Joanne Kamens, PhD, Senior Consultant at The Impact Seat, recently spoke with the Mammoth team about all things diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) with a focus on creating a more inclusive science workplace. In this interview, we touch on some of the main points from Joanne’s talk.

What is your background and why did you get interested in DEI? How did you go about making yourself a DEI expert?

I have a PhD in Molecular Genetics so this was not my area of study by a long shot. But what scientists really learn during their training is how to learn. I was lucky to have had gender-neutrally supportive parents and science mentors during both my undergrad and grad training (I have plenty of early bias stories, but I had key supporters who made it clear that women could be scientists). However, a few years into my pharma career I realized a week had gone by and I had not seen one other woman in any of the many meetings I attended. And, no joke, even in meetings I was leading, men asked to take notes as if I were the admin. This was a major lightbulb moment for me and pushed me to start doing what scientists do best… read lots of papers, books and reports about gender discrimination.

Over the years, I found my own ways to fight for equity and was learning about DEI all along the way. I founded the Boston chapter of AWIS (The Association for Women in Science) and learned from the early leaders of AWIS National. I learned about the impact of positive mentoring, and having experienced it myself, I knew that this was a great way I could contribute. So positive mentoring programs and best practices was one way I tried to have an impact early. Over the years, I’ve founded or helped organize over 100 mentoring programs for women and members of other marginalized groups. It’s very rewarding work.

I continue to learn about actual best practices that move the needle for inclusion. And the evidence and scholarship on this topic continues to develop. I’ve been learning a huge amount about social science research and evidence based DEI practices here at my new gig at The Impact Seat.

Can you briefly define diversity, equity, and inclusion and indicate how they are different yet essential to one another? Which do you consider to be the most important for people and organizations to focus on and why?

The definitions I shared during my presentation are as follows and I share them in the order I think they should be considered (it’s unfortunate that the initials usually follow the order “DEI”):

Inclusion – Sense of belonging and involvement in processes and outcomes
Equity – Processes and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible opportunities for every person
Diversity – Difference and variety of individuals 

Inclusion and equity come first because you can’t start with saying, “oh let’s be more diverse next week.” Diverse individuals will not want to join or be successful at your organization unless you have a culture that focuses on and succeeds at most aspects of inclusion. Both inclusion and equity are required to meet the ultimate goal of diversity, and I think their order is somewhat malleable. This is because equitable policies can and should be implemented fairly quickly, but making sure such policies are observed and remain effective in the long term requires a focus on inclusion.

Being Women’s History Month, you framed your “Creating a more inclusive science workplace” talk around the pernicious “gender pay gap.” What is the gender pay gap and how can it be remedied?

There are 2 components to the gender pay gap:

  • Women are paid less than men for the same roles and performance. It’s as simple as that.
  • Women and those with other intersectional identities, even when controlled for demographics and job level, are not promoted into leadership roles at the same pace as men and white men in particular. Thus, those with these identities ultimately make less money.

The first aspect, unequal pay for the same work, can be fixed pretty quickly if leaders are brave enough to demand it be fixed. When I led a company, we reviewed salaries all the time and intentionally reviewed issues of salary equity 4 times a year. If someone was not being paid fairly for a similar role, we adjusted their salary immediately. I think this is pretty simple. Leaders and Boards can just do better.

The second aspect is a direct result of a biased society leading to individual biases. This will take an intentional organizational and societal effort to ensure opportunities for advancement can be accessed by anyone despite their intersectional identities.

What concrete actions can organizations take to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion right now? How can they go about developing structures to ensure that DEI remains a key component of their own success in the long-term?

I don’t really have room to fully answer this via a blog, but anyone can reach out if they want to talk to me about making a plan. In short, make cultural inclusion a number one priority for all members of the leadership team. Find partners to bring accountability as you assess your organization’s existing climate and make a plan for where you want to be and how you will get there. Experienced DEI educators and practitioners, whether these be employees of the organization or consultants, can support the development of structures that will start the work and keep it progressing.

You’ve stressed that, even if implicit or unconscious biases are a part of being human, we still need to hold ourselves accountable for and confront them. One way to confront our biases and begin dismantling them is to expose ourselves to new kinds of people and their experiences. How can we do this on a day-to-day basis?

Everyone will do this differently. I make an effort to read books by authors with widely disparate identities. I’m a big fiction fan, so I’ve been on a recent kick to add more nonfiction to my repertoire. I also seek projects and work with people who have different identities from mine because working together on a common purpose has been shown to be an effective way to bring people together. Over the years I’ve also taken on a number of mentees with different identities. They have taught me a lot, a very lot.

If there was one thing you could do to catalyze change in the science workplace and make science overall more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in the long-term, what would it be?

This question is just too hard. I wish I could say it’s a “one off” and one thing will catalyze change, but that would be dishonest. This is a hard problem. I will say that the tone in the science workplace is heavily influenced by the science training environment. As stated in this article “Previous research has shown that the prevalence of sexual harassment in US academia, at 58%, is second only to the military’s 69%, and outpaces that of industry and government”. That’s terrifying and I think we all know that academic faculty are in a weird career position of not really having a boss or any accountability as long as they are bringing in grant money. The tenure system creates huge gaps that allow damaging behavior towards trainees and that’s not even talking about the radically not inclusive culture. This might be a “catalytic” place to start fixing things.