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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Cultivating diversity and inclusion at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) has long been an innovator in interdisciplinary science, engineering, and math. Alongside its dedication to research, WID is committed to bringing its spirit of innovation to the development of a culture that values and supports antiracism, justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Like most of the university, WID is more white and more male than the local, national, or global population. Some people in WID suffer discrimination, harassment, and insults; some feel excluded, unheard, or ignored. Many are committed to a healthy and fair climate; a few are fatigued by talk of diversity. As an institute, we strive to include everyone as we work to be better. By tackling tough issues head-on, embedding values in everything we do, teaching the principles and tools of inclusion, and providing ready recourse for members of the community who are hurt, excluded, or aggrieved, we improve. We are not as far along as we’d like on the continuum of fairness. But as long as we continue to strive for a more equitable and respectful environment, the WID community can learn and grow, balancing pride in our progress with humility about how far we have yet to go.

WID’s approach to diversity is rooted in the understanding that satisfying the goal of attracting and retaining diverse talent is not an abstraction — it is a moral imperative. It is also critical to WID’s success. Research shows that the most creative and productive teams are heterogeneous, so to achieve our full potential we must confront the racism, unconscious bias, and structural inequity that challenge our quest for diversity. To recognize the best talent, we need to recognize biases and overcome them. To attract the best talent, our community must welcome diverse people and unconventional ideas. To retain the best talent, all members must be treated with fairness and respect and there must be recourse when these values are violated. Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion is not only the right and fair thing to do, it’s also the only path for WID to achieve the greatness we envision for a research institute.

Diverse initiatives engage the WID community in enhancing diversity and inclusion. Some are organic, grassroots efforts; others come from WID leadership. Either way, engagement by the community in each is broad and passionate, and every member of WID can find a way to contribute. WID-supported groups like the Antiracism, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Working Group (A-JEDI), the Brilliant and Diverse Graduate Research Scholars (BADGRS), and the Catalysts for Science Policy (CaSP) provide opportunities for trainees, staff, and faculty to engage with difficult topics in safe spaces, to explore and learn more about issues, to advocate on behalf of themselves and others, and to take action to animate WID’s principles. Projects like Science to Street Art and the Data Science Research Bazaar connect WID directly with local communities and create valuable new partnerships, and the international Tiny Earth program, headquartered at WID, breaks new ground with its infusion of diversity and inclusion into science education. Consideration of diversity and inclusion in WID’s regular programming and daily life by way of discussions and training at All Hands and other regular meetings, decisions about the makeup of panels and speaker rosters at events, and elevation of diverse voices has woven our principles of diversity into WID’s social and academic fabric. By recognizing dates or recent events of significance to groups within WID such as holidays celebrated by diverse religions; Black History, Women’s History, Pride, and Hispanic History Months; and violence, epidemics, or other traumas that have ravaged particular groups, we build bonds of trust and educate one another about our cultures.

Increasing WID’s diversity and improving the climate for all people are the consequence of a suite of synergistic efforts and constant attention. Hiring diverse people is necessary but not sufficient. New members must be supported by both leaders and co-workers and feel able to participate fully in the community. This in turn demands an environment and culture that centers on justice, equity, and antiracism. Culture doesn’t spring from isolated efforts but rather is built on values that infuse every initiative, event, project, and mandate. We study the literature on building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment, building our strategy on evidence-based practices. Every member of WID must feel the responsibility to contribute to change and must be empowered and equipped to lead new initiatives and discussions that spotlight and improve inclusion and equity. Including explicit discussion of diversity and core values in the institute’s activities keeps the culture visible and encourages all members of the WID community to engage in making and sustaining change. The outcome—a more diverse and prosperous WID in which people feel safe, valued, and included—is worth the effort.

Our regular pulse checks and formal surveys of WID’s climate provide evidence that WID is striving and improving, and we are moving toward our goals for diversity and climate. And that we have the capacity to be better.