When was the last time you attended a technical meeting in which the first plenary talk, given by the project director, was about how and why workplace diversity is a major priority for that project? For me, the answer is this past Tuesday.
This week I’m attending the LSST Project and Community Workshop, a meeting centered around an ambitious new telescope project called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. LSST will survey the night sky every few nights over the course of ten years, creating an unprecedented data set of our universe that will be public to the US community and our international partners (here’s a short talk I gave at IgniteNYC a few years ago, if you’d like to learn more). Building a huge project like LSST requires tackling immense technical challenges, so naturally we are interested in attracting the most qualified candidates. On Tuesday morning of this week, however, LSST Director Steve Kahn opened our week devoted to tackling technical challenges by highlighting the importance of another challenge: attracting a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive workplace culture.
Granted, words are words: we have a long way past talking about the problem before our project achieves the diversity it seeks. However, I can’t think of any time in my career where a substantial amount of everybody’s time at a meeting was devoted to publicly highlighting the importance of that goal. LSST is the largest ground-based astronomy project moving into the next decade, it has the ability to influence the culture of our field, and it is hugely important that we recognize that.
In discussing this talk with my colleagues this week, I was also reminded of a very informative report by the Anita Borg Institute, entitled “Solutions to Recruit Technical Women“. The report is well worth a thorough read, and is chock-a-block with helpful, implementable ideas for improving diversity in the applicant pool, conducting inclusive interviews, and creating feeding channels to direct potential candidates into the field from a wide variety of backgrounds. While focused specifically on women, I think many of these suggestions are applicable towards creating a more diverse workforce in general. Remember, if you are hiring the best people for the job and you believe that ability is independent of race and gender, your team should reflect that, and there are things you can do now to help make that happen.
Huge thanks to Chrys Wu, Kay Thaney, Sasha Laundy, Bitsy Hansen and Hilary Parker for pointing me to this report and discussing these and other solutions with me.