Focus on Diversity

The word Diversity was first coined in the 1980’s as a consequence of a legal compliance issue, however the meaning has since come to be widely interpreted. Webster’s dictionary defines diversity as: 1) the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc. 2) the state of having people in a group or organization who are of different races or who have different cultures. Interestingly in Europe and other regions outside the United States, the concept of diversity is driven largely by language and culture. Because of the broad use of diversity, the SLB Women and Diversity Committee is focusing on what it means as applied to the business of science.

We would like to begin a commentary about what diversity means to you, why it is important, and how we can achieve it. For this exercise, the word Diversity is used as an acronym to drive the discussion. A new word for each letter will be added quarterly (also appearing in the iSLB and on the SLB Facebook/LinkedIn sites). We look forward to receiving your thoughts. Please link to the SLB forum to see the latest discussion. Below is the second installment of the breakdown of DIVERSITY.

We will update this page every six months. As you read, you will find that there is a recurring theme—namely that leading or being a member of a diverse team requires conscious effort and developing your expertise in many different areas, which in turn, will enhance your productivity and increase your value. Let us know what you think or if you have other examples!

click here to see previous postings on this topics

Research shows that teams made up of people from different backgrounds and expertise generate more value than teams that are very homogeneous (1). A recent study found that publications having authors representing several different cultural backgrounds were more highly cited than those that did not (2). A 2013 study showed that if an equal number of women and men were employed in information and communication technology field that the GDP would increase by 9 billion pounds (3). What these studies tell us then is that there is tremendous value in having people with a variety of experiences come together to problem solve. We can harness these differing perspectives to increase the effectiveness and problem solving abilities of our research teams. Indeed, a recent study found that companies with significant gender and racial diversity have a higher likelihood of achieving profits greater than their national industry median (4).

The Society of Leukocyte Biology employs a unique approach to conferences in which they partner with organizations such as the International Endotoxin and Innate Immunity Society (IEIIS), which allows individual scientists who would not normally interact, to learn from each other and increase the possibility that new collaborations will form and facilitate a greater appreciation of each respective field and the contributions each has made to science. These interactions enable all of us to contribute in a meaningful and impactful way to new knowledge. Having individuals around a table who come from varied backgrounds and are there because they form essential components of the group, can lead to more original ideas and a more thorough analysis of a scientific problem (1). Recognition of such data has led the European Commission for Research, Innovation, and Science to set a goal to have 40% of women in expert groups and evaluation panels by 2020 (5).
Many of us have likely experienced a laboratory environment where the lab manager was like a mother or father hen—they treated the laboratory as if it were their home. For example, supplies were always stocked, clean glassware was available, and they offered to help you with a technique in which they were very skilled. In contrast, another individual in the same laboratory might not help with maintenance of the laboratory, but really enjoyed giving feedback on each member’s experiments. Although part of a team, the individuals in it have different backgrounds and experiences and will place value on things, behaviors, and practices that are most meaningful to them. This adds value because it fills the pool of varied resources available to the group to do their best science. In this manner, diversity is then highly valued.
Similarly, having team members who are strong in a set of basic required skills, but who excel in discrete areas of expertise is advantageous. Particularly in the current context of tighter funding, we are often not able to have all of the diverse expertise that we would want in our own groups. But we can instead collaborate with other scientists across the hall, the campus, the country and/or world to secure the expertise and share the resources needed for a given project.
As discussed above, in business it has been found that diverse teams have higher productivity, which translates into greater profits (6). In regards to the scientific enterprise, it was recently reported that there is an association between having a diverse group of authors and attracting a greater number of citations (2).
Knowing that your research team is made up of individuals with differing perspectives, each person must be self-aware and realize that there will be a high probability that disagreements will occur. With this self-awareness we can reframe such a situation and realize that the other person sees the problem in a way that we did not perceive ourselves. Calling it a brainstorming session then leaves open the notion that the idea in its totality may not be ultimately pursued, but elements from it can be synthesized with other ideas to construct the best solution possible with knowledge of the potential advantages, but of also the pitfalls and how they could be addressed. Often the barrier to diversity lies in challenging our cultural assumptions (7).
Working with a diverse team requires outstanding interpersonal skills and includes being-self aware and conscious of your own biases. As a leader or member of the team it is critical that we listen to what our team members say, how they communicate (verbal and non-verbal), how they think, and what they value. In our scientific training we do not often receive formal training on how to run an effective laboratory—we tend to model and adapt the process of a research mentor whom we perceive as being successful. HHMI recognized this some time ago that formal training on how to run a laboratory was lacking and developed some resources in this regard (8).
Diversity can be a teacher. As are result of regional, geographical, cultural, and social constructs we each live in realities that differ, sometimes markedly from one another. When we come together as a team we bring elements of this reality to work. Getting to know our fellow lab members beyond the workday helps us to see and perhaps appreciate the world from a different viewpoint. Such an exercise can help us better understand not only how to better interact with our colleagues, but also perhaps geopolitical and social events.  
Because it rotates at just the right distance in a narrow band from our sun in the Solar System located in the Milky Way Galaxy, life on Earth, as we know it, exists. While at least 1030 Earth-like planets have been reported to exist, it would take at least ten light-years to get there to check (one light year is 9.4607 x1012 km or 6 trillion miles) (9). The Internet has made the world seem smaller and we all have a greater appreciation of our interconnectedness. Our ability to solve critical scientific and technological problems that impact our health and wellbeing on this planet will depend evermore on our collective ability to train and work in diverse groups. This will be the yardstick by which future generations judge us.

Ref. 1: McLeod, P. L., Lobel, S., & Cox, T. H. (1996). Ethnic diversity and creativity in small groups. Small Group Research, 27, 248264; Watson, W., Kumar, K., & Michaelsen, L. (1993). Cultural diversity's impact on interaction process and performance: comparing homogenous and diverse task
groups. Academy of Management Journal, 36, 590602.
Ref. 4:;
Ref. 5:
Ref. 6: Thomas, DA (2004). Diversity as strategy. Harvard Business Review 82:98-108.
Ref. 7: Women as the “Canary in the Coal Mine” Analogy. Kate Heddleston: How engineering environments are killing diversity (and how we can fix it)
Ref. 8:
Ref. 9:

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Other resources:
1. European Commission for Research, Innovation, and Science:
2. Organization for Women in Science in the Developing World:
3. Lean IN:
4. Exploring gender equality:
5. Accelerating workplace equality:
6. Women in the workplace: unlocking the full potential of women: