Decolonizing Data, Invisible Labor, and More

June 12, 2019

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Just like you would work with any actor with any sensitivities, you wouldn’t tell them, ‘No, you can’t do the show’...You’d build the show around them, and that’s what we do.” —Aubrie Therrien, founder and director of EPIC Players, a neurodiverse theater company that features actors with disabilities in leading roles
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THE STORY

A new study of 469 faculty members in ecology and evolutionary biology across the U.S. confirms what many faculty from underrepresented groups would not be surprised to hear: “Nonwhite, nonmale or first-generation college” faculty do significantly more work building diversity and inclusion than their majority-group peers. A similarly disheartening finding is that 72 percent of survey respondents felt that diversity and inclusion work “didn’t really matter in tenure decisions.” Diversity and inclusion work can take the form of outreach to diverse K-12 schools, recruiting minority professors and undergrads, serving on diversity committees, and publishing “diversity-focused, peer-reviewed work,” among other practices.

Brown woman with curly hair explains something to her colleagues.

OUR TAKE

Although the findings are unfortunate, it’s good to see this study capturing the relationship, or lack thereof, between extra work and tenure outcomes. We hope these findings will prompt departments to consider diversity and inclusion work in their tenure decisions. Not only will it make the labor of these faculty members more visible and give them the credit they deserve, but the more people who are actively involved in diversity and inclusion work, the more benefits the department will see.

How It Affects You

Ask whether underrepresented members of your team are taking on the bulk of the diversity and inclusion work and whether they’re acknowledged for it. If you’re not doing so already, make a point to take on some of the work yourself. This effort will relieve underrepresented employees of the disproportionate burden, and you will likely discover how it can enhance the work you already do. Finally, if you’re in a position to do so, influence how diversity and inclusion work is weighed in tenure or promotion decisions.

THE STORY

Just one month before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, New York City announced plans to erect monuments in honor of “two legendary late transgender activists: Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.” While the news has been met with excitement by many LGBTQ+ people and allies, others remain skeptical. Earlier artistic attempts to memorialize this period of LGBTQ+ activism have been criticized for their “whitewashed,” “desexualized,” and “limited” depictions of the era—issues that skeptics hope will not be reproduced in Johnson and Rivera’s monuments. Activist Elle Hearns, founder of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, describes her mixed feelings on the memorial: “I was excited that finally, a city that [these women] gave so much to...is honoring them…[but] I am not satisfied with a monument. I'm much more satisfied with resources being distributed to the women [whose] lives will never have an opportunity for such grandeur.”

Our Take

We’re thrilled that Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be publicly honored for their impact and activism. At the same time, it’s sobering to realize that nine transgender women have been murdered in 2019 so far, all of whom were Black. As Hearns says, we have to remember that there is more work to be done to change “the conditions that create the reasons why [Marsha and Sylvia] have to be statued in the first place.”

How It Affects You

This article highlights a couple of key takeaways—namely, the dual importance of accurate representation and the meaning of true inclusiveness. If you’re involved in a project or event that’s aimed at a marginalized group of people, take care to consider whether that group is being fully, accurately, and meaningfully represented. Then think about how your efforts could be extended to create lasting, long-term change for that group.

THE STORY

Abigail Echo-Hawk is the chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board, where she works to ensure that more research is done for and by Native people. Echo-Hawk describes the many problems with existing data on Native people. For one, they are almost always reported as statistically insignificant. She explains, “When we are invisible in the data, we no longer exist.” Then there’s the deficit-based framework that focuses on the high rates of obesity, diabetes, infant mortality, and opiate misuse in Native communities. She says this framework disregards the strengths of Native people, and how the trauma of genocide, assimilation, and termination shaped the outcomes we see today. In response to those who question her approach to data, she says, “I already have culturally rigorous scientific approaches. I know that they not only meet Western standards, they go above and beyond.”

Native American mom holds her toddler-age daughter and smiles.

OUR TAKE

A key aspect of Echo-Hawk’s work is that the data is collected by Native people themselves. This is important to keep in mind when we consider the extra scrutiny marginalized people face in the workplace—more data is not necessarily beneficial if the groups in question don’t have a say in the process.

How It Affects You

What does your company or department’s data look like through the lens of marginalized or underrepresented groups? Consider the deficit-based framework and groups that appear statistically insignificant. How can you make your data practices more responsive to the perspectives of all groups? The first step: diversify your team.