Note from the Editor: Gender and Diversity Issues in Research Management

by SRA International on Thursday, March 29, 2018

At the 2017 SRAI Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Andrea Deaton (OU), Debra Schaller-Demers (MSK), Gloria Greene (UA) and Katie Watkins (UAKRON) presented the concurrent session “Gender and Diversity Issues in Research Management.” Set up as a panel discussion, we did not really know what to expect as we walked into that room last October. Little did we know that we were about to experience the #MeToo moments of our participants.

The objective of our presentation was to evaluate and examine the impact of gender and diversity issues in the research management arena. This encompasses being able to recognize bias, break the cycle and help ourselves and others achieve success. We got that and a whole lot more.

Discrimination comes in many forms – gender, age, race, religion, able-bodiness, sexual identity, educational level, etc. Pain is not a competition. Each of us has our own story. All that we experience as individuals working hard to achieve success in research management contributes to our psychological well-being. When bias is systematic over prolonged periods of time, the oppression can become internalized. We become our own worst enemies. The miracle of the #MeToo movement is the strength it gives victims to express all that suppressed pain. We finally have a collectively loud, clear and global voice.

One-by-one participants in the Vancouver session began sharing their experiences with gender and diversity issues. For at least one person, leaving a position in which discrimination occurred (and was tolerated) was key to regaining life happiness. Another person was directed to hide her lifestyle while on the job. Imagine being told that you are good enough to work here, but you can’t be yourself. What an awful burden to shoulder while trying to be a professional in the workplace.

Lori Perkins recently edited a collection of essays in the book “#MeToo:  Essays About How and Why This Happened, What it Means and How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again,” (free at Amazon.com).  One takeaway from the book is that stereotypes and behaviors become ingrained in us, sometimes at an early age. Take for example, this riddle within the following essay:
From “After #MeToo” (A M Carley): 

A Puzzler: Did you ever hear the one about the car crash?

A middle-aged man and his son are in a terrible car accident and are rushed to the hospital. The father dies in the ambulance but the son is still alive when they reach the Emergency Room. Within minutes, a gray-haired surgeon steps in to operate. Upon seeing the young boy, however, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—this is my son!”

How can we explain this sequence of events?

As Carley explains, “When this puzzler was written, we assumed that boys didn’t have 1) a mom who was a surgeon, or b) two dads. And everyone’s blind spot to those possibilities was why the puzzler worked.”  If asked this question now, how many would immediately assume that the surgeon is the boy’s mother? Why not two dads?

This classic scenario helps to illustrate our inherent predisposition to judge based on what we see or think we know. When we look inward to try and understand why we think the way we do, the answers may not be clear. Often it has to do with messages we received throughout our lives and while most will readily see racial/religious discrimination as fundamentally unacceptable, not everyone feels the same when it comes to gender or sexual identity.

We are hopeful that this column will be an ongoing conversation. Let us know your thoughts. We hope to present on this topic again at a future meeting. It is an important moment in time, and one that is vital to us all, regardless of our position/status in research management.


Authored by:
Katie Watkins
Co-editor, Catalyst

Debra Schaller-Demers
Director, Research Outreach and Compliance
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center