4.1A Trusted Communication through a Diverse Workforce: Are You Serious about It or Just Talking?

Wednesday, 9 January 2019: 3:00 PM
North 224A (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Renee A. McPherson, Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Many times during my scientific career, I found myself as the only woman at the table. I was on the front end or back end of hiring processes that seemed to reward others because they were part of the “good ol’ boys network,” and I wondered how we were still in this place in the 21st century. After a soul-crushing rejection in the leadership position that I was groomed for, I had had enough. I chose to reject the notion that there “aren’t enough qualified women and minority candidates available” and sought to build a diverse workforce in an applied climate center.

Seven years later, the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center stands apart on the University of Oklahoma campus as a diverse, STEM research team. We have employed 56 full- or part-time people in the main office since our inception. Of those, 30 are people of color, 35 are female, and 8 are international. Over 15 Native students and four Native scientists (1 B.S., 2 M.S., 1 Ph.D.) have been employed in our office during its short lifetime. In addition, we have led a successful undergraduate internship program over four consecutive summers that allowed us to mentor an additional 18 Hispanic, 10 African American, and 6 Native students. In the first five years of the Center, we conducted climate adaptation-related trainings that reached 554 Tribal attendees, representing 91 Tribes across the U.S. In 2015, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior honored us with the Environmental Achievement Award for Climate Science and Partnerships for “increasing Tribal capacity for climate change adaptation.”

In this presentation, I will discuss some of the choices I made over the years as well as the outcomes of these choices. While other science teams have different cultures, locations, and funding levels, many of the best practices that I borrowed from others are transferable across organizations. The diversity of our workforce not only encourages creative thinking, but it puts us in the role of “trusted messenger” for a range of stakeholders. Ultimately, it comes down to a choice: Are you going to design a more diverse workforce and build it? Or are you going to simply continue to talk about it?

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