Diversity in the workforce – why should we care?

This past Tuesday I was confronted with a shocking sexist letter directed at a woman applying to the College of Forestry in 1957. The woman was blatantly told that she could not enroll in the College of Forestry because the social constructs of the time would not allow it. The forestry jobs post college are only suitable for male employees, field trips for the college require sharing sleeping quarters, which would “pose a definite problem as far as a girl is concerned”, and a woman would not be able to fulfill the internship requirement because no forestry organization would hire her. Yikes. The culprit college behind this letter? Oregon State University. Fortunately the College of Forestry has come a long way since 1957. In 2015, 142 men graduated from the College of Forestry as well as 91 women, from 0% female graduates to 39%, a significant improvement.

This letter was brought to my attention during a search advocate training workshop I am taking this week put on by Anne Gillies, the Associate Director of Affirmative Action and Advancement in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access at OSU (what a mouthful!). Working in the research and scholars department at Oregon Sea Grant puts me directly in the process of requesting and reviewing applications, and therefore I figured I should know how to navigate this process in a fair and equitable manner. While I certainly do not purposefully attempt to introduce any bias into this process, I am also aware that many employers believe that they are conducting a just search such as I do, and yet there is still a stunning lack of diversity in many STEM fields. Now why is that? Due to this vast discrepancy, I, and the rest of the research and scholars team, am taking action to ensure we are aware of potential biases and how to avoid them.

Focusing on increasing diversity in applicants applying for and selected for OSG fellowships is necessary seeing as there is very little diversity currently in the fisheries field. A fellowship with OSG gives fellows unique opportunities to network and expand their skill sets, as well as provides a competitive edge for their resume when applying to future jobs. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that OSG fellows may have an advantage when applying for some fisheries positions. A study conducted by Arismendi and Penaluna in 2016 found that women and racial/ethnic minorities are sorely underrepresented in fisheries science both in higher education institutions and in federal employment. Despite the fact that slightly more (52%) women are earning PhDs in biological science, the majority (74%) of federal fisheries scientists/managers are male, and over 70% of tenure-track faculty in fisheries are male. This study points out that there is not a lack of well qualified women and minorities in the fisheries field, however, these groups are not ending up being selected for the tenure-track faculty or federal positions. Clearly something needs to change.

Why should we focus on increasing diversity in the fisheries workforce? The main reason is that every individual, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., deserves the same unearned privileges and opportunities. Another important reason is that diversity in general is actually beneficial to a workforce. “Previous research has shown that a diverse workforce generates new ideas, promotes innovation, leads to better problem-solving (Østergaard et al. 2011), enhances scientific productivity (Horta 2013), and increases the chances that the science will be high impact (Freeman and Huang 2015).” – Arismendi and Penaluna 2016. There is nothing to lose, and much to be gained, by incorporating diversity into the workforce. I look forward to entering into day two of the search advocate training workshop tomorrow and furthering my knowledge on this topic.

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