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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: César A. Urbina-Blanco, Senior FWO Postdoctoral Researcher, Ghent University & Safia Z. Jilani, PhD candidate, Georgetown University & Isaiah R. Speight, PhD candidate, Vanderbilt University


What do the code of life, computer science, and peanut butter all have in common? They are all scientific discoveries that enhance our lives today that were made by marginalized scientists.

Changing institutional structures to support the development of marginalized scientists is vital for growth of science and science policy. Unfortunately, marginalized scientists are often viewed as just a resource rather than the lifeblood that constitutes science itself.

The scientific community is working to improve issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which can be understood through an analogy of going to a party. Inviting everyone to go to the party is diversity, sharing DJ responsibility is inclusion, and having a large enough dance floor for everyone to groove on is equity. The dance floor we are drawing attention to is science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which sees marginalized scientists leave the party before the last call. The reason marginalized scientists leave STEM fields is clearly not an accident as they are pushed to the brink of social, economic and scientific discussions through implicit biases and microaggressions.

The narrow cultural expectations for how scientists should act and behave exclude marginalized scientists instead of welcoming and supporting them in the scientific community. The change we strive for includes equal access to scientific opportunities, positions of leadership and policy development. One area to directly help marginalized scientists is in the development of clear support systems.

We’ve taken the time to ask some of our scientific partygoers what they think will make science a more inclusive space:

Engaging in mentorship actively helps marginalized scientists find diverse mentors and helps with issues surrounding scientific research, mental health and overall professional development. Marginalized scientists already dedicate more hours of service engaging in invisible work than their well-represented peers. Consequently, this reduces their available time to perform other tasks that are deemed more valuable to career progression. Mentoring marginalized scientists should also be the responsibility of well-represented scientists.

#ScienceTwitter is an example of an online peer community. These are free online resources to build connections, learn about career opportunities, and share expert advice. Scientists can get involved by engaging with others, promoting their own work, and uplifting marginalized colleagues in the scientific community.

Providing financial support can reduce the barriers for marginalized scientists pursuing and engaging in scientific careers. Scientists and scientific organizations need to create and promote financial aid opportunities that support marginalized scientists in career development, and be mindful of the costs of participating in networking events.

Effective inclusion and diversity support to identify, and address, the negative experiences of marginalized researchers needs to be approachable, trustworthy, and accountable. Discrimination increases scientists’ stress levels and physical illness, in addition to having a detrimental effect on their performance. It is imperative that well-represented scientists lead this effort to provide advocacy resources for marginalized students.

Recognizing the work of marginalized scientists is to value their achievements, give respect, and credit them appropriately. Studies have found that marginalized scientists are less likely to be given leadership roles or be nominated for awards. Female scientists are more frequently asked to take on administrative roles than their male colleagues, but they are less likely to be given leadership positions or be promoted. Promoting the work of marginalized scientists and nominating them for leadership positions awards are important steps in countering the imbalance observed across STEM disciplines.

Excellence in STEM will flourish through a redesign to include the accomplishments of those who serve as champions of change. Whether it is an application for a scholarship or a lifetime achievement award, the work towards expanding DEI in STEM needs to be acknowledged. Let us actively encourage applicants for the next stage to include information about their work outside of the laboratory. Outreach efforts, measurable impacts on DEI, creating opportunities for, and mentoring marginalized scientists all constitute different aspects of excellence in modern science. As institutions redefine excellence to include all, the payoff will be tremendous.

We all need to become advocates of marginalized scientists and give them equitable opportunities to advance their careers. The pay-off lies not only in a broader pool of future talent, but also in the creation of unprecedented levels of excellence through a more colourful and inclusive scientific space. As the party of science rages on we need to keep in mind who’s dancing and what music is playing. These action items we’ve given here can help make sure that the party doesn’t end early for anyone.