Berkeley Lab

Black History Month Recognition, Celebration, and Action 2021 – Message from Mike Witherell

Dear colleagues,

Picture of Mike Witherell Lab DirectorWe are celebrating the 95th year of commemorating the significant ways Black Americans have shaped and contributed to US history. This year’s celebration of Black History Month seems different to me, however. Much has happened in the nine months since George Floyd’s murder to refocus our attention on the violence, discrimination, and barriers to opportunity that Black Americans still face in our nation — sharp reminders that we should not need.

Not surprisingly, the discrimination endemic in our society extends to the scientific community. A December 2020 National Academies workshop report, The Impacts of Racism and Bias on Black People Pursuing Careers in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, noted that Black Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but today represent less than 5 percent of the professionals employed in science and engineering disciplines. Racism and bias are significant reasons for this disparity, with detrimental implications for individuals and the nation as a whole, the report concludes.

We are a long way from realizing the promise of a fully safe and equitable society for all.

Earlier this week, a small group from the Lab and I met with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee to discuss our efforts to achieve the ideals of our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accountability (IDEA) programs. I was pleased to tell her about the notable progress we’ve made in diversity and inclusion awareness, outreach, and building a more diverse talent pipeline. But I also made it clear that we still have a long way to go. Chief DEI Officer Lady Idos and her team, along with our Human Resources team, Employee Resource Groups, the IDEA Senior Leadership Council, and the many DEI committees and individuals across the Lab are beginning the hard work of examining and improving our practices here at the Lab so we can address inequities in tangible ways.

Our plans for 2021 include addressing gaps in how we do our work in several areas, including outreach, recruitment, performance, mentoring, training, and workplace culture. We are looking for best practices that we can emulate to advance equity and remove barriers to advancement. We are continuing to train supervisors and hiring managers to recognize and counter biases that prevent access and fairness. We are connecting with local organizations and leaders in under-served communities across all stages of education and workforce development to provide increased opportunities to STEM learning and careers. We are restarting the First Fridays Equity Reset training series we piloted last year. This series is designed to provide our people a safe forum to explore their own assumptions about race, and learn more about racial equity from a historical context.

When I was Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Santa Barbara, I had the privilege of supervising directly the Center for Black Studies Research, which gave me an opportunity to learn a great deal from the scholars there. I hope that during Black History Month and beyond, each of you will spend some time learning about Black history and about how to take actions that honor and support our Black colleagues, both inside and outside the Lab. There are many ways to come up to speed: learn from the Black history resources provided on our IDEA site; be part of Black History Month activities sponsored by the Lab’s African American ERG; become an advocate or mentor for underrepresented students or early career colleagues; or serve as an ally in a meeting or on a hiring committee. Together, we can start to unlock the potential that is already present here at the Lab, in the job market, and in our future potential workforce.
Look for more from all of us in the weeks and months to come.  Best regards,Mike

Michael Witherell

Laboratory Director

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory