Moving the needle

by | Oct 14, 2020 | Big Ideas, Fall 2020 | 0 comments

Moving the needle toward equitable inclusivity and diversity in science, technology, engineering and math is no small feat, but it has been brought to the forefront for many industries as they work toward combating racism and inequality within their companies and workspaces. We sat down with three of Mines’ industry partners to get their thoughts on diversity and inclusion in STEM and how engineers and scientists can be forces for positive change within their industries. Here’s what we learned.

Leveraging differences has a multitude of benefits.

Taking innovation and ideas to the next level requires bringing a wide range of perspectives and experiences to the table.

“Having a diverse talent pipeline and an inclusive workplace actually enables us to make richer decisions,” said Beatrice Opoku-Asare, global director of inclusion and diversity at Newmont Mining. “And you can manage risks better and manage a wider scope of unintended consequences before you actually implement the work you’re doing.”

Bringing people onto a team or filling industry with a variety of worldviews, experiences and backgrounds immediately lowers the chance of implementing a decision that may seem low-risk to one person but could actually have high-risk consequences, and business leaders are able to focus on ensuring a decision is well received and successful right from the start.

In fact, Calvin Moniz, senior advisor for university relations at Phillips 66, said his company actively looks for interns and employees who have the ability to seek different perspectives to “open the idea box that can help leverage ideas that aren’t normally presented.”

And he said there’s truly a business case around it. “We’re able to really capture innovation through diverse and inclusive backgrounds,” he explained.

Increasing diversity is important but meaningless if inclusion isn’t considered as well.

With many in industry taking a hard look at their current business and hiring practices for disparities in who is being hired or promoted into leadership positions, organizations must look beyond merely improving representation.

“When you see somebody who is like you doing work in your industry, you get that feeling that you can do this, too, so representation definitely matters and is important,” Opoku-Asare said. “But representation without creating the culture to support that, you don’t get the full benefit of representation, and it becomes more difficult for the person who looks different to be successful and thrive in the environment.”

Cultural changes within a workplace or industry as a whole are at the heart of making strides in the efforts to create meaningful change. And Moniz said a comfortable workplace culture where people can be themselves is key for company success—something he’s seen firsthand. “By being inclusive, we’re creating an environment of trust that allows us to seek different perspectives, which helps us work for the greater good and achieve excellence at Phillips 66,” he said.

Real change comes from self-awareness.

Creating change within an industry—or within a society—can seem like a daunting task, but change actually begins on a much smaller scale. Self-reflection and recognizing personal biases, blind spots and knowledge gaps around issues related to diversity and inclusion are key for taking the next steps toward meaningful action.

“Knowing the problem is half of the problem solved,” Opoku-Asare said. “Really do some reflection. Talk to people if you don’t understand something, and then take an active role and take more meaningful action.”

Bill Kindred, diversity and inclusion officer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said listening to others’ experiences before making change is essential. “That’s the active listening piece and trying to really understand, listen, pay attention and then adapt your approach to that,” he explained.

But Kindred pointed out that people from underrepresented communities must also be understanding of others who are working to learn. “Part of this is accepting allyship from other people and supporting them,” he said.

This work at the individual level can eventually trigger more widespread changes within a company or industry. “Engaging and starting the conversation and being willing to be vulnerable and express the gaps that you have so you can address them are some great ways to be a change agent for good within a company,” Moniz said.

Engineers and scientists are the best people to tackle this challenge.

Although diversity issues and change may be top of mind at the moment, lasting positive change won’t happen overnight. Tackling these issues will have to remain a conscious priority and something that will have to be a continuous effort—for individuals, industry and society at large. But those working in STEM industries can lead the effort.

“I think if any industry can solve some of the challenges around inclusion and diversity, it’s the mining industry or STEM fields, because we have great problem solvers,” Opoku-Asare said. “If all the scientists and all the engineers in the world apply their engineering skills and science to this work, we will find a solution pretty quickly. It may not be perfect—it may need a tweak here or there—but we will come up with a solution.”