take the plunge!

Jane Lubchenco replanting coral

Jane Lubchenco replanting coral

Q: Can you say a few words of inspiration to young students who are looking at opportunities in STEMM?

A: Take the initiative. It’s your career, no one else’s. You must seek out opportunities. Build, cultivate and work your networks. Gain experience working in teams. Develop strong skills in oral and written communication and negotiation. Don’t worry about trying to figure out exactly what you’ll be doing in 5 or 10 years, but do be prepared for new challenges and be open to new opportunities. (‘Fortune favors the prepared’). Create some of those opportunities for yourself. On the personal front, be sure you have a supportive partner and a support network. There will be tough times and you’ll need your partner and friends to be there for you. Finally, remember the slogan: ‘one hand up and one hand down’: Keep one hand reaching up to move to your next level, but also reach down to help those behind you. 

Q: Imposter syndrome is a common issue faced by many women; while you may not have personally experienced this, do you have any advice on how to overcome this for those who do have this and or hesitate to stretch themselves for leadership roles or big goals?

Every woman I know has felt she has not earned something she has done, or that she couldn’t possibly reach for something clearly beyond her abilities (in her view). It is quite easy to see all of our own limitations and failures and think we pale in comparison to others. Here are a few reflections and tips I’ve picked up or seen others use successfully to help overcome these feelings of inadequacy or fraud.

Every woman I know has felt she has not earned something she has done, or that she couldn’t possibly reach for something clearly beyond her abilities (in her view).  

I’ve been fortunate to have mentors who urged me to do things that I never would have done without their push (because I didn’t think I was worthy or could do it). Find mentors whom you trust and listen to them! 

It helps to build or regain your confidence by focusing on the ways in which what you did actually contribute to the success you are questioning that you deserve. 

Focus on how you can use that success to help others or move the issue ahead. In other words, take yourself out of the question and instead use the event to a positive end.

Instead of dismissing praise, listen to it. I know someone who keeps a file of all the nice things people have said about her and when she feels like a fraud, she clicks on her file to remind her that others value what she is and has done.  

 Surround yourself with folks who will support you, help you feel valued, but also help you improve in things that will enable you to contribute even more.

Sometimes it helps to treat a challenging situation as an exercise. Try to think about it analytically, not emotionally. What would it take to be successful in this? Think of it as an adventure. I’m not suggesting not taking it seriously, but trying to approach it as a challenge instead of feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of failing.  

Practice projecting confidence. What you wear, how you stand, sit and speak all contribute directly both to how you feel about yourself and how others will receive what you are communicating. 

Practice projecting confidence. What you wear, how you stand, sit and speak all contribute directly both to how you feel about yourself and how others will receive what you are communicating. 

Practice speaking with authority, not with a tentative or hesitant demeanour. Practice using a voice in which sentences have a declarative ending (with the pitch of your voice staying level or going down), not an interrogative one (in which the pitch rises). Practice using body language that is open and trustworthy but commanding and convincing. Speak and act as if you are convinced of what you say. 

Much of how we act is unconscious, so make it conscious: assemble a group of close friends interested in working on this together, video tape each other and give each other feedback on how to project more confidence. Then practice and practice. Then try out some of these new behaviors in increasingly challenging environments, but realize that not all of these will be successful. Keep trying. Keep practicing. You can also take communications classes, join a toastmasters group, or a debate club. All of these teach useful skills that will help you feel and be more confident.         

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