You may have heard the words “diversity” and “inclusion” (sometimes “inclusivity”) with greater frequency in recent years. It is worth taking a moment to consider why organizations such as Fermilab are increasingly turning their attention to diversity and inclusion and what they mean to the wider global community of high-energy physics.
Experimental high-energy physics is a collaborative field in which many individual scientists work together to construct and operate experiments as well as analyze their resulting data. These endeavors result in scientists from around the globe uniting with one goal: to advance human knowledge for the benefit of all. At every step of the way, creativity can help accelerate progress, and research has shown that diversity in teams enhances creativity and increases productivity. Furthermore, our collaborations are training grounds for students who not only are the future of HEP but also go into other areas of research and into industry. Taken at a glance, the CMS collaboration (in which Fermilab scientists play a significant role), which has over 5,000 scientists, engineers, technicians, students, and other contributors from around 200 institutes, representing more than 40 countries, would seem to be rather diverse. Implicit biases, however, lurk within all of our brains and can result in biased preferences, even in an organization with as much overall diversity as CMS. Studying how, for instance, leadership positions are assigned can help understand what biases are present and how they may be holding back diversity and inclusion.
Simply having diverse collaborations does not guarantee that all members are able to contribute optimally: An environment that may be familiar and comfortable to some may be hostile to others. In many ways, embracing a diverse community and creating an inclusive environment is harder than simply building one as it may involve changing long-held patterns of behavior. A key step any organization can take toward creating an inclusive environment is adopting and adhering to a code of conduct, as Fermilab has done with its Statement of Community Standards. A first step that individuals can take toward creating an inclusive environment is to observe and correct patterns of microaggression that occur in everyday interactions. Even seemingly minor changes, such as eliminating coded language in documents, presentations and letters of reference can go a long way to creating more inclusion.
Diversity and inclusion should be protected and promoted at the collaboration level. The CMS collaboration is committed to improving diversity and inclusion within its organization. As a necessary element of this commitment, the collaboration created a Diversity Office last year. The Diversity Office, which consists of 11 CMS collaboration members from nine countries, is undertaking many of the steps described above, including collecting detailed data on collaboration demographics and drafting a code of conduct. Additionally, the office serves as a resource that any collaboration member can come to with concerns about diversity and inclusion.
Bo Jayatilaka is a scientist on the CMS experiment and co-chair of the CMS Diversity Office.