Diversity is the representation of all our varied identities and differences (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, country of origin, class, as well as cultural, political, religious, and other beliefs and affiliations), collectively and as individuals. Diversity is not a property of the individual but the collective. Abundant evidence shows that diversity positively impacts scientific discovery through improved problem-solving, innovation, prediction, evaluation, and strategic thinking.
Equity seeks to ensure fairness in treatment and access to opportunity, information and resources for all. It is corrective action aimed at eliminating or reducing the impact of institutional and systemic barriers that prevent some individuals from thriving. It is important to note that race- and color- and gender-blind approaches, while sounding fair on the surface, do not promote equity and can perpetuate systemic inequities.
Inclusion intentionally builds a culture of belonging by actively inviting the contribution and participation of all people. It is a continuous engagement with diversity in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in all of the varied communities with which individuals connect, to increase knowledge and awareness and empathic understanding of the complex ways in which individuals interact with, and within systems and institutions.
What is the evidence?
Diversity is Excellence
A diverse workforce, campus, or laboratory can find unique solutions to problems, embrace individual strengths, overcome obstacles, and focus on collaboration rather than competition.
Katherine Phillips (1972-2020), professor at Columbia University’s Business School, presented a wealth of evidence demonstrating that when we have to work with people who are not like ourselves, we tend to prepare more thoroughly and work harder to marshal our arguments, and we do better work as a result. Diversity is beneficial for teams precisely because we react differently to people who are different from us. If the end goal is excellence, diversity is an essential ingredient (Phillips, 2014).
“Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does. This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.” – Katherine Phillips, Scientific American 2014.
Scott Page, professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan, discusses a large number of examples on how teams that include different kinds of thinkers outperform homogeneous groups on complex tasks, producing what he calls “diversity bonuses”. These bonuses include improved problem solving, increased innovation, and more accurate predictions, all of which lead to better results for individuals and for organizations (Page, 2017).
In the context of biomedical science, a wealth of evidence has reliably demonstrated that scientific workforce diversity is essential for discovery and innovation (Nielsen et al., 2017). Freeman and Huang reviewed 2.5 million scientific papers between 1985-2008 across 11 scientific fields, including biomedicine, and surveyed the surnames of co-authors as a proxy for ethnic diversity. Controlling for number of authors, population density and other potential confounds, they found that papers written by diverse groups received more citations and were published in journals with higher impact factors (Freeman and Huang, 2014). Campbell and colleagues similarly found that peer-reviewed publications with gender-heterogeneous authorship teams received 34% more citations than publications produced by gender-uniform authorship teams (Campbell et al. 2013). Overall, the data demonstrate that promoting diversity does not only promote fairness and justice but also leads to higher quality science. .
Racial/ethnic and Gender Bias in Biomedical Science
Despite the wealth of data making the case for diversity’s role in enhancing the quality of science, biomedical research faculty diversity continues to be an ongoing, recalcitrant challenge (Gibbs et al., 2016, Valantine, Lund & Gammie 2016).
Women comprise more than 50% of PhD graduates in NIH research-relevant disciplines and over 50% of U.S. medical school graduates, but only 40.6% of U.S. biomedical tenure-track faculty, 27% of tenured faculty (AAMC faculty roster, 2018), and only 14% of department chairs (AAMC, 2014). In fact, extrapolation of current trends suggests that it will take 48 years nationwide to attain gender parity among full professors (National Science Foundation, 2019).
Underrepresented racial/ethnic groups comprise 34% of the US population, but publicly available data indicate that only they only comprise 15% of the PhD recipient pool (Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities 2018 | NSF – National Science Foundation), 12% of medical school graduates (AAMC Data and Reports), 9% of current assistant professors, and 4% of tenured faculty (Faculty Roster: U.S. Medical School Faculty | AAMC).
The low diversity of faculty compared to the available talent pool is primarily driven by institutional cultures that have perpetuated systemic inequities and created a climate that has made it difficult for underrepresented groups to thrive in biomedical science (Price EG et al., 2009; Pololi LH et al., 2013).
Another major cause for concern is evidence for structural racism in NIH funding patterns, which came under scrutiny recently. In 2011, the Ginther report found that funding rates for Black scientists were 10% lower than white scientists. This gap has improved in recent years dropping down to 7%, however it still remains and requires more active and aggressive interventions to close the equity gap. Given the importance of federal funding to positive tenure decisions in biomedicine, this gap has serious implications on retention.
Evidence of racism and sexism in citation patterns is just as alarming and has equally serious implications on hiring, merit, promotion and tenure rates. For example, a 2020 study by Dani Bassett’s group used data from the top five neuroscience journals to show that reference lists tend to include more papers with men as first and last author than would be expected if gender were unrelated to referencing. They also show that this imbalance is largely driven by the citation practices of men and is increasing over time as the field diversifies. Even more recently, work from the same group demonstrated similar evidence for a white bias in referencing. They found that reference lists tended to include more papers with white persons as first or last author and that this imbalance was primarily driven by the citation practices of white authors, and is, similar to the gender bias, increasing over time even as the field diversifies.
The combination of non-inclusive climate in the academy, biases in federal funding patterns, and biases in publication and citation patterns, conspire to create cultures in the academy that are unwelcoming of women and underrepresented minorities.
What can we do to promote diversity?
Addressing workforce diversity, equity and inclusion issues in the academy is a multi-faceted long-term commitment to culture change and will require a concentrated effort to:
- Review and ensure equity in salary and resources
- Ensure breadth and fairness in talent searches
- Sponsor all faculty through promotion for awards and inclusion in professional networks
- Endorse and promote work-life balance resources for all faculty
- Evolve pedagogical practices and curricular structures to promote equity and inclusion
- Improve merit and promotion/tenure practices and adopt broader definitions of excellence
- Recognize and reward exceptional contributions to inclusive excellence
- Uphold workload equity and prevent overburdening
- Adopt inclusive practices to evolve culture and improve climate
- Conduct anonymous climate surveys regularly and commit to making changes when necessary
- And many more…
The NIH also provides excellent resources on promoting workforce diversity.