Berkeley Lab

Ray Turner: Discovering Why Diversity Matters

I grew up in a pretty conservative, small town in Utah where there was very little diversity. After that I joined the Navy, which wasn’t very diverse either in terms of gender or ethnicity. What I’ve found over the last nine years working in a more liberal and diverse environment at the JGI is that there are huge benefits from diversity in the workplace, the main one being that you just simply get better ideas with a more diverse group of people within your department or organization.

XBD201410-01227-12.TIFThat feeling has really evolved over the last year, and I’ve become much more aware of the importance of diversity in our organization. I think a big part of that was a presentation on implicit bias I saw last year as part of a division directors’ diversity retreat by Dr. Caroline Simard of Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. It really made me start looking at things through a different lens, and it inspired me to make a much more concerted effort to focus on diversity at the JGI. As part of the JGI director’s diversity initiative, all of our JGI supervisors will see this same presentation at our April diversity and inclusion retreat.

The overarching principle driving JGI’s diversity efforts is that we’ll be a better organization with a wide array of viewpoints. We’re looking at diversity in a similar way to our safety culture. Four to five years ago we had a lot of safety issues, and we knew we needed a complete shift in our culture to improve. We changed the safety culture so much that employees took that knowledge and culture home with them—thinking more about safety in their everyday lives and around the house. We have pretty much attained a zero injury rate for the last three years, so it was a dramatic change.

I’d like to see the same thing with diversity—making it such a part of our culture and our hiring efforts that it has a wider-reaching effect than just in the workplace. That’s definitely happened to me since taking the implicit bias survey, seeing Dr. Simard’s presentation, and reading various diversity articles. I’ve been enlightened to new sensitivities, which reach into my personal life as well. My granddaughter, who is mixed race, is in Little League, and I’m helping coach her team. I now go to games and practices looking at the makeup of the coaches and the Little League board to see whether we truly have diversity in our league. I did not really even notice these things 20 years ago when my son played, but I’ve noticed how beneficial it is to also have some diversity in this environment, such as male and female coaches.

At the JGI we’re looking at what kinds of diversity practices we want to put into place. We’d like our applicant pools, hiring committees, science advisory committees, and conference panel speakers to all be more diverse. Another area we’re focusing on is our internship program, which could be a potential pipeline for our future workforce. There’s a great program we’re tapping into with UC Merced bringing in summer interns from CAMP (California Alliance for Minority Participation), which focuses on students from traditionally minority-serving institutions.

I like to look to other organizations for inspiration, such as the “Rooney Rule,” which was implemented in pro football. Art Rooney was the Pittsburg Steelers owner who realized that the NFL workforce (the players) was largely African-American, but there were no head coaches who were African-American. He proposed a rule that the NFL adopted that said if a team had a head coach opening, they would interview at least one minority applicant. At first, a lot of people thought it was just tokenism. But what happened is that over time it increased the number of African-American head coaches in the NFL. The statistics still may not be where we want them to be, but it has certainly gotten better. That’s an example we can learn from to help us change the diversity culture at the JGI.

– Ray Turner, JGI Operations Manager