Recently I read a column in the New York Times that really caught my eye. Speaking While Female, written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, talked about why women “stay quiet” at work. It described how women are “interrupted or shot down before finishing their pitch,” usually by male colleagues, and as a result “women often decide that saying less is more.”
I believe there is an important truth in this article that we can all learn from. Social science research has shown that women and underrepresented minorities are perceived as having less social influence in the workplace and are less likely to get credit for their ideas. A researcher from Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research spoke about this at our recent division director’s diversity retreat and showed a cartoon that captured this phenomenon.
Berkeley Lab is home to several thousand leading scientists and engineers, and a talented operations team to support our research mission. This is some of the world’s most fertile ground for new ideas to flourish—not because of our many achievements over the years, but because of the people who are here today.
A vibrant scientific community requires vigorous exchange and debate of ideas. But we are not reaching our full potential because we aren’t good enough as managers and colleagues about listening to each other, or making sure that all ideas—particularly those put forward by female and minority voices—are heard.
I know this is true. It is evidenced in the data we have, in my personal experience at the Lab every day, and by what women and minorities around the Lab tell me. I read employee climate surveys that show we need to do better at including people; I see safety incident analyses that identify a fear or inability to speak up as contributing to accidents and near-misses, and participate in meetings where I observe a few men monopolizing the conversation to the detriment of science.
Berkeley Lab is a wonderful place to work, and people relocate from all around the country and the world to be part of this very elite team. But we could be doing more science—better science—and working more safely if we were a more inclusive community.
I am asking every person at Berkeley Lab to be a leader on this issue. Please read Speaking While Female and think about how you can contribute to a more inclusive workplace. If you are in a meeting, make sure that everyone is given the opportunity to speak—and give them time to finish their answer. If you have been shut out of workplace conversations in the past, please try again!
If we work together to create opportunities for more inclusive discussion of ideas—Berkeley Lab is in the knowledge creation business after all—we will be far better at what we do and will enjoy a more exciting place to work.