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Industry Experts Discuss Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in STEM

Several leaders from high-tech organizations came together to provide actionable steps towards fostering and identifying truly inclusive environments while sharing their experiences and journeys.

With diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of companies’ internal and external strategic planning across the world, what does an organization that embraces these efforts look like? On Tuesday, Oct. 27, a panel of industry experts came together for Women in STEM: Accelerating the Diversity of Tech Leadership, an evening of conversation hosted in partnership with DraftKings.

Moderated by Elaine Chen, Director of Tufts Entrepreneurship Center and Cummings Family Professor of the Practice in Entrepreneurship, the panelists included:

  • Ingrid Jacobs - VP and Chief Diversity Officer at Eaton Vance
  • Ashley Ladd - Manager of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at HubSpot
  • Guy Pacitti - Global Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Pegasystems
  • Kiera Penpeci - Founder & Principal Consultant at Primed OD
  • Vanessa Spatafora - Senior Program Manager for Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging at DraftKings

Throughout the evening, panelists discussed how to identify STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) organizations that truly support diversity and inclusion efforts, how to change the culture from bottom up, and how to create a culture that is supportive to women, people of color and other minoritized populations.

“Coming up as a woman in robotics, I’ve seen the world of women in STEM from the front seat and it’s pretty clear that tech has a long way to go to get to the point where we really have diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, but we are making progress,” said Elaine.

Research breaking down the diversity of STEM shows disparities when it comes to gender and ethnic representation. Women, for example, are strongly underrepresented in engineering and computer-based careers despite a 338 percent job growth in computer-based subsectors since 1990, according to research from the Pew Research Center.

Diversity, however, is just one piece of the equation that needs to work in tandem with equity and inclusion. When asked about the meaning of these key terms, Ashley explained, “Diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusion is when you’re asked to dance, and belonging is when you can dance like nobody’s watching.”

According to the panelists, uniform approaches that don’t acknowledge the complexities and unique experiences of each person within an organization lack the proper foundation for success.

“You’re going to experience the world, society, your workplace, the work you do differently because it’s informed by your unique experiences,” said Vanessa. “So, the equity, the systemic piece for me, was always really important and I love seeing more and more organizations adopt it.”

Between the experts, they suggested that, when joining any organization, employees should look for continuous progress made towards diversity, equity and inclusion as well as an emphasis on those from the moment you accept a role. 

“Hopefully, when you enter the organization, you will have asked the right questions to kind of know they are on an inclusive journey so that you feel that sense of belonging,” said Kiera. “When selecting an organization, [avoid] getting blindsided by the pretty things their website says and really asking for facts, asking, maybe in your interview process, to speak to people who you identify with to see what their actual experiences are in the organization.”

Ashley added, “We can’t have a thriving, diverse culture if we don’t have the inclusion and belonging piece really well-orchestrated within our culture. We need everyone to feel like they belong when they hop on Zoom, when they walk through our doors.” 

As Guy noted, this work is often easier said than done.

“I think the hard part about this for us and the work that we do is because we’re working in an environment where people have habituated themselves to not being discomforted by putting on armor to appear strong in the workplace,” said Guy. “We’re kind of encouraging people to go to a place that they’ve created habits around, and it’s in this space that they need to break those habits.”

Equity can take on many different forms, highlighted the panelists. For some, it’s a sense of belonging in company culture and input in decisions, but it can also be present in compensation.

“Every single time since my daughter has been little, I gave her an extra percentage of my money, like change, because I always say to myself and I tell her, ‘you will be paid 51 cents on the dollar compared to a man. Here’s an extra bit of my change that I get.’ Now, of course, she has no idea what I’m talking about, but to me, I always remember that’s kind of what it takes – that you need to be advocating for yourself,” said Ingrid.

Following live questions submitted by the audience, the panelists agreed that there’s still much work to be done towards diversity, equity and inclusion, but that work is accelerated with a clear plan and unwavering passion.

“You got to give people the ‘to-do’ and the expectation of what success looks like and a timeline. All of those things are key in order to really help this long game advance or else we’re going to always be on a trajectory where the increase is so slow,” said Ingrid.

Guy added, “[Diversity and inclusion] are very effortful. It requires creating a movement. From a company perspective, to support continued evolution, to continue to change it, takes a lot of work and it has to happen from the top.” 

Concluding the event, Elaine said, “The one thing I take away is we are not powerless. We are powerful. We have the power to change the world through our actions.” 

For information and resources from Tufts University on diversity and inclusion, visit: https://www.tufts.edu/strategic-themes/diversity-and-inclusion.

Watch the event recording: