Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have become buzzwords often debated within the United States, sometimes controversially perceived as a redistribution of opportunities. However, in a global context—such as in the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) project, led by the European Space Agency and NASA—DEI adopts a unique significance. Here, it is about creating a welcoming and safe environment for all qualified researchers from across the globe. This involves not only ensuring participation but fostering genuine collaboration across diverse cultural and social landscapes. 

Working with the LISA DEI committee has broadened my understanding of the intricate challenges related to global diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a Black American, I recognize that despite being part of an oppressed group within the United States, I still hold certain privileges due to my American citizenship.

Structural Barriers in Academia:

Everyone involved in this collaboration either has a graduate degree or specific technical skills to even be qualified for a position where they can undertake such research in an academic or pure research environment; there can be no question of compromising standards. This can make our challenge easier than most. Everyone involved is a proven proficient scientist or technician or is in training to become one as a student. Never the less discrimination can still play a part in deciding who gets certain opportunities such as research funding or not, a tenure tracked job, or a part time contract, or tenure vs not tenure.

Infographics Courtesy of Dr. Erin Carll Center for Evaluation&Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) University of Washington

Nathan Steinle on Selection Effects in Academia.

In academia, there exist selection effects that cause advantages and disadvantages for job opportunities and career growth. It's common to expect to need at least two or three or more postdoc positions before becoming competitive for the small number of permanent positions located across the world – kind of like earning one’s stripes. Applicants without certain support networks may be less inclined to move and are thus selected against when seeking positions abroad. Researchers with children may encounter limited opportunities for career advancement if they seek to avoid moving their family (or having to live separately) frequently. These barriers don’t go away when one gets a PhD.

 Infographics Courtesy of Dr. Erin Carll Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) University of Washington

DEI in Action: The Case of LISA's Global Collaboration

The LISA project exemplifies how DEI operates within a truly international framework. With participants from every inhabited continent, the project's success hinges on a nuanced understanding of cultural diversity and inclusion. For instance, the Lisa Early Career Scientist (LECS) mentorship program, initiated in 2021, is pivotal in connecting junior mentees with seasoned scientists, fostering an ecosystem of support and growth. LISA is a long term mission which will launch in the 2030s and operate for many years. This program, alongside initiatives like the LECS software series and informal science talks, illustrates practical steps taken to cultivate an inclusive environment.

“DEI is very much within the remit of LECS, and most of our activities relate to this, the most significant one being the LECS mentorship program which was started in 2021, which works to connect junior mentees with more senior scientists (both early-career and more senior). The goal of the program is to create a support network for LECS within LISA and promote an inclusive environment.” - Nils Albin Nilsson for the LECS Chairs

Challenges and Opportunities in Global DEI

Implementing DEI globally is not without its challenges. Cultural misunderstandings, differing national priorities, and disparate economic conditions can complicate collaborative efforts. However, these challenges also present opportunities to redefine what equity and inclusion mean on a global scale. They urge us to consider diverse perspectives and to craft strategies that transcend national boundaries, focusing instead on universal human rights and mutual respect.

My Perspective: A Personal Insight into Global DEI

As an African American transgender woman and an adjunct professor in Chicago, my experiences of DEI are multi-faceted. In many U.S. narratives, I might be seen as a "victim" of societal structures; however, this perspective does not hold on the global stage. Despite facing challenges, my upbringing in a middle-class family and my U.S. citizenship provide me with certain privileges internationally. This personal journey highlights the nuanced reality of DEI, where one's identity layers profoundly influence their experience and perception.

A European Perspective: Ricardo Waibel
Ricardo Waibel from the University of Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Physics expressed that this subject partially reminds him of how discussions about various marginalized groups and intersectionality unfold. Specifically, he refers to debates on prioritizing certain groups in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and the challenges in determining who faces the most discrimination. He notes that while US Americans might generally be more economically advantaged than those in the Global South, they still can encounter significant issues that DEI committees should address. Ultimately, he believes it's crucial to support and empower people in ways they desire, recognizing that universal standards cannot always apply, except for fundamental rights like human rights.

Infographics Courtesy of Dr. Erin Carll Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) University of Washington

Conclusion: Moving Forward with DEI

The journey toward effective global DEI is ongoing and complex. By sharing our experiences and learning from each other, we can develop more nuanced approaches that acknowledge the diverse needs and strengths of researchers worldwide. Ultimately, DEI should not be about meeting quotas but about fostering an environment where every qualified individual has the opportunity to thrive and contribute meaningfully.

References and Further Reading

1) Infographics Courtesy of Dr. Erin Carll Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) University of Washington

2) LISA Early Career Scientist Mentorship program.  https://wiki-lisa.in2p3.fr/LECS/Mentorship 

3) Article written with the assistance of Chat GPT4, and the humans quoted and paraphrased.

4) Overcoming Today’s DEI Leadership Challenges - Harvard Business Review

5) https://workingclassassn.org/working-class-academics-section/

6) What is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee?