Diversity in Science Careers

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


In February, the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR) co-hosted a leadership retreat to address concerns that fewer underrepresented minorities are pursuing careers in science. The event was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and led by the Consortium of Social Sciences Associations. More than 60 organizations were represented at the meeting.

Joan Levy Zlotnik, IASWR executive director, said the event was an important step toward addressing concerns about diversity in the scientific workforce. "We were able to discuss what our organizations are doing about this and to find ways that we can work together," she said. IASWR is supported by NASW.

The event, "Enhancing Diversity in Science: A Retreat to Discuss the Role of Professional Associations and Scientific Societies," was held Feb. 28 in Washington, D.C. A summary following the event described it as "a response to the recent number of reports that have documented that increasingly fewer underrepresented minorities are pursing careers in science and that the leakages in the science pipeline for minority students and professionals happen at various stages — but especially within higher education."

The agenda for the retreat focused on obstacles and challenges to recruitment and retention and successful models and future initiatives. During the event, participants worked in breakout sessions focused on collaboration, policy and funding to develop recommendations for action. Recommendations included:

  • Evaluate diversity program outcomes. Associations should work in collaboration with institutions and funders to collect and critically review research and best practices on programs that can be evaluated and generalized across disciplines and understood by others and should work together so societies with the necessary expertise can help those who don't have expertise.
  • Mentor underrepresented minorities. Associations should bring attention to the need to provide incentives for quality mentoring by institutions and faculty, should showcase success stories and should build an infrastructure to support long-term mentoring relationships.
  • Retain underrepresented minorities in science, from students to early-career professionals. Associations should be accountable for reflecting the diversity and inclusion principles espoused in their policies and can serve a critical role in identifying, highlighting and rewarding best practices and models.
  • Retain underrepresented minorities in science, from early- through later-career professionals. Associations should build diversity goals into strategic plans, provide incentives and requirements for monitoring and provide more money for professional development workshops.
  • Generate support for a diverse scientific workforce. Associations should develop a joint public statement with accessible language that articulates common goals and encourages policy development to affirm these goals, should provide leadership to members by promoting the importance of diversity and should recognize and support institutional practices that advance diversity.

"From the discussions, it was clear that professional associations and scientific societies can play many roles in diversifying the scientific workforce," Zlotnik said.

"From a social work research perspective, it was interesting to hear the common challenges faced in nursing and dentistry — the need to balance both academic and practice workforce gaps, to attract and maintain people as direct health practitioners while also needing to build scientific capacity and to have sufficient numbers of doctorate-prepared faculty to teach in the expanding number of programs," she said.