Equity, diversity and inclusion at Fermilab

Sandra Charles

As Fermilab’s new Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Officer, I would like to introduce myself to the Fermilab community. I would also like to use this opportunity to provide an update on some of the EDI Office’s new responsibilities. I have been at Fermilab in WDRS for the past twelve years, most recently as the talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion manager. I will continue to have responsibility for Talent Acquisition as a Deputy in WDRS. As Chief EDI Officer, I will also be standing up and co-chairing an EDI Task Force, explained in more detail below. The EDI Office is responsible for internal and external communications regarding EDI, and all employee and Fermilab user concerns regarding EDI will be directed to this office.

As amplified by ChangeNow, racism and discrimination are insidious and have no place in our workplace. Building trust in our Fermilab community and making the lab a welcoming and equitable place for everyone engaged in our mission of scientific discovery, are priorities. Together we will ensure that our lab is representative of and embraces the diversity of Chicagoland, the nation and the international science community. Accordingly, every member of the Fermilab community is accountable for workplace equity, diversity and inclusion, and has personal responsibility for confronting bias related to race, gender identity, national origin and other destructive modalities. I envision Fermilab as a leader within the national lab system and the physics community in commitment and action to dismantle systemic racism, to better attract and empower the talents of all people – especially people in minoritized and marginalized communities.

As a core tenet of my role, I remain committed to conversation and collaboration that contributes to a workplace climate and culture that responds to our individual and collective needs and perspectives. As we move forward together, I expect our Fermilab community of employees and users will continue to recognize and appreciate the identities, experiences and needs of the lab community to shape shared commitment and progress toward making the lab a welcoming and equitable place for everyone engaged in our scientific mission. We are each change agents who are responsible to each other for how we collaborate and contribute to keeping our fingers on the pulse of the laboratory, challenging convention and realizing sustained change.

It is very encouraging to see broad and active engagement across the lab addressing equity and inclusion. The observations and recommendations of the Laboratory Resource Groups (LRGs), the Scientist Advisory Council (SAC), ChangeNow, senior leaders, and others highlight systemic inequities and opportunities for change. Our work will require focused effort to address lab policies, practices, procedures, and programs that negatively impact and marginalize members of our lab community.

As an immediate priority, I will be standing up an EDI Task Force responsible for overseeing, integrating and addressing the various recommendations received from groups across the lab. I envision the Task Force as a safe space for honest and practical dialogue around equity, diversity and inclusion while challenging conventional wisdom. Additionally, we will incrementally develop, evaluate and report on our progress against our strategy to enhance and support an inclusive environment across the lab. The EDI Task Force will be one of shared leadership where change agents at every level equitably contribute to actions. A laboratory employee will co-chair alongside me. The first meeting will be held by mid-August.

Additionally, since meeting with laboratory senior leaders beginning in late May, work on key recommendations recently made by groups across the laboratory has begun. Key initiatives that we are actively undertaking include, but are not limited to:

  • Secured new employee concerns program allowing for anonymous reporting
  • Proposed changes to the recruitment, vetting, and selection process
  • Detailed reporting of commitment to diversity and inclusion in goal setting and performance review process
  • Developing InclusionMatters 2021 focused on learning and dialogue regarding microaggressions and unconscious bias
  • Hiring of EDI Specialist
  • Hiring of Chicago Workforce Initiative Liaison
  • Connecting Fermilab Teacher Training program to West Chicago schools
  • Connecting Fermilab to HBCUs and the DOE Visiting Faculty Program (VFP)
  • Connecting Fermilab internships to ANSEP (Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program)
  • Building our relationships with the National Society of Black Physicists, the National Society of Black Engineers, the National Black MBA Association, the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Society of Hispanic Professionals and the Society of Women Engineers, to name a few.

Together we will work on intentional, inclusive and measurable opportunities and strategies for outreach, recruitment, professional development and career progression. Focused attention on these key areas through the lenses of culture, accountability and sustainability will help us to develop an action plan that we can move forward together. Initial measures of success include the implementation of an enhanced recruitment vetting and selection process and launching the lab’s new employee concerns program within the next 60 days.

This column will be regularly featured to keep the Fermilab community updated on EDI-related topics, action plans, accomplishments and opportunities. I welcome your input and suggestions. My email is scharles@fnal.gov.


Sandra Charles is Fermilab’s Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer.