As south American woman that has worked in STEM for the last 20+ years, I have vast experience on what entails to be part of a minority. I have always been committed to improve the environment around me, with special focus in improving the chances of success of women that work hard. Along this path I have learned -the hard way, sadly- that doing things alone brings little change with a huge cost of energy. It is hard to bring awareness without being pointed out as the "problematic one", and it is really hard to bring change without any kind of power.
However, I keep trying. Why? Because diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the work environment are too important not to do so. Not for me, but for the girls to come. But before stressing the importance of DE&I a lot further, lets add some definitions.
Diversity refers to the inclusion of a wide range of people from different backgrounds into a unique work environment. Examples of diversity include gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, age, cultural, religious, and political diversity. A group of people with different characteristics working in the same place are diverse. .
Equality and Equity are not synonyms. The words equality and equity are often confused because, at a glance, they appear to mean the same thing. They both have to do with the way people are treated. Often, these terms are used to describe actions, laws, or rules that are attempting to end or oppose injustice or unfair treatment of people. However, equality and equity as noted above are not synonyms, and the methods used to achieve them are often very different.
The figure to the left perfectly depicts the huge differnce between the two terms.
Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
The word equity is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartia” or “something that is fair and just.” The problem arises when "justice" has to be reviewed.
Inclusion is an organisational effort and a collection of practices in which different groups or individuals having different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed. The differences could be self-evident, such as national origin, age, race and ethnicity, religion/belief, gender, marital status and socioeconomic status, or they could be more inherent, such as educational background, training, sector experience, organisational tenure, even personality, such as introverts and extroverts.
All in all, diversity by itself is not good enough. I like to make the analogy with refugees. Bringing refugees into a country is a good thing to do, but certainly not good enough. Countries hosting refugees have to have strategies to properly include refugees into their countries. With diversity it happens exactly the same. Bringing a diverse group of people into a homogeneous working environment and leave it at that would only bring chaos and frustration (more about this to come!). Smart inclussivness practices are a requirement for diversity to succeed.
Table 1 shows the percentage of female members of the IAU per country, for those countries with more than around 40 members in 2009. Argentina has the highest percentage of women by far, whereas the UK and USA have fairly low percentages. Only seven countries have more than 20% female members in the IAU. [...] In Argentina, 36.7% of their IAU members are female (in 2009), and this compares well with the percentage of the 175 tenured researchers and professors (34.9%). The male—female ratio of graduate students and young researchers is 50—50. At the most senior level, with the distinguished and emeritus researchers, 2 out of 14 are female (14.2%). Gloria Dubner (recently appointed a Director at Instituto de Astronomía y Física del Espacio [IAFE] in Buenos Aires) provided these figures. Marta Rovira is the President of the Argentina National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET), and she is now a vice president of the IAU. There has been an important advance in CONICET recently: the maximum age limit for access to fellowships and permanent positions has been relaxed for women whose careers were put on hold because of maternity (while everything, of course, is based on the quality of the applicants).
What happens when diversity is brought up to the working environment?
In 2010 I earned the privilege of doing a PhD in Germany. This was a gigantic step for me, as I was leaving home to find better opportunities. Only one year after my arrival to this well developed country, I would leave the "argentinian gender balance bubble" for good. During a review by the German state to assess if my group would have its funding renewed, I was surprised by two things. First, we had the chance to ask our boss whatever we wanted. My first question to him was to know how many students had applied to my position. The first part of his reply made me happy, as I got to know that many students applied to it. The second part of his reply made me kind of sad: I was finally chosen because I was a woman. This was the first time in my life I was facing "positive discrimination". The second situation was actually "funny", in a way that if one looks at it from outside it would be super ironic and a bit creepy. One of the researchers in charge of the review took me to a corner of the room (literally) where we were all having some snacks and drinks, and asked me if I ever felt harrased by a man. He was very tall, very German, and super close. I wanted to tell him "Yes, now, and by you", but I didn't do it. I was dealing with leaving my beautiful harrassment-free bubble.
Since then, some years passed by. I grew in experience and I learned how to deal with the system so that it affects me as little as possible, both personally and professionally. I am still learning, a little every day. In Denmark, things appear to be as tricky as in Germany. In the public sector, specifically at the Department of Physics and Astronomy where I used to work, only two permanent staff members are females (as of 2022). The private sector performs equally. In Grundfos I am the only woman within my closest working circle, and one out of four below the umbrella of my manager, who has about 30+ employees under his care.