Berkeley Lab

What to Expect in 2024: IDEA Office

This is one of several interviews in a series about the changes we can expect at the Lab during 2024.

The theme of 2024 for Lady Idos, the Lab’s Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer, is strategic partnership with others at the Lab. While she and her team members developed the Lab’s IDEA program in collaboration with many others over the past five years, this year, the office will focus on deepening partnerships to improve the employee experience and strengthen IDEA resilience at the Lab.

Lady has been at the Lab for about 14 years and has been the Lab’s DEI Officer since 2018. In 2024, the focus will be scaling IDEA at all levels of the Lab through a stronger integration within culture and talent processes.

“IDEA is a major component of the Lab’s culture and talent strategy, and culture change, like safety, is everyone’s responsibility. Over the years, I’ve learned that people are attracted to the Lab for the science and our mission, but we stay for the culture: the people and the environment. Our colleagues are invested in creating community here for the long term, and it’s really encouraging to see.”

Q: Lady, what are the major projects for the IDEA office in 2024?

A: The flagship initiatives we’ve developed over the past few years, such as heritage months, IDEA programming, and supporting the Lab’s Employee Resource Groups, will continue, but there are exciting new projects that focus on collaborative partnerships at the Lab and across the DOE complex in 2024.

We are partnering with the new Learning and Culture Office, headed by Aditi Chakravarty, on a Labwide culture survey. Through the survey, we want to understand the gaps and barriers related to employee engagement and retention and identify actions and interventions at various levels. This is different from past Labwide surveys that UC developed; we didn’t have input on the questions, and the Lab was not expected to identify improvements at the area or division level. Only a representative sample was contacted in those surveys, but most employees can participate in this survey.

This survey is by the Lab, for the Lab. It is intended to understand the gaps and related barriers and establish a commitment from the Lab’s senior leadership, including areas and divisions, to develop actions and address areas of improvement. The accountability piece is what is different about this survey. We want to analyze the results so we can walk away with actionable items to understand better how to create a more positive employee experience. We will also focus on the transparency of the data and want to provide employees with an opportunity to contribute their ideas toward local actions for improvement. We all have a role to play in making the Lab a better place to work.

We are also expanding our outreach efforts to promote the Lab as an employer of choice. Our office is partnering with Talent Outreach and Workforce Development and Education in HR to grow the number of participants in the Ambassador Program for outreach and recruitment. That program focuses on strategic outreach efforts by sending STEM ambassadors to diverse professional association conferences and sharing their scientific research or technical work. Participants can learn more about working at the Lab, and ambassadors can start engaging with potential applicants for careers or internships. If someone is interested in joining the program, they can complete the ambassador sign-up form.


Q: How will these projects advance the Lab’s research mission? 

A: Through collaborative work with the Strategic Partnerships Office, Learning & Culture, and PIs across the Lab, we are integrating IDEA into more places, including research proposals and DOE Office of Science’s PIER Plans. We should understand these principles in theory and practice and learn how to scale IDEA through concrete actions and commitments. The IDEA Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) Handbook is a good place to start for PIs.

We are also working with other national laboratories and the DOE on the emerging themes of community-engaged research (CER) and Justice40. A newly established national lab CER group aims to better understand and identify how to engage with communities and stakeholders in a more intentional, engaged, and equitable way. For example, proposals with community benefits plans must show how they partner with communities and various stakeholders throughout the project, starting from very early stages. DOE wants to ensure that these partnerships are not merely “performative” but meaningful and deliberate. We are assisting our researchers with thoughtful and tangible actions that they can leverage to serve as strong community partners.


Q: How is the IDEA office addressing the challenges that come from these projects?

A: We need to practice what we say we will do as researchers and support efforts for accountability. For example, what are your ideas to measure progress if your proposal mentions initiatives to enhance inclusion? And what are we doing individually and collectively as a Lab to ensure you’re supported? The Lab is one organization with dozens of teams, each focused on their work. But collectively, we are responsible for supporting one another, including resources to help each area and division deliver on the Lab’s mission while staying true to the IDEA and people stewardship principles.


Q: How does IDEA continue to impact the Lab?

A: There has been a lot of effort over the past five years to move the concept of IDEA to the forefront of employee awareness and behaviors. It shows that culture change is possible. Sometimes, it appears slow and may feel like nothing changes, but it does happen with consistency and the belief that the ship can move forward and course-correct. The changes I’ve seen over the years make me proud to work here, and it is a dream come true to serve the Lab in this capacity.  DEI work requires grace; it requires patience. The early adopters get it, but those in the middle sometimes surprise me. They take the time needed to listen and learn, evaluate the pros and cons, and are thoughtful with their questions. They might even push back as a devil’s advocate. But once they are on board, they can become your biggest champions.

This story was originally published on Elements on January 29, 2024.