Faces of Fermilab: toward diversity and inclusion

Fermilab scientist Brian Nord moderates a panel on diversity at Fermilab. Photo: Midhat Farooq

At universities and companies across the nation, trainings and workshops geared toward eliminating prejudice are becoming common. Particularly in STEM fields, there has been a call to acknowledge that the absence of women and underrepresented minorities may be due partly to the unwanted prejudices we absorb from society at large and bring into the lab. That is, outreach and community engagement efforts are not enough to diversify the scientific community; lateral work is required to retain everyone who joins the science pipeline. Although there is plenty of data to validate the problem, whether these trainings and workshops could make any positive impact was a subject of debate in the scientific community until recently. For decades, a social psychology research group at the University of Wisconsin have been studying the phenomenon of implicit, or unintentional, bias and, as of the last several years, are putting their lab-tested methods into practice in the real world. So far, the results encourage hope that people can break the habit of prejudice, thus leading to fairer recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices and a more diverse workplace.

More than 100 Fermilab employees and users turned out for the Aug. 10 discussion. Photo: Gleb Lukicov

Hoping to showcase some of the concepts and methods pioneered in this research with the goal of fostering a more diverse and inclusive environment at Fermilab, an independent group of users and employees came together to organize a labwide event that would start a conversation and get people thinking about ways to improve lab culture. On Aug. 10, employees and users from all over the lab met in Ramsey Auditorium to engage in a discussion concerning the state of inclusion at the lab and determine ways to change the situation. Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Mario Lucero started the discussion with preliminary remarks on the importance of diversity and an overview of some of the barriers that work to exclude underrepresented minorities from the scientific community. Following this introduction, a panel composed of various members of the Fermilab community provided their perspectives on the state of inclusion at the lab and answered audience questions.

More than 100 people attended and actively participated in a much needed conversation, providing insights and ideas to help the lab community move forward. A summary of this conversation and recommendations will be passed to the Directorate in order to ensure that diversity and inclusion remain a top priority for the lab.

Although the event was a single discussion attended by a relatively small fraction of lab employees and users, the organizers of this event hope to use this momentum to continue pursuing the goal of inclusiveness at Fermilab and, more specifically, organize more workshops and discussions in the near future.

Anyone with questions, comments, or a desire to get involved, can contact us: mailto:schlesr2@illinois.edu and mailto:midhatf@umich.edu.

Cristina Schlesier, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physicist, was one of the organizers of the recent Faces of Fermilab discussion.