Diversity and inclusion: a path for INESC TEC and for each one of us

By Beatriz Oliveira, senior researcher at the Centre for Industrial Engineering and Management (CEGI) and coordinator of INESC TEC Commission for Diversity and Inclusion.

On September 24, 2021, INESC TEC’s Commission for Diversity and Inclusion, which I have the pleasure to lead, began its activities. The Commission’s main objective is to encourage the Institute to implement practices that promote diversity and inclusion (D&I), while developing long-term work in this area. In this sense, I’d like to share a little of my (brief) experience in this area, and what I see as a future path.  

I am a professor and a researcher with a degree in Engineering and Industrial Management; hence, before getting involved with these subjects at INESC TEC, my experience in D&I topics was close to nil. Exploring this area at INESC TEC allowed me to understand the importance of raising awareness of these issues. In this text, I will focus on gender equality, already identified by the Board of Directors as a priority for the institution for upcoming coming years, and the first topic addressed by the Commission for D&I. 

First, it is interesting to acknowledge how often top-down actions accelerate work on these topics. As an example, the requirement to implement a Gender Equality Plan for access to European funding helped to boost, to a large extent, the most recent advances. While D&I work focuses on developing organisational values and culture (bottom-up), these types of requirements help to bring issues to the day-to-day agenda. 

At INESC TEC, one of the issues that arises frequently is the representation of women in leadership positions. Considering the areas in which we work and the talent pools available, we do not expect a pure mathematical equality of 50% for each gender. However, given the general characterisation of the members of the INESC TEC community, the under-representation of women in leadership positions is factual. There are several factors behind this situation (e.g., different gender distribution in older age groups), but they hardly ever justify it fully. Above all, there is a lot we can do to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities.  

I refer to an interesting McKinsey study on women in the workplace (2021) to translate a paradox I have been grappling with. The study showed (and, in my opinion, this is also happening at our institution) that women in leadership roles, when compared to men at the same level, contribute more to institutions moving forward on D&I issues. The probability that a leader spends significant time on this type of work (which would otherwise fall outside her formal responsibilities) is twice as likely for a woman. However, this work is still not substantially recognised, for example, in performance assessment. If this happens in companies, then the problem is aggravated in scientific production environments: the time that a researcher invests in D&I work reduces the time spent in publishing papers, submitting projects, and other scientific results valued in calls or applications. If D&I actions – particularly gender equality – are a woman’s job, then the gap will increase.  

In fact, the great difficulty lies in the availability of resources (namely HR) to explore these themes at institutions, in general, and at research institutes, in particular. And the question is: why should we invest in D&I? Is it worth it? Concerning INESC TEC, the literature indicates that the answer is obvious: yes, it is worth it, as organisations that focus on diversity and inclusion perform better in terms of innovation, creativity and talent retention. And what about each one of us? Why should we invest our time in these themes, rather than increasing our scientific productivity? Personally, I must confess that I don’t have a proper answer. But working in D&I allowed me, among other things, to increase my network of contacts outside my little “bubble” at INESC TEC and get to know the institution in a cross-cutting way – that would otherwise be difficult at my operational level. I also like to think that it allowed me to improve as a person and as a professional. 

What about the future? Regarding INESC TEC, the path must – without a doubt – start with the top branches, who must continue to support this commitment and clearly embrace it. But cultural change is only possible with the involvement of all members of the INESC TEC community. In this sense, raising awareness is essential. From awareness to action, the path is made through training, which, in my opinion, is where we should invest from the get-go. 

And what about each one of us? The change involves being attentive to others, to what is happening in the institution, while playing an active role in this discussion. And the first step is quite easy: to participate in the Commission’s survey on people’s perception of D&I.

Only through the participation of everyone can we make INESC TEC more diverse and inclusive.

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