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Three Keys to Improving Diversity

How to improve diversity in the lab

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion are very important principles and processes to the lab. Bringing together different ideas, knowledge, skills, and life experiences will help the lab address the challenges of the science. Each of these differences can make an important contribution to solving the key problems on which the lab needs to deliver. Diversity in approach can also be the origin of creativity, invention, and innovation that generate the progress required for the lab to succeed in its mission. True diversity means that all differences are valued, not just the ones that can be observed across the lab. This means that differences in approach, perspective, and thought process are important. It requires a willingness to listen, respect, and understand the perspective of others to really reap the benefits of diversity. When mutual respect is shared across the staff, the lab is poised to do great things. 

Here are three things lab managers can do to improve the diversity of the lab:

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#1 – Hire differences  

Have a critical appreciation for the strengths available in the lab staff. When recruiting for a new hire, seek candidates who bring different strengths to the lab. Think broadly about what new perspectives or approaches might deliver to the challenges the lab is facing. Broaden the focus of the hire beyond how other members of staff were recruited. Explore new and different paths for identifying new candidates.

#2 – Mitigate implicit bias

Everyone makes decisions based on their implicit biases. Those biases were imprinted on us from early in life and can be difficult to identify and address. That is why they are also called blind spots. Take a deep look at the hiring process. Root out symptoms of implicit bias that creep into our decisions and push the lab to be more homogenous. Some examples might be to question why there are names on resumes, why are places of higher learning named, and how are job requirements worded? These are some places where our blind spots inform hiring decisions before we even talk to the candidates.

#3 – Provide safety

Include emotional and psychological safety in the lab’s culture. Ensure it is a safe environment to show, discuss, and advocate for differences. The lab may have much more diversity than it uses now. Improving the lab’s diversity may partially be about freeing the existing differences to take action on the challenges and problems the lab is addressing. Providing emotional and psychological safety is, at its core, enabling staff to be respected as their best self in the lab and enabling them to comfortably express their opinions, ideas, and questions without fear.